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Do we have this book? askSam.

Six Cariboo-Thompson Nicola Library SYstem branches now have access to their local holdings using keyword, wildcard, and Boolean searches. Using a PC software package the askSam free-text database program), the branches also have access to a system-wide subject heading list and a system-wide list of titles held.

The Cariboo-Thompson Nicola Library System serves 160,000 residents spread over 50,000 square miles of central British Columbia. It has thirty-nine branches, five reading centers, and a bookmobile.

Its collection contains 325,000 hardcover volumes (146,000 titles) and 125,000 PaPerbacks, for an average branch holdings size of 10,000 volumes. The headquarters is in Kamloops. Quesnel Library, housing the system's third largest collection, is 250 miles from headquarters. Anahim Lake, 365 miles away, is the most remote branch.

The automation system runs on a DEC PDP 11/84, the operating system is RSTS/E, and the software is vintage and heavily modified ULISYS. Datapac, the Canadian packet-switching equivalent to TYMNET and SPRINTNET, is available in two communities outside Kamloops. Communication charges in the system are extremely high - only thee branches have online access to the PDP, and two have automated circulation.

Limited Access

Until 1988, the only access to holdings for nonautomated libraries was through Printed catalogs. Branches were provided with an author/title printout of their local holdings. Subject access was through a systemwide catalog, with no branch locations listed. Providing each of the thirty-nine branches with copies was expensive. In addition, they were often quite out of date - up to a year and a half at one point.

In 1989, the first microfiche catalog was produced. Holdings were listed for the largest twelve branches, with a generic designation for items housed in the rest. There are three catalogs a year. Access is better and costs are lower.

Our ULYSIS system does not have keyword, wildcard, and Boolean searching. Nor, of course, does the microfiche. Because budget plans do not allow for major hardware and software upgrades for three more years, we decided to use PCs to improve access to the collection.

The askSam Alternative We were already familiar with askSam (access stored knowledge via symbolic access method, about $180 U.S. mailorder), having used it for telephone book cross-referencing, lists of all sorts, newspaper indexes, and phone call tracking, and decided to test it for this purpose.

askSam is a "free text" database prograin - a nonrelational text management database program that supports both freeform data entry and structured or fixed fields. While supported, fixed record lengths are not required. In fact, predefined fields of any sort aTe not required. askSam handles Boolean or simple queries, indexes files, generates reports, imports ASCII text files, and can sort alphabetically, numerically, or by date.

The Test

First we split a test branch's holdings into separate fiction and nonfiction files.

The list was compiled on the PDP; double tildes (||) were used to separate records. Mirror II telecommunications software was used to transfer the file to a PC. (Mirror has a background mode that allows die PC to be used for other tasks during the transfer.) The records were then imported into askSam.

File sizes were 807 kilobytes (10,305 records) for fiction and 3.5 megabytes (21,877 records) for nonfiction. On a 386-class PC, die entire fiction rile could be searched in under five seconds. Average search time for the nonfiction file was wen under fifteen seconds. In the worst case (the search term was not in the nonfiction database), the search took twenty-three seconds. The test was declared a success.

Implementation

The holdings for all the libraries with PCs were then downloaded, run through a small BASIC program to remove extraneous carriage return and line feeds (an unwanted side effect of the file transfer), and imported into askSam. The files were then sent out to the libraries on floppy disks.

With automated programs and scripts, the file transfers use almost no staff time; the action takes place on or between various computers.

Files that could not fit on a single floppy disk were first compressed with PKZIP. In the case of the TITLES holdings file (well over 1.44 megabytes even when ZIPped), the DOS back-up and restore commands were used to store and retrieve the file to and from multiple diskettes.

Figures 1 and 2 show fiction and nonfiction file askSam screen prints from our Quesnel branch. The explicit fields are call number (c); author (a); date published (d, last two digits only), title (t); subject headings (s); and added entry (ae). Text anywhere in the record is searchable.

Response

Response was immediate and enthusiastic. In one branch, staff members were using the files to help patrons within thirty minutes of receiving them.

Three months later a follow-up workshop was held. Branches asked for (and got) a systemwide subject headings list and a systemwide titles list. Lists are updated every two months.

Because of our high communications costs, using personal and minicomputers to complement one another makes a lot of sense. The complete overhaul of our automation system and the addition of more packet-switching ports is some years away. Meanwhile, we use all our computing power PCs and PDP alike.
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Author:Klerans, Kevin
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Jun 1, 1991
Words:861
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