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Libraries and local area networking.

Libraries and networks are not a new combination. Interlibrary loan, cooperative cataloging, LC functions, OCLC and its services aH are manifestations of library networking. These activities have emphasized the benefits of external cooperation.

The expansion of personal computing in the workplace has brought another type of networking - local area networking - to affect the way work can be done. The rate at which local area networking has been adopted and implemented has varied widely across businesses and nonprofit organizations.

Although there are libraries that have embraced local area networking, most libraries are only now considering its use. The goal of this bimonthly column will be to explore the technical and administrative aspects of local area networking in libraries.

Networking Mind Set

As the basis for this inaugural column, we present two quotations from an InfoWorld article by Mark Stephens entitled "Wired: How PC Networks Are Changing the Way We Work" (March 27, 1989, p. 41). The quotations establish an important mind set when considering whether or not local area networking can be useful to you. The first is from LeRoy Tavares, a network manager in the commercial sector:
  What we usually have is managers
   who are trying to do the same old
   job in the same old way, using
   eighteenth century methods with
   twentieth century tools and ignor
-   ing the potential system they have
   already paid for.

The second quote is from Lee Sproul, an associate professor in the department of sociology and decision sciences at Carnegie-Mellon University:
  Many people who install networks
   for sharing information, electronic
   mail, and teleconferencing do so
   because they think it will help
   them do old work faster, which it
   will. What's disturbing is that so
   few organizations see the potential
   to leverage this expensive technology
   by finding new ways to work
   that take advantage of the way the
   network can alter time and space.

Planning and Evaluation

A local area network can be acquired and installed for a number of wrong reasons: everyone else is doing it, so we need one, too; it's free; it will save us a lot of money, staff, etc. As with most activities, particularly those based on technology, it helps to have a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve and that, typically, means planning.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Preliminary to the planning process there should be an evaluation of whether or not local area networking will he beneficial to the organization. What you should try to assess is whether the benefits of the local area network will outweigh its costs. Many librarians by now have had experience in identifying and quantifying the costs of automation. Hardware, software, installation, training, and staffing are some of the major cost categories.

The benefits and their value may be more difficult to identify and quantify. Improved productivity, additional work that can be assumed, sharing of equipment and/or software are some of the benefits that come to mind, but establishing values for them is another matter.

Many libraries are already making extensive use of personal computers to perform a variety of tasks. Local area networking offers the opportunity to make better use of the investment in that equipment. Effective planning is the only way to ensure the investment will be successfully enhanced. Planning for a local area network should recognize the need for both a hardware and a software strategy. These should be interdependent but there is no guarantee they will be.

As planning begins, you should remember that most local area networking involves small workgroups with a need for regular, continuous interaction. The perception that local area networking immediately must involve dozens of machines and people is erroneous. Regardless of how large your network becomes or how many networks you eventually have, you are probably better off to start small and let the network grow in an evolutionary manner.

Information Gathering

Information gathered in the planning process should include who the network users will be, how work is performed today, what the prospective network users will do, what applications software will be used on the network, and on what workstations the various applications will be run. Parallel to the gathering of information, an attempt should be made to forecast how work will change, how the tasks staff perform will change, and how the flow of information will be altered.

Planning Group

The task of planning should be assigned to a group of individuals. Library management should be prepared to spend money to permit the group to become informed about the marketplace and acquainted with the strengths and weaknesses of different systems. As with many other areas of technology, talk to the people who are already involved in local area networking. While it may be preferable to find other librarians who are using local area networks, it may he just as useful to talk to network users in business, industry, or governmental organizations. re is substantial literature regarding local area networking; subscribe to magazines such as PC Week, InfoWorld, LAN Times, and Networking Management. The small investment in these resources will return substantial dividends by enabling you to remain informed about what is happening in the world of local area networking.

Planning should be a top-down process, while the implementation of the local area network should be a bottom-up exercise. This means that the planning should begin with the broadest possible description of the tasks you are trying to achieve in the organization.

Once the broad description is established, it can be separated into successively smaller components that make dealing with the large tasks somewhat easier. The key in this process is to make certain that the linkages and interfaces between the components are well defined and clearly identified. Once you have reached the point at which the components cannot be broken down any further, then you can look at the task of selecting and implementing the local area network.

Importance of Communication

The committee created to plan for local area networking should be more than a group of computer specialists. The critical talent these people should have is the ability to communicate, since these individuals will be the ones who have to introduce the system to the library and its staff. The group must be committed to keeping all staff, both rank-and-file and management, informed about the progress of their investigation and their decisions.

Test Projects

The planning process should identify a number of pilot or test projects where local area networking can begin in a small way. These projects may involve no more than two or three staff. It should be possible for these test projects to grow naturally and easily into larger configurations involving more staff and a more diverse set of activities. Whether it is a test project or the more permanent arrangement, staff should be given the opportunity to "play" with the local area network to build confidence in their ability to utilize its features and to become familiar with the options that are available.

LAN Administrator

Perhaps the most critical element in the entire planning process is the selection and appointment of a network administrator. This person must be identified early enough to be involved in the selection of the local area network and the planning for its implementation.

The choice of the network administrator may be more important than the network that is finally chosen. The factors to be considered in selecting a network administrator and that person's responsibilities will be the subject of a future column.
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Author:Marks, Kenneth; Nielsen, Steven
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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