logo ULC Annual Report 1994-95


Automation Subcommittee

The use of electronic resources continues to grow at an astonishing pace, with doubling times for popular services ranging from once a year to once every semester. This growth is driven by increases in the materials available, in ease of access, and in the number of users. At present, student use is the primary driver. Growth will continue as the bibliographic services that have dominated use up to now are enhanced by significant additions of full-text resources, such as electronic journals and reference works and government publications. The Distance Learning initiative is also likely to bring in many new users.
This accelerating demand has so far been met without comparable growth in personnel and budget, mainly by capitalizing on the improved performance of computing hardware. This situation can not continue indefinitely, however: the growth in demand is considerably more rapid than that of hardware capabilities. In addition, each new service brings with it increasing demands on a professional staff that is already stretched a bit too thin, creating conflicts between support for ongoing services and the provision of new ones.
Nonetheless, the system has on the whole proved surprisingly robust. This is due in large measure to decentralization. Nearly all user services are managed on high-performance workstations: only internal library functions such as circulation management remain on the mainframe. Local Area Networks (LANs) ease the burden on larger networks. In a system with this architecture it is possible to reallocate resources to meet demand, and failures tend to be "soft" and localized.
As full-text databases grow the burden of maintaining them will increasingly be borne by institutional cooperation, with universities agreeing to parcel out responsibility for particular subject areas. The CIC institutions (Big Ten plus) already have in place the administrative structure for this effort, and widespread sharing of data bases awaits only the completion of the requisite software development. Wisconsin will take responsibility for a chemistry database.
All of this growth is taking place under the cloud of unsettled issues of intellectual property. Access to published materials in electronic form strains the customary definitions of "fair use," which publishers seek to define as narrowly, and libraries as broadly, as possible. It is conceivable that litigation or legislation may eventually force libraries to choose between seeking higher budgets, imposing user charges, or curtailing services.
One of the more vexing problems with library automation is providing printing capability, especially for students. Printers require maintenance, supplies, and some degree of attention from library personnel. Several ways of meeting this demand are under consideration, but at present none seems wholly satisfactory.
Finally, user education remains a serious bottleneck. As in past years, nearly all training sessions offered by DoIT and the library are oversubscribed. Even more serious is the problem of providing consultant services. Though existing library personnel are increasingly knowledgeable about electronic services, they simply do not have the time adequately to fill this gap. More student hourlies are needed, especially to cover evening hours.

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