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Automating Libraries and Virtual Reference: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 21

The phrase "library automation" has many diverse and unrelated meanings in the literature of librarianship.

Automating small libraries, home libraries
There are a number of cataloging software programs specifically designed for small libraries (public, school, church, business, organization, etc.) and home libraries, including the list of software companies and products that appears on the Church and Synagogue Library Association Links web page - you must scroll down to the center of the page to the Software section. Other programs may be found by doing a Google search on the terms "library catalog software" or by accessing the list of collection manager software at the Google Directory. Or, you can check for various smaller "book cataloging" programs within the web site, a suggestion from the Resources web page of ALA's Public Library Association.

This fact sheet offers a selection of articles, treatises, and web resources that will provide an introduction to the issues to consider when moving from the card catalog to the computerized catalog, or upgrading from one present integrated library system (ILS) to another, or considering implementing virtual reference services. This listing includes several overviews, a longer set of references on particular issues, and several resources for evaluative information; the American Library Association cannot make specific product recommendations.

Librarians seeking information not included in these sources are referred to the Library Literature & Information Science Index.


Bilal, Dania. Automating Media Centers and Small Libraries: A Microcomputer-Based Approach, 2nd Edition. Westport. CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2002.

Provides practical advice for securing automation software for libraries, whether a first purchase or an upgrade to a new system. Includes a sample RFP (request for proposal).

Cohn, John M., Kelsey, Ann L., and Fiels, Keith Michael. Planning for Automation: A How-To-Do-It Manual, 2nd ed. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 1997.

In this manual, Cohn, Kelsey, and Fiels go through the planning, preparation, and selection processes for an integrated library system (a system that uses one database to handle multiple library functions). They briefly touch on implementation but their main focus is on the actions that need to occur prior to the implementation itself. They cover issues such as creating a technology plan, selecting automation systems, soliciting information from vendors, training staff, using MARC records, and maintaining databases. Starting with the basics and moving forward one step at a time, they make the complex decisions of library automation understandable.

____. Writing and Updating Technology Plans: A Guidebook with Sample Policies on CD-ROM. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1999 (includes one computer laser optical disk).

Cohn, Kelsey, and Fiels also prepared this CD-ROM, which, as explained on its page at the Neal-Schuman web site, provides "everything librarians need to know to create, implement, update, evaluate, and use a detailed technology plan. The guide describes how plans are developed, how to maintain them, and how to use them as leverage for grant and budget applications. The accompanying CD-ROM contains some 50 technology plans developed in public, school, academic, and special libraries from which users can cut-and-paste appropriate selections to create, adapt, or enhance their own technology plans. The CD-ROM was prepared in an HTML format and can be used with both IBM and Macintosh computers."

Day, Teresa Thurman, Flanders, Bruce, and Gregory Zuck, eds. Automation for School Libraries: How to Do it From Those Who Have Done It. Chicago: American Library Association, 1994.

This collection of essays aims for the school media specialist who faces the need to automate. The contributors present practical advise and suggestions through essays, case studies, and model procedures. They cover issues such as funding, questions to ask, and places to begin, all aimed at the unique needs of the school media center and library. Even though this text is slowly going out of date, it still provides the human touch that technical manuals lack. Includes a sample RFP (request for proposal).

Mayo, Diane. Technology for Results: Developing Service-Based Plans. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005.

Answering two key questions can enhance the effectiveness of current library technologies and ensure that new investments support the library’s mission. First, what technologies provide the most effective support for the library’s service priorities? Second, what technologies allow administrative functions to be managed more efficiently? Find these answers and much more in the PLA-sponsored Technology for Results, the latest volume in ALA’s bestselling PLA Results series. Building from the proven process outlined in The New Planning for Results, this expert step-by-step guide helps technology librarians and administrators create an actual blueprint to achieve results by creating a dynamic technology plan. It is designed to draw from the library’s service priorities and patrons’ needs to manage and expand current technologies.

Osborne, Larry N. and Margaret Nakamura. Systems Analysis for Librarians and Information Professionals, 2nd ed. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2000.

This is a textbook covering the basic techniques of systems analysis targeted to the librarian or information professional. The chapter headings are: (1) Understanding Systems Analysis; (2) The Historical Development of Systems Analysis; (3) The Human Element; (4) Identifying and Defining Problems; (5) Collecting Data; (6) Analyzing and Displaying Data in Flowcharts; (7) Designing Data Flow Diagrams; (8) Using Other Array Methods; (9) Object-Oriented Techniques; (10) Designing the System; (11) Presenting the System; (12) Selecting the System; (13) Managing a Project; (14) Proving the System; and (15) Strategies for Implementation.

Paling, Stephen. A Hardware and Software Primer for Librarians: What Your Vendor Forgot to Tell You. Lanham, MA: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1999.

This guide is an indispensable tool for librarians who received their training prior to the marriage of computer technology and librarianship. Paling begins with the basics by discussing CPUs, printers, and extension cards. He then covers topics such as operating systems, integrated systems and other technologies that meet the needs of librarians. This book introduces the technologically unskilled to the jargon, options, and potential of the computerized library in a manageable and understandable form.

Saffady, William. Introduction to Automation for Librarians, 4th ed. Chicago: American Library Association, 1999.

This is the 1999 update of what is becoming the classic text on library automation. In this edition, automation expert William Saffady surveys the various forms of library technology including: automated cataloging systems, bibliographic utilities, and CD-ROM support products; integrated library systems and technical service functions; computer-based reference services; LANs, internets, intranets, extranets and other telecommunications and networking technologies; and other technologies such as video, faxes, and micrographics. This book is easy to use and is perhaps the best introductory source to the world of library automation.

Swan, James. Automating Small Libraries. Fort Atkins, WI: Highsmith Press, 1996.

In this how-to manual, James Swan draws on his personal experience in automating libraries. He provides checklists, suggestions, and ideas that have worked for libraries, which have already automated. The book moves through the planning stage, fundraising, requesting bids, selecting appropriate systems, configuring networks, and ongoing evaluation of the implemented system. While some of this information is slightly dated, this book still remains useful, practical, and insightful.

Waller, Nicole. "Model RFP for Integrated Library System Products." Library Technology Reports 39, no. 4 (2003).

As Waller explains in this issue's introduction, "the central tool in the acquisition of a library system is the request for proposal (RFP), a document comprising instructions to bidders, systems and functional requirements, support and hardware specifications, acceptance testing, and reliability requirements. An RFP seeks information from vendors about already-developed systems or systems in development slated for near-term release. A library does not expect any vendor to satisfy all its requirements. After receiving proposals, the library staff selects a vendor whose product strikes the optimal balance between price and desired function."


AASL Resource Guide on Technology

Focused on the needs of school library media specialists, this online guide provides references and links to publications and reports for a wide range of technologies used in a library.

ALA TechSource

Besides publishing in print and online the subscription publications Library Technology Reports, an evaluative guide to library systems and services, and Library Systems Newsletter, a monthly overview of the library automation marketplace, ALA TechSource has launched the ALA TechSource Blog, which, as mentioned in its initial entry, "aims to provide its subscribers with insightful and pertinent news about, and commentary on, technology related to and used in the library field."

Arnold, Judith, Jennifer Sias, and Jingping Zhang. "Bringing the Library to the Students: Using Technology to Deliver Instruction and Resources for Research." Journal of Library Administration 37, no. 1/2 (2002): 27-37.

Article abstract: "To provide equitable services and access to off-campus students, librarians must meet the challenges of the digital divide and the geographic divide. Instruction and document delivery are key services that can determine how successful a library is in meeting its responsibility to distance learning. This session will focus on technological solutions to instruction, access, and document delivery in technology-challenged and remote environments."

Auld, Hampton (Skip). "Cutting-Edge Technologies and Services." Public Libraries 42, no. 3 (May/June 2003): 148-153.

Perspectives section of this Public Libraries issue, featuring the following columns: "Talking the Wireless Plunge in Kansas City" by David King; "'My Florida' Web Portal" by Debra Sears; "Fairfax County: Gateway to the 'E'" by Lois M. Kirkpatrick; "Wi-Fi Internet Access at the Staunton Public Library" by David Steinberg and Karen Pifher; "MHL-Mail: E-mail Alert Newsletter" by Beth Mazin and Eleanor Sathan; "Electronic Ordering: We Did It Our Way" by Brent Ferguson and Diana Gill; "Kansas City Public Library's New Digital Local History Database" by David King;  and "Embracing Technology at PLCMC" (Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County [N.C.]) by Robin Bryan, Susan Herzog, and Bob Peaseley. 

Balas, Janet. "Considering Open Source Software." Computers in Libraries 24, no. 8 (September 2004): 36-39.

Article excerpt: "Those librarians who have taken giant steps in innovation can encourage those who are only taking small steps by sharing their successes. Many pioneers in library automation have documented their projects on the Web, so librarians looking for inspiration (and maybe a little push to try something new) have only to turn to their colleagues on the Web." Access this article at the Information Today Computers in Libraries web site.

Bertot, John Carlo, Charles R. McClure, and Joe Ryan. "Study Shows New Funding Sources Crucial to Technology Services." American Libraries 33, no. 3 (March 2002): 57-59.

Article excerpt: "In recent years public libraries have gained a number of new funding sources that they have used to enhance their technology infrastructure, telecommunications services, and network-based services and resources. In combination, these sources--which include the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA); the e-rate; other federal, state, and local programs; and awards from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation--have enabled libraries to engage in significant experimentation and innovation in the services they provide." 

Boss, Richard W. The Library Administrator's Automation Handbook. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 1997.

In this text, Richard Boss gives library administrators a helping hand in facing the significant and complex decision of library automation. After reviewing the present state of library automation, the text discusses the planning, selection, and implementation processes. It successfully attempts to arm the library administrator with the essential information that is needed to automate a library. While the majority of the text focuses on library automation systems, Boss does give some space to the Internet, CD-ROM, remote databases, and networking standards. This work written for library administrators but any librarian that is involved with the issues surrounding library automation will find it beneficial.

Breaux, Ann-Marie. "Issues in Vendor/Library Relations--So You’re Buying a New Integrated Library System: Have You Told Your Book Vendor Yet?" Against the Grain 15, no. 2 (April 2003): 87-88.

Article excerpt: "Over the past couple of years, it seems that more libraries than ever before have begun the process of selecting and implementing a new integrated library system…. I’d like to highlight some questions and considerations that a library might want to review." Access this article at the Against the Grain web site (Adobe Reader PDF file).

Clapp, Janet and Angela Pfeil. "Virtually Seamless: Exploring the Role of Virtual Public Librarians (pdf link)." Public Libraries 44, no. 2 (March/April 2005): 95-100.

As stated in the article: "This article focuses on virtual librarianship and the public library user, using the term     'virtual librarian' to include any librarian doing virtual reference. Drawing on the experience of contract virtual librarians, this article will explore the advantages of virtual reference in a public library setting as well as describe virtual reference service and virtual users, and look at the backgrounds of current virtual reference librarians. The authors have worked as virtual reference librarians for two years with's Librarians by Request using the LSSI Virtual Reference Toolkit, and both have previous professional experience in public libraries."

Hirko, Buff and Mary Bucher Ross. Virtual Reference Training: The Complete Guide to Providing Anytime, Anywhere Answers. Chicago: American Library Association, 2004.

Even the best reference librarian can falter when suddenly thrust into cyberspace without the proper tools and training. As online library reference services become common practice, there’s a critical need to develop core competencies unique to the virtual world—from conducting chats to multitasking. In a training program that promises to make any library staff member—regardless of education or experience—comfortable and proficient in providing virtual reference, expert educator-librarians Hirko and Ross detail 14 core competencies designed to foster consistent service, using hands-on activities and exercises. Nine appendixes include assessment tools, policies, and procedures, plus fun learning activities like virtual field trips and "secret patron" scenarios designed to assimilate the learning. The software-neutral guide means the training works on any platform. From practical nuts-and-bolts considerations to actual feedback from learners who have used this program, Virtual Reference Training provides the guidance for developing a program that will help all librarians develop confidence and finesse at the virtual desk.

Hutchinson, Carol-Anne. "Choosing Library Automation Software: From Antique to Unique." Teacher Librarian 30, no. 1 (October 2002): 41-42.

Article abstract: "Advice for teacher-librarians on choosing library automation software is presented. The advice focuses on determining needs, exploring the choices of software on the market, and selecting a product."

Ingersoll, Patricia and John Culshaw. Managing Information Technology: A Handbook for Systems Librarians. Westport, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.

As described on the publisher's website: "Anyone involved in systems work for libraries will benefit from this masterful compilation written from the authors' experience in academic backgrounds. Whether the reader is a student pursuing a career in library systems or information technology, or an employee in a library systems office or in a supporting information technology division, the advice and descriptions in this book will prove helpful to readers involved in systems work related to any type of library."

Jane, Catherine and Dawn McMillan. "Online in Real-Time? Deciding Whether to Offer a Real-Time Virtual Reference Service." The Electronic Library 21, no. 3 (2003): 240-246.

Article abstract: "There has been a great deal of interest recently, notably in the USA, in the concept of virtual reference services. Of particular interest is the use of software that allows a 'chat' session between librarian and patron. While many libraries in Australia and New Zealand already offer online reference services via e-mail or a Web form, as yet very few have ventured into the world of online reference services in real-time. During the summer of 2001-2002 a pilot group at the University of Canterbury was formed to investigate whether our library should offer such a service in 2002. This paper will briefly describe the service which went live in April 2002, including our reasons for offering it, the process of implementation and preliminary results. It will then outline and discuss in detail some of the issues that have arisen out of the service with comments and recommendations from our experience." This article is freely available at the web site of the publisher, Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Kawakami, Alice K. "Delivering Digital Reference." Library Journal netConnect (supplement) (Spring 2002): 28-29.

Experience in setting up virtual reference services at the University of California, Los Angeles. Access this article at the Library Journal web site.

Kochtanek, Thomas R. and Joseph R. Matthews. Library Information Systems: From Library Automation to Distributed Information Access Solutions. Westport, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2002.

As described on the publisher's website: "The text gives broad coverage of all the major issues confronting library directors in today's fast-moving technology marketplace, and will be well placed on the shelves of the many libraries faced with the complexities that information technology developments bring to the library. Giving a useful overview of library systems-from their history to current trends in the technology and marketplace that serve libraries-this book includes coverage of telecommunications, standards, planning, managing technology in libraries, system selection, and more. Specifically designed for core units in library automation and information systems, this text gives students a comprehensive overview of one of the most critical areas of library operations, and enables them to take the lead in managing the complexities that information technology brings to the library."

Library Technology Guides

As noted on the site itself, which is subtitled "Key resources and content related to Library Automation," the Library Technology Guides web site "aims to provide comprehensive and objective information related to the field of library automation. This site has no affiliation with any library automation company. Whether you are in the process of selecting a library automation system, or just want to keep up with developments in the field, Library Technology Guides is the place to start." The site is maintained by Marshall Breeding.

Manifold, Alan. “A Principled Approach To Selecting an Automated Library System.” Library Hi Tech 18, no. 2 (2000), 119-29.

Offers suggestions for libraries selecting automated systems based on experiences at Purdue University. Highlights include the institutional context; long-term versus short-term benefits; involving staff and users throughout the process; request for proposals; negotiating contracts; evaluating vendors; and communicating. This article is freely available at the web site of the publisher, Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Minkel, Walter. "A Smarter System." School Library Journal 49, no. 11 (November 2003): 48-51.

As stated in the article: "School library automation systems aren't what they used to be—and that's encouraging news. The earlier generation of systems—those created in the 1980s and 1990s—did an admirable job of compiling a school's collection into a database. But the latest generation is far more ambitious: it's capable of gathering together hundreds of school collections into a single, unified catalog. In other words, instead of keeping track of 'merely' 30,000 items, the new systems keep tabs on millions of holdings, including books, tapes, CDs, DVDs, Web sites, and subscription databases. Many educational institutions have taken advantage of the new systems in the last few years, which, in turn, have sparked an unexpected revolution: more schools, districts, and even regions than ever before are sharing library materials. Although this practice has been common among public libraries for more than a decade, widespread sharing of materials had been rare among school libraries. And that's not the only positive change we've seen. What follows is a close look at the recent trends in library automation systems, as well as a preview of what you can expect in the near future." Access this article at the School Library Journal web site.

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF), U.S. Department of Education
Technology Integration 2001-2006

NCEF's resource list of links, books, and journal articles published between 2001 and 2006 on integrating technology into new or renovated K-12 school buildings.

PLA (Public Library Association) Tech Notes

These are short, web-based papers introducing specific technologies for public libraries, from ALA's Public Library Association (PLA, a division of ALA). Includes “Client Server Technology,” by Richard Boss, a good overview of the terminology and basic architecture used in many library systems.

Stevens, Norman D. "The Fully Electronic Academic Library®" College and Research Libraries 67, no. 1 (January 2006 ): 5-14.

Article abstract: This description of the planning for the first academic library to contain only electronic resources, and no books and no paper of any kind, is derived from the limitless possibilities of our imagination. The concept of such a library and the dramatic changes it will bring in collections, budgets, staffing, services, and buildings are outlined in detail. Finally a few questions are raised as to whether such a library will best serve the information needs of academic institutions in the twenty-first century.

Virtual Reference Desk (VRD)

Previously a freestanding project residing at web address <>, its resources recently were transferred over to the library professionals web site, WebJunction. Resources available include highlights of the 7th Annual Virtual Reference Desk Conference (2006) and conference papers and handouts from previous VRD conferences (1999-2005); Evaluation and Research quality standards and policies; Technical Standards; and the DIG_REF Listserv electronic mailing list


Breeding, Marshall. "Integrated Library Software: A Guide to Multiuser, Multifunction Systems." Library Technology Reports 40, no. 1 (2004).

As Breeding states in this issue's introduction, this report "provides information on the current slate of library automation systems designed for many simultaneous users. These multiuser systems would be used by medium-sized and large libraries or by library consortia."

____. "Reshuffling the Deck: Automated System Marketplace 2006." Library Journal 131, no. 6 (April 1, 2006), 40-54.

This is the newest edition to Library Journal's annual automation system marketplace overview. It is an annual source for gauging the trends in the library automation marketplace and includes a detailed profile of the leading vendors in the field. Access this article at the Library Journal web site.

Brewer, Sally and Peggy Milam. “SLJ's Tech Survey Part Two” School Library Journal 51, no. 10 (October 2005): 48-49.

See part one of this article, "SLJ's Technology Survey," directly below this citation. As stated in the article: "Library media specialists are gung ho on technology, but they often lack the cash to take advantage of it, according to SLJ’s first-ever tech survey." Access this article at the School Library Journal web site

____. “SLJ's Technology Survey.” School Library Journal 51, no. 6 (June 2005): 49-53.

As stated in the article: "Library media specialists are involved in technology in a big way. That's the overwhelming conclusion of School Library Journal's first-ever survey on technology and the role of the library media specialist in using it. Of the 1,571 K–12 media specialists from all 50 states who responded to our survey, 60 percent collaborate with teachers in the effort to integrate technology resources into classroom learning, and 67 percent help plan technology programming at their school. Nearly all of our respondents (95 percent) provide instruction in technology to students, while 84 percent say they instruct their fellow teachers, as well. With this study, we attempted to gauge the changing role of library media specialists, as technology resources continue to gain prominence in both the K–12 curriculum and the library media center. According to our findings, school librarians are imparting information skills to students, to be sure. But they are also involved in planning and implementing technology policies, purchasing and maintaining equipment, and training teachers, proving that library media specialists are taking the lead in education technology." Access this article at the School Library Journal web site

Cibbarelli, Pamela, ed. Directory of Library Automation Software, Systems, and Services: 2006-2007 Edition. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc. 2006.

Biannual reference publication with detailed listings of the microcomputer, minicomputer, and mainframe software packages and services that are currently available to libraries. This edition includes a list of consultants, bibliographies of print and online resources, information on both CIPA-compliant filtering software and citation management software, and user ratings.

Dewey, Karl A. 303 Software Programs to Use in Your Library: Descriptions, Evaluations and Practical Advice. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.

This is Dewey's second update to his original 101 Software Packages to Use in Your Library. In this edition, Dewey describes selected resources that cover a wide range of library needs including software on: bibliographic, cataloging, interlibrary loan databases and assisting the disabled; online catalogs; circulation systems; internet packages; and reference services. Dewey reviews specific software from various companies under each category.

Salter, Ann A. "Integrated Library System Software for Smaller Libraries." Library and Technology Reports 39, no. 3 (2003).

As Salter explains in this issue's introduction, the report "focuses on the process for acquiring an ILS for a small library... It is a study of current practice, a planning tool, and a guide for developing and implementing a selection process in finding the right ILS for a particular library--specifically the small library in the special library setting. In addition, it briefly describes many vendors and their products."

August 2006

For more information on this or other fact sheets, contact the ALA Library Reference Desk by telephone: 800-545-2433, extension 2153; fax: 312-280-3255; e-mail:; or regular mail: ALA Library, American Library Association, 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2795.

Related Links

Computers in Libraries Buyer’s Guide
Multimedia & Internet@Schools Buyers Guide