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[ Circulation ] [ Catalog ]

Like the rest of society, technology and automation are important enhancements to the library media center and are a part of most school libraries to some degree.  Important areas to increase operational efficiency and intellectual access via automation include  automated circulation and an online catalog (i.e., OPAC or online public access catalog) as being automated. Almost all systems have moved to a client / server architecture where there is some processing done at the user terminals and not all the work has to be done on the server where the database and software resides. 

Because of this, library catalogs now require microcomputers, sometimes with a fair amount of processing power.  Trends in automation include:

bulletNetworking systems throughout the school
bulletProviding access outside the school, most recently through the web
bulletEnd-user control of their own circulation, interlibrary loan (ILL), and holds, possibly by phone
bulletElectronic notification of holds
bulletCirculation reports
bulletAccess to online databases on a CD-ROM tower, loaded on a local fileserver, or through the Internet
bulletAccess to these databases and perhaps even fulltext articles and web sites through the library catalog
bulletSerials control (recordkeeping on your magazines) into the automated system
bulletAV and textbooks circulation through automation
bulletOnline ordering that could be incorporated into the online system
bulletDocument delivery to the user
bulletEasy-to-use (GUI) interfaces, often through a web browser
bulletIntelligent guides for searching and new searching capabilities
bulletUnion catalogs for library systems
bulletMultilingual capabilities
bulletMedia scheduling
bulletCreation of databases of location information

Academic and large public libraries are now using systems that merge all these functions. The new term for this functionality is "Integrated Online Library Systems".  Many primary and secondary schools are moving in this direction. Multifunctional systems that expand an online catalog into an information portal bring more content components and expand the library services offered. These include:

bulletDisplaying book jacket images, tables of contents, abstracts and reviews
bulletProviding access to selected and cataloged websites
bulletSearching multiple information sources at the same time
bulletDisplaying text in more than one language
bulletIntelligent navigating from citations to full text
bulletWireless and handheld technologies

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Many schools began the automation process with automating their circulation system. It was seen as an economical, efficient, standardized way to track materials and patrons. In addition it allows easier record keeping and reporting. 

Today, more libraries buy integrated systems where full MARC records are loaded into the catalog and then used for circulation. The circulation system requires at least two databases to work:

bulletPatron database (required)
bulletStudents, staff, teachers, others
bulletTyped in one at a time or, if you are lucky, loaded directly from the student record system. Most automated systems take the data in text format with a certain format.
bulletNeeds to be updated yearly with more frequent small changes
bulletIncludes barcode number for each person
bulletItem database (required)
bulletSame database as cataloging records in MARC format
bulletMaterials in all formats, sometimes including equipment (scheduling system)
bulletAlso used for inventory
bulletIncludes barcode number for each item
bulletSerial holdings
bulletOptional, not found in all smaller school automated systems
bulletTracks which records have been received
bulletMay display holdings in the online catalog
bulletOften a separate system if a school has this automated at all
bulletTracks items on order
bulletMore sophisticated systems indicate if item is on order in the online catalog

Good circulation systems have numerous features:

bulletReserve (allows user to put a request in for an item ahead of time or to put an item in a non-circulating collection)
bulletHolds (allows user to be put in a queue to receive an item), often used with recall (allows user to call back an item that is circulating)
bulletDifferent circulation types and privileges based on type of item and/or patron type
bulletLimiting maximum number of items per patron
bulletSecurity (levels of access to system through passwords)
bulletDo not retain person with item circulated after return
bulletOverdues and fines
bulletSerials control

Privacy Policies

Several issues must be confronted when developing circulating policies. Guidance comes from the American Library Association policies as well as state statutes.

bulletALA 52.4 Confidentiality of Library Records:

The ethical responsibilities of librarians, as well as statutes in most states and the District of Columbia, protect the privacy of library users. Confidentiality extends to "information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, acquired" and includes database search records, reference interviews, circulation records, interlibrary loan records, and other personally identifiable uses of library materials, facilities, or services.

bulletALA Code of Ethics 54.15:

Librarians must protect each user's right to privacy with respect to information sought or received, and materials consulted, borrowed, or acquired.

In a recent incident in the Green Bay Schools, Jim Bowen summarized the Wisconsin standards (March 5, 1999).  Chapter 43 of the Wisconsin Statutes restricts access to library media center patron circulation records to only a few people. It states:

Records of any library which is in whole or in part supported by public funds, including the records of a public library system, indicating which of its documents or other materials have been loaned to or used by an identifiable individual may not be disclosed except to person acting within the scope of their duties in the administration of the library or system or persons authorized by the individual to inspect such records, or by order of a court of law (Section 43.30, Wisconsin Statutes)

In the past, DPI Legal Counsel noted that the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office "has issued an opinion that the confidentiality provision of the law covers circulation records of public school libraries as well as other public libraries." (Donald Lamb, Channel DLS, October 1989, p. 6; Robert J. Paul, Law News, p. 17).

Furthermore, "only school library and public library administrators - not school or municipal administrators - and person granted permission by the borrower or ordered by a court of law may inspect a public or school library's circulation records." (Lamb, p. 6)

DPI's Legal Counsel also noted that the laws allow "non-library personnel, whether school or non-school connected such as a teacher or parent, to know how many times a certain volume has been withdrawn from the library over a certain period of time, so long as the individual identification of the person withdrawing the material is not made available to the teacher or the parent." (Paul, p. 17)

As of March 10, 2004, there has been a change in the requirements in Wisconsin based on AB 169, Library Record Disclosure Bill, approved by both houses and expected to be signed into law by the governor. This requires that any library supported by public funds, upon the request of a custodial parent or guardian of a child under the age of 16, to disclose to the custodial parent or guardian library records relating to the use of the library's documents or other materials, resources, or services by the child.

Think about what these mean for circulation practices:  

bulletLists of materials checked out, including overdue materials, should not contain titles connected with a specific user's name.
bulletAutomated systems should not retain the name of the person who has checked out a book after it is returned.
bulletParents and legal guardians would be able get a list of what their child has out of the library if the law is signed by the governor.

Circulation Policies

Set up circulation policies by patron type and type of materials. First think about the types of materials that circulate and whether there should be different policies on circulation period, number of items circulating to one person, restricted circulation, fines, etc. Then think about the different types of users you have (teachers, students, staff, parents). Should they have different rights? Some schools even have different numbers of items circulating by grade level. All this needs to be set up ahead of time in your circulation system.

Given the privacy policies, think about how to handle overdue notices as well as whether you will charge fines and how often you want to send out notices. Other issues to consider include:

bulletShould you check the shelves before you send out notices?
bulletWill you have amnesty periods where people can return things without penalty?
bulletWhat will you do when a student loses a book?
bulletIs there a way to pay for an item through work?
bulletCan you / should you hold up grades for unreturned items?

Serials Control

Serials control is a fancy name for automating the check in of your newspapers and magazines. Many schools have not reached this point yet, but if you have an automated system that integrates this with your other automated functions, you can provide an additional service to your users. With this system, you are able to immediately indicate which issues of a magazine have been received by the library as well as tracking which issues seem to be missing.


Automated circulation is discussed in the Collection Development class, so will not be covered in detail here. This is a way to track  orders online and perhaps have titles on order reflected in the online catalog. This is a feature new to many schools but commonly found in public library and college library catalogs. 

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When evaluating an online catalog, pay close attention to what the user sees and how users interact with the interface. This part of the system is typically used by everyone that uses library resources.  Most programs offer keyword, subject, author, and title searching but other searches are now possible in some systems.  The resource section of the Web has more information about Web-based catalogs.

The Database

A library catalog is really a database of records for each item in the library. In the past it contained largely books, but now many catalogs include AV materials, Internet sites, serials, and even people. In the future, many library catalogs may also be the portal to full-text articles, searchable through the same interface as the catalog records. 

The database consists of MARC records.  I have created an extensive cataloging portfolio, but at this time, it is not electronic -- please refer to it for in-depth information about cataloging.  Briefly stated, each record has fields or tags for specific pieces of information. 

The more complete and consistent the information is in those records, the better searching capabilities will be available for users. This means making sure all MARC records are complete, with  detailed contents and notes, consistent and numerous subject headings, and accurate descriptive cataloging.

Records can be put into the database by cataloging directly into the online catalog system or by importing records created elsewhere (e.g., by a vendor, downloaded from another database such as Alliance Plus or WISCAT).

When available, most people now buy cataloging for each item every time they purchase new materials if possible. Set up a profile with a vendor such as Follett or Brodart or Mackin for cataloging and processing that matches the format used in the catalog and receive disks of MARC records, labels, bar-coding, and other processing to match. These records can then be imported into the automated catalog system and checked for accuracy and consistency with current practices.

We all know we load the automation software on a computer and can do all sorts of things. How does it get from that one computer or fileserver to all the other computers in the library? What is happening at the server versus what is happening at the circulation computer or the searching computers? How can students around the school access it? How can students at home access some library catalogs?

At the basic level, every computer, including the library fileserver, must be connected to the network. It may be a local area network (LAN) just within the library, a wide area network around the school or the district, or the Internet itself. This means each computer must have a network card connected to the network wiring.

Things have changed greatly in the last several years. It used to be that library automation systems ran off a host computer (the fileserver) and the computers used for searching were acting as dumb terminals where little if any computing took place. If you are old enough to remember the VT 100 and VT200 emulations run in some of the old systems, you'll know what I mean. They were totally text driving and generally could not even use a mouse. On the positive side, you could have very low level computers around the library for searching.

In the last few years, computing has moved to a client / server architecture with a fileserver that stores the database and does some processing, but much more is done at the individual computers. Sometimes these client computers have a program loaded to run the catalog program; other times they use a web browser to search the online catalog. This does required more powerful hardware for searching, but it also gives the user many more capabilities and a graphical interface (GUI) in the newest systems. Programs like Follett's Unison, Winnebago's Spectrum, and Dynix work in this way.

Web-accessible online catalogs are the newest rage. Examples include:

bulletChancery's Library Web
bulletFollett's Web Collection Plus
bulletSagebrush's Accent
bulletWinnebago Spectrum's Web Catalog (Sagebrush)
bulletAthena's Webserver (Sagebrush)
bulletCASPR's LibraryNet
bulletCASPR's LibraryCom: web hosting service for putting school's library catalog on the LibraryCom web site with complete keyword, author, title and subject searching (don't even have to have your own webserver)
bulletAlexandria Web

Many online catalogs are now also incorporating web sites into their databases. Two examples are:

bulletWinnebago WebMARC: thousands of high-quality, curriculum-related web sites cataloged for searching in the Spectrum system
bulletAlexandria's NetTrekker: academic-focused websites that are organized around K-12 curricula and organized by elementary or secondary
bulletFollett's WebPathExpress: integrates 856 electronic access tags into the library's MARC records, providing students with relevant, up-to-date links to the Internet - more than 3,200 sites and growing


A revolutionary change for the networked library world is the emergence of the Z39.50 standard. Z39.50 is the search and retrieval standard for MARC data over the Internet. It is a set of rules, not an actual piece of software. Using Z39.50 client software you can search hundreds of library collections and other databases (Z39.50 servers) over the Internet at the same time if you have the right to search them.

It eliminates the need to learn search syntax of other systems. This allows the use of just one searching interface or client to access not only online catalogs that are Z39.50 compliant but also databases of all types from periodical databases to fulltext articles to digital media databases to the web. If you think about searching 10 different CD-ROMs with ten different ways of searching, then imagine what it would like if you could just say "search these 8 of the 10 and here are the terms I want to find" in just one easy step. The Z39.50 rules make them all talk the same language. Georgia's Gallileo system is an example of a statewide Z39.50 compliant system.

For more information, check out these sites (in order of complexity):
bulletWhat is Z39.50? (Follett)
bulletZ39.50: Part 1 - Overview (read this if you have time for nothing else)
bulletExpanding access to information with Z39.50 (American Libraries, July/August 1994)
bulletZ39.50 for All (screen shots of a Z39.50 system to get an idea of what it would look like)
bulletNISO Z39.50 Resource Page (list of links)

New Features

Some of the features you may want to watch for in the future are:
bulletMultilingual catalogs that allow searching in multiple languages
bulletIntelligent agents that are software programs that periodically searches a variety of information sources, taking into consideration the specific research needs, interests, and preferences in each search
bulletMaps that show the location of an item in the library (see LibraryPro2 for an example of this)
bulletScheduling / booking systems that allow users to reserve equipment or facilities through the online catalog, send confirmation slips, and assess fees

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