Inspire with a slight twist in Wolverhampton
Elizabeth Oddy Hybrid Systems Manager, University of Wolverhampton Tel: 01902 743931 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
BACKGROUND To date, much of the emphasis of Inspire has been to increase access to different types of libraries -including access to academic libraries- to learners that are not necessarily registered students. At the University of Wolverhampton we have been committed to this and have made visitor PCs available with links to appropriately licensed electronic resources, worked with other Inspire members for managed referral, and been heavily involved in the series of Inspire demonstration projects that took place in the West 2 Midlands during 2004 . However we have been also very eager to find new ways of collaborating with other libraries to improve our own students‟ learning experience and develop them as life long learners for when they leave the University. Therefore when colleagues at Wolverhampton libraries and information services suggested looking at sharing borrower data across our two Talis library management systems, to enable our staff and students to access materials at their libraries using their university ID card, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. THE LEGAL STUFF Before exploring the technicalities of sharing data across the two systems it was important to explore whether it was legally possible. Transferring personal data from a university system to system that exists outside its immediate control was obviously going to be sensitive. However our University Secretary was very supportive of the idea and keen to help. After undertaking some research and consultation he advised it would be feasible provided that: (a) All students and staff were made aware of the collaborative agreement in a robust fashion and were given the opportunity to opt out of the scheme at any time. This was best done in person rather than relying on mass or passive methods of communication. (b) Wolverhampton libraries and information services provided a written undertaking that confirmed adequate care of the data that would be provided, including the timely disposal of data and that they would not share it with any other third party. Making all staff and students aware of the scheme was a challenge in itself. We used a number of means to ensure we had achieved this. Letters were written to every member of university staff explaining the scheme and how to opt out. To ensure it was received it was stapled to a pay slip. A statement was also included as part of the newly revamped Learning Centres Charter that each new student or staff member receives when they are issued an ID card. This was followed up by posters, web notices and emails to all individuals affected promoting the scheme to ensure everyone knew about it and advising how to opt out if they wished to do so. THE TECHNICAL STAFF: EXTRACTING DATA
Talis was commissioned by Wolverhampton libraries and information services to make sufficient adaptations to our two systems so that it was possible to export and import the borrower data including names, addresses, expiry date and email addresses. This work involved writing a new batch script to extract borrower information from the University system as well as supporting Wolverhampton libraries and information services to adapt their system so it could cope with the different barcode validation. The specified batch script had to be capable of converting the various university borrower types to types recognisable by Wolverhampton libraries and information services. Talis achieved this by offering a parameter file with the new perl script where we could specify what parts of the borrower record to extract and how the borrower types could be re-mapped. The extract borrower script was also written with flexibility in mind. This means we can change our minds regarding the actual components exported. Wolverhampton libraries and information services set up new borrower types with appropriate policies so usage by university staff and students of their libraries could be easily tracked through Business Objects queries as the scheme progressed. THE TECHNICAL STUFF: SHARING DATA Early on in discussing the technicalities it quickly became obvious we would require a mutually accessible place from where the university could place the data and the public library service collect it. It would be too costly both financially and politically to try to develop a physical link between our two organisations‟ networks. Resorting to delivering via tape or similar media was also considered undesirable. However we struck on the idea of using the secure space on a Talis server, that being both Talis customers we had access to, primarily for downloading new upgrades and software. After a little persuasion Talis amended the server‟s directory permissions so that the university could place data into Wolverhampton libraries and information services part of the service for them to download from later. IT staff who manage Talis upgrades at Wolverhampton city council then had to receive instruction on how to download this data and upload it using the standard borrower import scripts that are familiar to most Talis academic customers but less used by local authorities. EXCLUDING BORROWERS FROM THE SCHEME To allow staff and students to opt out the scheme the university agreed to use the analysis code field in each Talis borrower record to include the acronym “NOEX” to stop the extract borrower script taking data from them for export. We also ensured we had a point of contact with Wolverhampton libraries and information services so they could be contacted in the event of a borrower changing their minds about participation in the scheme after the extract had been undertaken. To date the university has received few complaints regarding the fact that staff and students were expected to opt out rather than opt in to the scheme. However these were quickly addressed when we demonstrated the robust systems we had in place to ensure data was being carefully handled and their details would not be shared once they had opted out. Interestingly some academic staff were happy for their work addresses to be shared but not their home ones. EMBEDDING OF THE SERVICE Following a thorough testing, work on the local authority Talis system and training of library staff, nine months on we were ready to implement the scheme for real. Unfortunately for the university this was the time our students were completing end of year exams and returning home. In light of this it was decided to start with staff records. A few volunteers acted as mystery visitors to Wolverhampton central library to borrow books off the latest „Richard and Judy‟s book club‟ list to try out the service. Then in autumn 2005 we exported student data for the first time and subsequently every two months have sent updates to the Talis server where they are collected from and uploaded on to Wolverhampton library and information service. When a student uses the service for the first time they are given a leaflet about the scheme outlining their borrowing rights and the fact that though they were using the same card for Wolverhampton libraries it was a separate service.
IMPACT OF THE PROJECT Over the past academic year the university students using their university cards at the many branch libraries as well as the central library Wolverhampton libraries and information services offers have undertaken over 400 loan transactions. The usage of branch libraries came as a surprise but obviously students are finding it useful to borrow items close to where they reside. Even more encouraging is the fact that final year students whose membership expires at the end of July have been contacting Wolverhampton libraries and information services to apply for new membership so they can continue to use its facilities after graduation. FUTURE CHALLENGES Colleagues working at the university campuses at Walsall and Telford are keen for the scheme to expand. The university also has many students living in other Black Country boroughs such as Dudley. However the fact that our neighbouring local authorities all use different library management systems does mean that replicating the process would be more difficult and alternative means of secure but direct transfer would have to be found. We hope to conduct a feasibility study into this over the course of the coming year. In addition the university is introducing multi-function smartcards over the next year. Our learning centres would ideally like to move away from relying on visible barcodes and install smartcard readers at counters and on self-service machines. This has obvious implications for the set up at Wolverhampton libraries and information service and they will need at least one smartcard reader at each site to be able to continue to handle our university cards as well as appropriate amendment to their own system. We will have to work closely together on this issue. Finally both the university and local authority will be continuing to careful monitor the usage of the scheme. REFERENCES 1 S. Curry, „Inspire – realising the future of access‟, SCONUL Focus, 36, Winter 2005, p43 - 45. For more information on Inspire go to: http://www.inspire.gov.uk/ Details of Wolverhampton demonstration project can be found at: http://www.inspire.gov.uk/west_midlands_papers.php