Features - Low Cost Solutions for Online Catalogs: One Librarian's Quest

Cindy Chick is currently the Library Technology Coordinator at Latham & Watkins, as well as the Co-Editor of LLRX.com

See also the discussion forum on this topic.

In September 1999, while still working for Graham & James LLP, I had to face the fact that the Professional Series from Eos, Intl. would no longer be supported.  Though it was a DOS product, we were relatively happy with the Professional Series catalog.  But customer support is an important issue.  Granted, it had been many years since I’d called customer support, but the hard truth was that if database corruption reared it’s ugly head we could lose all of the cataloging records for our 2,300 book collection.  No one would be available to offer assistance in recovering the records from a now-defunct proprietary database format.  Then there was the fact that that Y2K was looming.  (Yes, I know it didn’t turn out to be much of a problem, but who knew?) The catalog was a valuable firm asset that had required a great deal of time and money to produce, and I couldn’t risk losing it. 

As is usually the case, I had specific requirements. 

  • I wanted a product that would keep my records in MARC format.  It may not be pretty, but it’s the only standard we have.  MARC insures that cataloging records are easily transferable, making converting catalog records into another MARC compatible system a fairly trivial process. My current predicament was a perfect example of why that’s important. 

  • I didn’t need a serials control program, as I had written my own using MS Access. 

  • I had used call number prefixes extensively.   Professional Series had a call number prefix field, which I used to designate subject area/location, for example, CORP so I needed a system that would include this field.  

  • A web-enabled product was desirable, as it would eliminate the need to install proprietary software on everyone’s computer. 

  • One report that I absolutely had to have was a summary of the search results in an abbreviated list showing the title, call number and location, including the call number prefix.

  • By the way, there wasn’t much money in the budget.

So I started researching.  And I was surprised at how many relatively low-cost options were out there.   The fact that I was only looking for a catalog, and not serials control made all the difference.  Law libraries have unusual needs when it comes to serials, and an integrated system with all the necessary features isn’t cheap. 

But because of the proliferation of online catalog products for school libraries, that aren’t known for their large budgets but are known for their loyalty to MARC, there are products out there that can handle MARC records with aplomb and provide decent user interfaces. Mind you, they had serials modules that wouldn’t know how to handle the 1,000 volume Federal Reporter, or even a basic routing list.  And it’s true, some of the interfaces were highly graphical, and perhaps more appropriate for elementary schools, but who’s to say that our attorneys wouldn’t welcome, how shall we say it, a friendlier, simplified interface. 

Generally speaking, the companies that produce these products do not have big marketing budgets, and law firms aren’t their primary market, so don’t expect to see them exhibiting at AALL.  By the way, some of the companies that market online cataloging software will also put your records on the web for you.  Some won’t.  Of the ones that won’t, almost all of them were considering it.

So here’s a quick list of several of the products that I found worth considering, FOR THE ONLINE CATALOG ONLY!   There may be many other good ones out there.  These happen to be the ones that I found during the course of my research.  I haven’t included prices because they often they vary depending upon the size of your collection, which modules you want, etc., but for my situation prices ranged from $600-$5,000.  I’m including my comments on these systems, but keep in mind that software is constantly being improved, and what might be a problem for me, might be an advantage for you.

Online Catalogs

CASPR Library World (http://www.caspr.com) - See http://www.ilsr.com/caspr.htm for a recent review. The cost for this product is quite low.  Important to note is that CASPR will also put your MARC records on the web for you, also at a very low cost.  I thought it was quite functional for the price.  But even if you don’t decide to use it, you may want to use their FREEMARC service, which lets you search and download MARC records from their web site. http://www.caspr.com/. Caveat:  Maybe I’m  dense, but just in case I’m not the only one, be aware that their Library Directory is NOT a list of libraries that use CASPR.  It is simply a directory of online catalogs.  Also, I did talk to a firm librarian who had tried to barcode using this product, and was having difficulties due to the fact that CASPR choked on titles with 1,000 volumes, a situation that doesn’t commonly happen in school libraries, their main market.

SIRS Mandarin (http://www.sirs.com) - I really liked the public access catalog with this product.  I really hated the cataloging interface, but maybe it was just me.  At the time I was conducting my research, they did not have a demo disk available.  Instead they sell through sales representatives who will welcome the chance to give you a demonstration.  It is a client-server application, which is unusual with the lower cost systems.

Library Corporation’s (http://www.itsmarc.com/ ) - ITS MARC Products.  I found this product to be very confusing and not very intuitive, though I heard from several people who like it.  What I really couldn’t tolerate was the fact that the Z39.50 search module could not accommodate title word searching.  You HAD to know exactly how the title started, as it would only search starting from the beginning of the title.  But if you found the record you wanted, it was very easy to import and edit the record, and there are other searching options such as LC number.  But you might want to take a look at their web site.  They are now offering a web product for searching MARC records (and allows title word searches) that might be handy, depending upon the pricing.  This is new since I looked at their product.

Companion’s Alexandra ( http://www.companioncorp.com/ ) - One of the more expensive of the systems listed here, at least for corporate users. Newsflash!  According to their web site, they’re now offering their system free through July 1st.   At the time of my research, they didn’t offer web hosting, and the public access catalog software had to be installed on each work station.

EOS, International GLAS (http://www.eosintl.com/) -You can opt to store records in MARC format with this product.  I know of several people using this that are happy with it.  I never fully evaluated it due to its higher cost, and the fact that I couldn’t get the demo disk to work on my computer.  It was probably a glitch with our network, so don’t hold that against them.

Non-MARC Solutions

SIMA (http://www.simainc.com/) - SIMA is one of the few products that is geared towards the legal market.  I eliminated it from consideration because it doesn’t maintain the cataloging records in MARC format. (It does, however, import MARC records.) But if this isn’t important to you, you may want to take a look.

INMAGIC (http://www.inmagic.com/) - By far the happiest group of users seem to be those using INMAGIC.  I eliminated it because it doesn’t maintain the records in MARC format, but Larry Ross at the Environmental Law Institute had what I thought was an imaginative solution to that problem.  He uses Z39.50 software to download MARC records (he uses shareware called Znavigator, but Bookwhere would also work, see below), imports them into MITINET (see below), then exports them to Inmagic.  He maintains his holdings in MITINET so as to have a current MARC copy of all of his records, and periodically updates by exporting them to Inmagic.  Another thing to note is that while the Inmagic software is quite reasonable, the WebPublisher software for putting the catalog on the Internet is considerably more expensive.


BOOKWHERE 2000  (http://www.bookwhere.com/ ) - This is a great piece of software that works with a variety of online catalog systems, including CASPR.  It gives you an easy interface to Z39.50 compliant catalogs, thereby allowing you to search a variety of online catalogs including RLIN, OCLC, Library of Congress,  MELVYL, and many, many more, using a uniform interface.  You can then download full MARC records to be imported into whichever library system you choose.   For a complete list of library catalogs that support Z39.50 protocol, and are therefore searchable with Bookwhere, see http://www.bookwhere.com/bwusers/bwlibr.html.  (Be aware that some catalogers do not consider it ethical for libraries to capture records from other libraries and use them as their own.) Cost is about $300.

MITINET(http://www.mitinet.com ) - Mentioned above under Inmagic, MITINET is a DOS program, and a darn good one.  A Windows version isn’t expected until the end of 2000.  You can use MITINET to edit, import and create full MARC cataloging.  The cost is about $500.


I know what you’re wondering.  What did I finally do?  Well, I had just about decided to simply wait until Jan. 1 to see if the Professional Series still worked.  After all, we were doing okay with the status quo.  But because of the lack of support and the possibility of data corruption, I started exporting MARC records from Professional Series on a monthly basis, and sending them to Joni Cassidy of Cassidy Cataloging. She reviewed them to ensure that the records were, in fact, in clean MARC format, and she maintained an off-site backup for me. 

Let me say that If there’s anyone out there still using Professional Series “without a net”, I strongly urge you to regularly export the records in MARC format so you have a clean back-up in case there is data corruption. I started doing this in September when the support expired for good, and sure enough in November we did experience data corruption.  And coincidentally our network’s backup program had been giving the Information Services people trouble, so simply restoring was a problem. 

I lost very little data, however, since I was exporting all my records to MARC format on a monthly basis.  We quickly went to Plan B.  Cassidy Cataloging took the records they’d been storing for me and put them on the web within just a couple of days, using their online web catalog, Molehill. (http://www.cassidycat.com/index-n.html )  Molehill has a feature that very few other products have, that is, the search results list include the title, location and call number for all copies of the title.  This may sound like a small thing, and it does, of course, do much more.  But doing a search and printing a quick list with locations, then handing it to the attorney was what I did most often, so that was important to me.  There is a set-up fee for all Molehill catalogs, and a monthly maintenance and web hosting fee.  For more information see http://www.cassidycat.com/molehill.htm .

So that I could continue cataloging on an ongoing basis, I purchased MITINET, and also Bookwhere, which I used to download MARC records.  The downloaded records are easily imported to MITINET, and records are also easily exported from MITINET to a standard MARC format that can be read by most cataloging systems.  I regularly exported all my records and emailed them to Cassidy Cataloging so that they could update the Molehill data.  This turned out to be a very easy and cost-effective solution.

So thanks to all the people who shared their information with me when I asked for help on law-lib.  And if you’ve found a unique solution to cataloging your library collection, let me know, and we’ll include your case study right here on LLRX.com

Additional Resources

I got started in my research by attending a workshop at AALL, “All Systems Are Not Created Equal.” Conducted by Mary Dzurinko and Nina Platt.  Included with their handout was a vendor survey that was invaluable. For order information, or to browse the survey by vendor,  see http://www.ilsr.com/SURVEY2.HTM.  Which brings me to another great resource, their Webzine, Integrated Library Systems Reports, http://www.ilsr.com/.

Survey of Library Automation Systems in Use at Various Libraries – By Solo Librarians’ Listserv - http://www.alrc.doe.gov/library/autosurv.html.