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System Director's Report:

November 2004

And Once Again, Interlibrary Loan

WISCAT, Wisconsin's state level library catalog and interlibrary loan system, has undergone many changes over the years. It began as a database of library holdings on microfiche, with the actual process of interlibrary loan being conducted by means of paper forms or, for the fortunate few, by teletype. A few years later, the database had morphed into a stand-alone cd-rom product and the actual mechanism for sharing was a dos-based computer program called QUILL. Today, the situation is more complex. The central database is maintained on software from the Autographics Company, but the actual process of resource sharing is conducted on products from Fretwell Downing, a different vendor altogether. In part, the actual process of resource sharing is conducted through a specific program designed for use with the central WISCAT database, but this is being transitioned to a different protocol (called Z39.50), intended to enable the searching of many local catalogs at the same time.

There are those who believe (and I am among them) that the time has now come for yet another new incarnation of WISCAT. This one could be based on products from OCLC, a not-for-profit membership organization, originally started by libraries from Ohio. Today, OCLC maintains the world's primary shared database of library holdings (WorldCat) as well as software intended to enable libraries of all sizes and types to effectively share these resources. The state of Illinois, through group service contracts with OCLC, has invested in unlimited access to WorldCat, unlimited cataloging services, and unlimited interlibrary loan usage for all of the libraries in their state. This is the model which I hope will become the basis for the next generation of WISCAT.

The Illinois model (otherwise known as the SILC project) has piqued the interest of many in Wisconsin. In recent weeks the Wisconsin Interlibrary Services (WiLS) Board voted to explore and undertake implementation of group service contracts similar to those in Illinois for any Wisconsin libraries who were interested. The Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) voted to seek out OCLC group service contract prices for its members, and the System Administrators and Resource Librarians of Wisconsin (SRLAAW) voted to accept and endorse a report of their interloan subcommittee which also urges a change to the OCLC based interloan model.

The process of changing direction for anything as complex as a state level interloan system is bound to be a lengthy one. Perhaps it will happen piecemeal, if others experience the same problems with current practices as we did. But also perhaps, since hope springs eternal, a new generation of WISCAT will arise through open shared processes, based on new ideas coupled with the experience of decades of experimentation and service. In any case, I have attached the report of the SRLAAW interloan committee for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!


Of the Season

When I was very young, the Friday after Thanksgiving was one of the high points of my year. That morning marked the official start of the Christmas season, and the merchants of the day all worked long hours the night before to make their stores ready for the first shoppers. In particular, I remember the F. W. Woolworth 5 and 10 cent store in the small town where I lived. My sister and I would rush about looking at wonderful things that just might (with the proper persuasion of the powers that be) appear some weeks later under our Christmas tree. My parents would purchase gifts for far away relatives, to whom everything had to be mailed early. And as a family, we would always select some new, and very special, ornament to be added to our tree.

I liked that part the best, because for me the decorations were the real proof that the holiday season was upon us at last. I remember that little store being festooned in tinsel, bedecked with shining glass balls, and with the smell of pine garlands filling the air. I also remember being completely overcome with an indescribable sense of the wonder of it all.

If I could ever have returned to that store and that moment as an adult, I'm sure that I might have found the aisles crowded, the merchandise cheap, and the decorations tawdry. But I have never gone back, nor have I ever wanted to. That moment, that sense of wonder, were perfect, and I will have them always.

Our world is all too real, and a sense of wonder is a difficult thing to maintain through the years. But it can be renewed. I find it again and again in the snowfall, in the starlight, and in the gaze of a child. If, as an adult, you feel shy about trying to recapture the wonder of your youth, have no fear. Just walk outside and look around. I'll be there too, standing in the silent darkness, looking up at the wonder of the stars.

See you on the 13th.