New Farley catalog is ‘hell on wheels,’ helps library hit record gate count

Bill Thomas, Assistant News Editor

In the month of October, more than 31,000 people passed through the doors of Wilkes University’s Farley Library. Sure, a lot of those bodies were “repeat customers,” but John Stachacz, the library dean, held that number is still an accurate indicator of how often members of the Wilkes campus community use the Farley’s various services.
In fact, Stachacz said, that number is not only the highest it’s ever been for Wilkes, but it’s also one of the highest gate counts for any campus library in the area.
It seems that, even in this age of online encyclopedias, e-books and file sharing, students still have a reason to “check out” the library for their academic needs.
“This is an old building, but we’re a very modern library,” Stachacz said, chalking up the high gate count to the Farley’s efforts to offer students the most up-to-date amenities possible.
One of the most substantial updates the Farley has made to its services is the new ENCORE catalog system, unveiled just last month. It’s a change that Stachacz said was long overdue. In fact, one of the first things Stachacz wanted to do when first he became the Farley’s dean was to finally get rid of the old system.
“We were the only library that had that system,” Stachacz said. “I don’t mean the only public university library; I mean the only library in Pennsylvania.”
In the 2011 spring semester, Stachacz went before Student Government seeking supplementary funds to help make the system switch as productive as possible. The request was approved.
“What the gift from Student Government allowed us to do was purchase additional software packets to the system that otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to get,” Stachacz said.
Gisele Romanace, the Farley’s computer systems librarian who oversaw the switch, explained that one of those additions will soon allow students to access ENCORE via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.
Another benefit of ENCORE, Stachacz said, is that it is a cloud system. This means that, where the old system was powered by on-campus servers, this new one is primarily Web-based, with information stored on the off-site servers of Innovative Interfaces Inc. in California.
Stachacz said that this change was not only cheaper for Wilkes, but also safer, an idea hitting home that much harder in light of the flooding in September and IT problems it caused throughout campus.
Safer, sleeker, more powerful and more convenient, the ENCORE system has only been up and running for a short time, but Stachacz said he’s already heard plenty of positive feedback. ENCORE seems to be quickly proving itself a massive improvement over the VTLS system which the library was using for the previous 25 years. That system, Stachacz said, was so out-of-date that it was actually cheaper for Wilkes to move on to a whole different system than to update the old one.
Illustrating just how obsolete the old catalog system was, Stachacz explained that, for example, if a student typed “The Taming of the Shrew” as a search, it would come back with no results, despite the fact that an entry for the Shakespearean classic is indeed in the system.
The reason for such misleading results? The old system wouldn’t be able to find anything with the article “the” in front of it. A student in search of any book would not only have to know the title, but also the way it was filed in library records.
In comparison, the ENCORE system is based on more advanced, now commonplace search software. Now, students can enter “taming” and “shrew” into the search box as independent phrases, and, like a Google search, ENCORE will have no problem in bringing up all entries with those words in them.
This change, coincidentally, puts Wilkes in much a similar position as the 25-year reign of VTLS did. Once again, Wilkes’ catalog exists alone at the extreme end of the quality spectrum.
“We are the only university in the area, outside the University of Scranton that has this system,” Stachacz said. “We went, literally, from one of the most archaic systems to the gold standard.”
Although Stachacz described the process of downloading more than 200,000 library records from the VTLS system and re-entering them into ENCORE as “a tremendous amount of work,” Romanace said it all went surprisingly smoothly. She estimated that the migration period, in which Wilkes actively started transferring data from system to system, took about three months.
“The people from Innovative Interfaces told me this was one of the fastest migrations they’ve ever done,” Stachacz added. “They usually take about a year.”
In addition to the new catalog, the Farley Library also offers the Worldcat search system, which provides students access to items, through interlibrary loans, that they may not be able to find through the Farley alone. Stachacz remarked that the library is also working to put more databases and e-books at student fingertips.
“As we move more into a digital world, we have to keep thinking digitally,” Stachacz said, stating again that the switch to ENCORE serves as one of the most exciting new additions to the library’s resources.
“People don’t think catalogs are sexy, but as an exploratory tool for information, this thing is hell on wheels,” he said with a grin.