County libraries unveil automated circulation system

It’s Friday night and your fifth-grader has just remembered she has a report due on the solar system worth 25 percent of her science grade.

Such a last-minute revelation once meant an entire Saturday spent racing from library to library only to find that book on the rings of Saturn is checked out until next week.

But thanks to a new automated circulation system that goes online today, Shelby County patrons can search the shelves of their favorite library without ever leaving home.

The new system called Polaris allows patrons to access the countywide library catalog of all 11 Shelby County libraries from any Internet connection 24 hours a day, seven days a week by connecting to the local library’s website or the Harrison Regional Library website at www.shelbycounty-al.org.

And that’s not all. Using the bar code from their library card and a pre-assigned password, patrons can access their personal accounts and view a list of books or materials they currently have checked out, have on hold and any fines or fees they may owe.

&uot;They can do this at 2 o’clock in the morning, at home, in their bedroom,&uot; said Barbara Roberts, Harrison Regional Library director.

&uot;People are very busy today, and our goal is to make using library services as easy as possible for them.&uot;

Beyond just viewing their account, Roberts said the interactive system also allows patrons to reserve books and renew those they already have checked out.

Going out of town the week that book you’ve been waiting on is coming off reserve? Just go online and move your name down the list to assure you don’t lose your turn at the latest best-seller, she said.

Especially handy for students tackling term papers is a feature that automatically formats bibliographies in styles defined by the Modern Language Association, the Chicago Manual of Style and the American Psychological Association.

And researchers will love the online links to periodical and reference databases through the Alabama Virtual Library, which eventually will allow patrons to search the collections of libraries such as Birmingham Public, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Auburn University.

Mary Hedrick, director of technical services for Shelby County Public Libraries, said Shelby County is the first library system in the state to implement what she calls a &uot;state-of-the-art, third-generation&uot; circulation system.

The system was purchased through a $150,000 grant from the Federal Library Services and Technology Act paired with a $37,500 match from the Shelby County Commission. Each of the 11 member libraries also provided additional hardware and support through their respective budgets.

The result, Hedrick said, is a flexible system that will adapt to changes in both population and technology for years to come.

&uot;It allows us to grow. So, as the library needs grow, this system grows with us. We won’t have to make it work anymore.&uot;