DECIDE: decision support models and a DSS for European academic and public libraries

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<ul><li><p>DECIDE: decision support models and a DSS for European academic and public libraries </p><p>by Robert Davies, Partner, Carpenter Davies Associates </p><p>In this article Robert Davies outlines the aims of the European Commission supported Project DECIDE. He describes the Project stages, analyses the work to date the activities undertaken and 'deliverables' produced by DECIDE and discusses the preliminary findings regarding both user and technical requirements. </p><p>Introduction </p><p>DECIDE is a European Commission supported Project, funded under the third Call for Proposals (CfP 93) in the libraries area of the Telematics applications in areas of general interest pro-gramme, under the 3rd RTD Framework Plan (1990-4). It is one of a small focused, cluster of four Projects which addresses Action Line IV, Theme 18 bis of the libraries workprogramme: Models and tools to support decision-making in libraries. The other Projects in the cluster are called DECIMAL, EQLIPSE and MINSTREL. The Project began in January 1995 and has an expected duration of 33 months with a total shared-cost budget of 500,000 ECU. </p><p>The aims of DECIDE are to: </p><p> define a comprehensive set of decision-making support requirements, approaches and methodologies applicable to a wide range of academic and public libraries across Europe; </p><p> based on these requirements, to develop a decision support system for use by library </p><p>managers, which is independent of any particular automated library system and which is suitable for managers of academic and public libraries in different member states. </p><p>Among the key principles for the prototype are that it address both public and academic library needs; that data should be capable of being drawn from automated library systems (for example, report generator modules), from other 'internal' institu-tional sources and from external sources; and that it should cater for both 'hard' and 'soft' data. </p><p>Project stages </p><p>Work on DECIDE is being undertaken in four main stages: </p><p>1. A research phase to develop baseline requirements, which is now complete. This stage involved a process of defining requirements, approaches and methodologies for decision-making among library managers. It sought to take into account the role of, and interaction between, trends in user needs assessment, library evaluation (including performance measurement), quality management, financial and resource management and other factors affecting decision-making. </p><p>2. Design, development and installation, covering the development of the prototype server database, extraction routines and input formats for data, the user interface, development of system functionality and the production of support documentation and different language versions. This phase was completed by October 1996. System design is being accelerated through rapid prototyping methodology. </p><p>3. Field testing. There will be two field trials of ten months duration in total. The first will be a small scale 'verification trial' followed by necessary modifications, and the second will be an extended validation in real-time decision-making and management environments. </p><p>4. Consolidation and dissemination of research results. This will run in parallel with stages 2 and 3 and is about to commence in earnest. </p><p>8 VINE 103 </p></li><li><p>DECIDE: decision support models and a DSS for European academic and public libraries </p><p>Project partners </p><p>The full partners in the Project are: </p><p>Two library systems suppliers: </p><p>SLS (Information Systems) Ltd, the vendors of LIBERTAS; and Datapoint Nederland BV, vendor of the TOBIAS system. </p><p>SLS is responsible for the design of the main system database, Datapoint for the user interface. </p><p>Three libraries, which are users of these vendor systems and will act as test sites in both field trials: </p><p>University of Bristol University Library (UK); University of Alcal de Henares (Spain); and the Public Library of 's Hertogenbosch (Netherlands). </p><p>A specialist consultancy firm, Carpenter Davies Associates, which is the Project Manager and coordinating partner. </p><p>In addition: </p><p>A Prototype Test Group, consisting of a further three libraries which are users of the two vendor systems, will participate in the second, longer, field trial. This group includes: </p><p>Malmo Public Library (Sweden); Instituto Superior Tecnico library, Lisbon (Portugal); and another public library yet to be finalised. </p><p>A wider Research Group consisting mainly of representatives of libraries which are not users of the two vendor partners' systems has also been established to validate the research findings and to provide a reference and sounding board throughout the Project. </p><p>Work to date </p><p>Activities undertaken and 'deliverables' produced by DECIDE to date include: </p><p>1. A literature-based report on the theory and practice of DSS as applied to libraries; </p><p>2. A synthesis of recommended performance </p><p>measures and indicators recommended by, or emerging from, drafts of recent major studies (including those undertaken for ISO, IFLA, Unesco, the Commission's own ground-clearing study, PROLIB/PI, led by De Montfort University and that of the ad hoc Working Group of the HEFCE Joint Funding Council); </p><p>3. A series of structured Research Group workshops held in UK, Netherlands and Spain, at which the issues affecting decision-making in libraries were explored; </p><p>4. A questionnaire survey of 100 academic and public libraries across the European Union designed to validate preliminary conclusions on decision support requirements; </p><p>5. A technical report on criteria, options and solutions for the system; </p><p>6. A data dictionary is being finalised drawing upon elements from the LIBERTAS and TOBIAS systems, identified external data sources and validated against the user requirements study findings. The data dictionary will incorporate facilities for 'scope notes' and annotations and will take account of ISO 11062; </p><p>7. Evaluation criteria for the field test are under development. These will focus upon testing whether the functionality provided by the DSS matches the defined user requirements. </p><p>The Project has recently been the subject of Peer Review. Following this, it has been agreed that the documentation relating to items 1 - 4 above should now be made publicly available. This is obtainable in hard copy from the address given at the end of the article and will be accessible via the DECIDE World Wide Web site (URL: by the end of November. </p><p>Preliminary findings </p><p>User requirements </p><p>A number of factors in the user environment emerged as significant for the design of the user interface, including variable levels of skill in using </p><p>VINE 103 9 </p></li><li><p>DECIDE: decision support models and a DSS for European academic and public libraries </p><p>spreadsheets, different levels of technology provi-sion for library managers, the need for graphic outputs and the maximum acceptable price level for the DSS. A widely expressed requirement for group decision-making indicates that the prototype should be accessible over a Local Area Network as well as in standalone mode. </p><p>In the research phase, comparative analysis indica-tors used in different standards revealed limited commonality and suggested no obvious predictable dataset. The most highly ranked category of indica-tors among the categories identified by the PROLIB/PI study was user satisfaction. </p><p>These categories, represented as a league table of average 'votes' per respondent to the user survey for individual performance indicators within each category, were ranked as follows: </p><p>User satisfaction Provision: cost Timeliness Use Cost Provision: use Use: cost Target population: use Provision Needs fill Provision: target population Target population: cost Target population </p><p>13.3 11.2 11.1 9.8 9.7 9.1 7.7 7.6 6.6 6.5 6.2 6.1 6.0 </p><p>Each of the library partners has identified a number of external data sources which they consider key to their decision-making requirements. In turn, they have each nominated one of these sources for incorporation and active use in the first of the two field trials. The sources in question are: </p><p> UK SCONUL statistics for academic libraries; </p><p>The DOS Statistiek 1994 Netherlands public library statistics published for internal use by NBLC (also for benchmarking); </p><p> Internal university data at the University of Alcala de Henares, covering for example academic salaries, staffing and students data, from the Personnel and Academic Planning Offices. </p><p>These sources are available in machine-readable form. They appear to offer a usefully representative </p><p>initial selection from the range of sources available. Access to other external sources will be provided during the second field trial. </p><p>In the rapidly changing technological environment for libraries, past use may not be a good predictor of future use. As a next step, it is intended to take into account performance indicators which address the 'electronic future' of libraries, although it is recognised that collection of data for new types of services is more difficult. Aspects such as: use over a university network; remote use; availability, access and use of information in electronic form; volume of electronic document transactions and expenditure on electronic information provision, are critical growth areas for decision-making and need to be addressed in the design of a comprehensive DSS such as that which DECIDE is aiming to prototype. </p><p>A key design issue therefore has been to reconcile the need for a clearly defined dataset as a prerequi-site for a working system and the potential for flexibility, revealed by the user requirements study. This has been resolved by the approach of using both pre-defined and user-defined tables. </p><p>Technical approach </p><p>The basic design approach makes use of client-server architecture, SQL and Windows interfaces and industry standard RDBMS. Sound and detailed documentation is an important requirement for the Project, particularly with respect to the data dic-tionary and to the import file specifications, so that data can be easily extracted from other systems. </p><p>For the technical design approach, two basic options were considered: </p><p>Option 1 reliant upon importing data in a common format into the DSS; </p><p>Option 2 reliant upon connecting the DSS directly to remote data sources, over a network. </p><p>The Project consortium considered that Option 2 would not meet the objectives specified for DECIDE. Option 1 is more likely to achieve this result, assuming that appropriate features, functions and capabilities can be developed. </p><p>However, it would be unfortunate if the potentiality of industry standards for open data transfer were not adopted as far as possible. Some hybridity </p><p>10 VINE 103 </p></li><li><p>DECIDE: decision support models and a DSS for European academic and public libraries </p><p>between Options 1 and 2 appears possible. Data should be able to be imported into the DECIDE system, for example, from any ODBC compliant supplier, bearing in mind that it is the supplier who would need to ensure correct delivery, not the decision-maker. </p><p>The potentiality of the Internet as an infrastructure for the physical transport of data is fully recog-nized. The opportunity exists within the proposed solution to transfer data using, for example, TCP/ IP or FTP. However, it is clear that other methods for exchange of data cannot at present be excluded (for example, the transport of CD-ROM, tapes or disks). This will ensure that data supply to the DSS is not technology-dependent. Easy data entry facilities, including direct data entry, are a key requirement. </p><p>DECIDE involves the development of a user interface application that enables the decision-maker to process and manipulate data collected from a library system and one or more external resources in a user-friendly way. </p><p>The interface will enable the decision-maker to save results and to export them, using ODBC facilities. Data of different types will be converted within the interface to enable arithmetical calculation to occur. Manipulation of saved results (for instance in time series tables) and importation into spreadsheet or other databases will be possible. Facilities for data manipulation will be included within the interface program, but in some cases this will take place after the export of data from the DSS. Capabilities such as forecasting and 'what-if modelling will be integral to the DSS. </p><p>For library managers to be able to extract data, a DSS must have data categories expressed in simple, unambiguous language (with scope notes where necessary); have coded data translated into normal text; where a field has a limited number of possi-bilities, a facility must be available to list the possible options online, together with their mean-ings (if the data is coded); and have facilities to reduce the amount of detail in the data, especially pre-set search statements combining data from several fields. </p><p>The realization of such a user interface application requires a clear definition of the dataset to be used, in order to establish the meaning of data elements and their formats. At some stage in the process before data (especially that from library system </p><p>report generators) reaches the end-user it will almost certainly be necessary to reduce its complex-ity by producing summaries. Clearly, differences may occur within different data sources between the content, field length, formats and interpretation of similar data elements that are required for compari-son or manipulation in the DSS. No standard currently exists to govern this. The utility of Z39.50 was considered but was rejected as being unsuitable given the lack of format standards for most of the data elements concerned. </p><p>The most efficient solution appears to be, where possible, to make the supplier of the data responsi-ble for its delivery in the right format and with the right notation meaning, etc. In the case of data from a library partner's automated library system, the supplier of that system will be responsible for providing the facilities for data extraction. In the case of data from external sources, the library partners will negotiate with individual data provid-ers for the supply of data in a specified output format or formats. </p><p>The physical means of transferring and exchanging data should be based on affordable, easy to use and internationally accepted de facto standard proce-dures and protocols, such as CSV. </p><p>The building of the first version of the prototype system is now well underway and was demonstrated at a partners' workshop in Spain during September 1996. </p><p>Dissemination of results </p><p>The Project intends to make its findings and deliverables widely and publicly available by the autumn of 1996, using its mailing list and Web site. In the meantime, anyone wishing to obtain a hard copy should write to the address provided in the contact details. </p><p>'Concertation' procedures are being developed between the four European Commission-funded DSS Projects in order to optimise the exchange and common use of research results and to minimise overlaps. Mos...</p></li></ul>


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