Toulouse: A Study in Libraries’ Virtual Future

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Toulouse, France, also called La Ville Rose—known for its rosy-hued brick, its roman amphitheater, and its mild climate—serves as the capitol of the Midi-Pyrenee region.

Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France  and home to one of the country's largest libraries. Founded at the end of the eighteenth century, the Library expanded its holdings after the 1789 revolution, when it acquired convent and émigré libraries. At that time, a number of very rare medieval printed manuscripts made their way into the Library's archives.

It became a municipal library in 1803 and the city now boasts more than 20 branch libraries, a bookmobile service, as well as a soon-to-be-opened multimedia library named after a famous Toulousian author, Jose Cabanis. In 1935, the Perigord building, which currently houses the patrimonial collection, was built and it has been recently renovated.

The patrimonial collection, one of the richest in France, includes texts from the 16th to the 19th centuries, music partitions, 19th century popular and scientific literature, illuminated manuscripts, written correspondence, and special collections. Much of this fragile collection requires special handling.

Until recently, the Toulouse Library used the multiLIS system, an older Integrated Library System (ILS) whose graphical interface left something to be desired. The catalogue wasn't online, either; patrons had to go to one of the library branches in person to sleuth the whereabouts of a desired book. To make up for some of this inconvenience, the Toulouse system employs an interlibrary loan system, but Library leaders knew it was time to take their system into the 21st century.

So, how did a 200-year-old French library turn to an American company with headquarters in Alabama and Missouri to help them whip their catalogue into shape? Not unlike the library's own epic history, the search for solutions took a meandering route.

To make a long story short, the multiLIS Europe office founded in France in 1989, which had provided the Toulouse Public Library with its system, traded hands a number of times and eventually became part of Data Research Associates, Inc. (DRA), a company based in St. Lours, Missouri. The Toulouse Library was looking for a new ILS and was leaning towards DRA's Taos system, an object-oriented DBMS. After the bidding process, the Toulouse Library signed an agreement with the multiLIS Europe office in 2001. But shortly thereafter, in May 2001, Sirsi bought out DRA, which meant that Toulouse either had to start from scratch, or choose to work with Sirsi.

After it became clear that Sirsi was prepared to translate its system into French, the team at Toulouse decided not to look elsewhere. After all, going through the bidding process again and then building a working relationship with another office would put the Library back years. "We were assured that translation would be undertaken by the Montreal office and that it was a priority, so we decided to stick with Sirsi" said Jacques Surmonne, head conservationist and project administrator. As Christian Négrel, CEO of multiLIS Europe explained, he was happy to know that "there is an eight-person team in the Montreal office whose sole job is translation."

Building The Library's Future
The solution that the Toulouse Library decided upon actually incorporated a variety of Sirsi products so the Library's online catalogue would finally reflect the richness of its holdings. They selected the Unicorn Library Management System, the Hyperion Digital Media Archive, and the iBistro e-library.

Unicorn is an open architecture ILS that runs on a Windows system and has an easy-to-understand graphical interface. Toulouse bought one of the most complete versions of Unicorn with lots of bells and whistles. It is a powerful and versatile system with room to grow, important criteria for a large public library with diverse holdings and locations. It also offers room for growth so that emerging technologies and other Sirsi products can be easily integrated into the Unicorn system.

With 296 employees, Toulouse needed a Library Management System that could fulfill certain staff-mandated requirements. Unicorn offers a complete acquisition tracking system from the book order to the creation of the catalogue record—a very handy function for a library that acquired 104,000 documents just last year. Circulation information is easy to update and change. There is also a serials control function that tracks subscription renewals. And Unicorn includes what Sirsi has called a Workflows staff client that offers step-by-step guidance to staff members on how to accomplish certain tasks. The multiLIS Europe office is, however, "training small groups to use the new program. These staff members will then, in turn, train other staff members," according to Négrel.

Currently, Toulouse's acquisitions information is updated centrally and made available on the Library's Web site. However, with Unicorn and iBistro soon to be officially launched, the update process is under close scrutiny and in the process of being reorganized.

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