ASIS Midyear '98 Proceedings

Collaboration Across Boundaries:
Theories, Strategies, and Technology

A Statewide Cooperative Project:
The Louisiana Library Network

Carol L. Barry
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Describes the development and implementation of two statewide library networks in Louisiana: the Louisiana Online University Information System (LOUIS), a network of academic libraries, and the Louisiana Library Network (LLN), a network that includes public and school libraries. The projects that resulted in the creation of LOUIS and LLN are discussed in terms of the cooperative efforts of state agencies, academic institutions and libraries throughout the state. The services and resources provided to library patrons as a result of these projects are described, and the benefits of this type of cooperative project are discussed.


At the beginning of the decade, few academic libraries in Louisiana were automated and the likelihood of automation seemed remote, given the financial resources available. Within school and public libraries, information technologies of any type were often absent. Today, a mere seven years later, a statewide multitype library network provides patrons in academic, public and school libraries with access to the online catalogs of 18 academic libraries; access to databases that provide the full-text of thousands of journals and newspapers, as well as other information resources; and access to the full array of materials available through the Internet.

This transformation was made possible through the implementation of two separate, although related, projects. The creation of the Louisiana Online University Information System (LOUIS) has provided a statewide online system that automates and links 18 academic libraries throughout Louisiana. The details of the planning, funding, and implementation of this project have been described in several publications (Cargill, 1995; Cargill and Hay, 1994; Coco, 1996; Fatzer, 1996; Nuckles, 1994). Every discussion of this project stresses the extraordinary levels of cooperation among academic institutions and various state agencies that were necessary to bring this project to a successful conclusion.

The successful implementation of the LOUIS project provided the basis for the creation of a statewide library network that encompasses public and school libraries as well: the Louisiana Library Network (LLN). Through this network, patrons in public and school libraries throughout the state have access to electronic databases of information, the resources available through the Internet, and the online catalogs of Louisiana academic libraries.

The creation and implementation of the Louisiana Library Network illustrates a cooperative effort among state agencies, academic institutions and libraries that has significantly increased the technology and information resources available in Louisiana libraries. By sharing the resources of academic institutions and the expertise of staff at those institutions, all types of libraries throughout the state have been provided with the equipment needed to access electronic information resources, the training needed to utilize such resources, and subscriptions to databases of information of interest to library patrons. This article describes the cooperative projects that resulted in the creation of LOUIS and LLN, the services and resources provided to library patrons as a result of these projects, and the benefits of this type of cooperative project.


In the summer of 1990, the Louisiana State Board of Regents, as part of a revision of its Master Plan for Higher Education, established a Task Force on Libraries, with membership consisting of academic librarians and chief academic officers. The Task Force was mandated to develop a plan for greater cooperation and resource sharing among academic libraries. At the initial meeting, it became clear that opportunities to fulfill this mandate would be greatly limited unless all libraries were automated and linked electronically. However, at that time, there was no statewide telecommunications network. Indeed, only four universities in the state were connected to the Internet through Suranet (one of the regional networks that form the Internet). Obviously, the first step in any cooperative effort would need to include the creation of such a statewide telecommunications network.

In 1992, the State Office of Telecommunications Management (OTM) established the Louisiana Network (LaNet) as a wide area, multi-protocol state network to serve the needs of state government and education. Libraries and state agencies with access to LaNet could utilize the network to communicate with one another and to connect to the Internet. With the reality of a statewide telecommunications network in place, the Louisiana Academic Library Information Network Consortium (LALINC) was formed. Every public and private academic library director in the state became a member of the consortium. Members of LALINC assisted in writing the grants which originally funded and guided the activities of the Louisiana Online University Information System (LOUIS).

The willingness of the Louisiana State University (LSU) Libraries and the LSU Division of Computing Services to share their resources and expertise resulted in the decision to use the NOTIS Library Management System, housed on the LSU mainframe, to automate and network the state's public academic libraries. Through such cooperative efforts, the academic libraries throughout the state were able to automate more efficiently and cost effectively. Also, through the utilization of a single automation management system, academic library staff and patrons across

the state only needed to learn one software system, thus promoting cohesion and cooperation while reducing training costs.

The results of these efforts was LOUIS, an online library system that automates and links 18 Louisiana public academic libraries. The NOTIS Library Management System is used to automate the catalog as well as the circulation, acquisitions, and serials functions of these libraries. In addition, journal databases are shared and accessed by LOUIS participants. The LOUIS office, a department of the LSU Office of Computing Services, trains and supports staff at each library in these endeavors. The NOTIS software and all LOUIS data are resident on the LSU mainframe and accessed using LaNet; however, each catalog is maintained by librarians at the individual university or college.

During the implementation of LOUIS, the nine personnel who compose the LOUIS staff (one director, four librarians, and four analysts) worked with personnel from each academic library and with data conversion vendors to convert the existing card catalogs into electronic formats. The LOUIS staff also trained library personnel in the use of the online catalog, related journal databases, system configuration, cataloging, authority control, OCLC export, and circulation functions.

In describing the project that resulted in LOUIS, Cargill and Hay state that "Collaboration may be a much touted concept but creating the opportunity to build the library network for Louisiana, to fund the project, and to implement the various phases of the project has required that we build partnerships that did not previously exist... an organizational team that comprises people with different work cultures, some of whom have had little history of working together, e.g., the LSU Libraries and Computing personnel, state agency staff, vendors, and politicians." (p. 387)

This extraordinary cooperation among academic institutions, public agencies and private industries was responsible for the successful implementation of LOUIS and LaNet. The evidence of this level of cooperation enabled Louisiana State University to successfully compete for a $2.48 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of the grant was to extend these cooperative efforts to include public and school libraries in a statewide network of libraries; i.e., the Louisiana Library Network or LLN.


The primary focus of the LLN project was to provide Internet access in one public library in each of Louisiana's 64 parishes (counties) and in 18 K-12 school libraries distributed around the state. LLN sites are also provided with access to the online academic catalogs of LOUIS, and to commercial electronic databases. The first phase of the LLN project focused on public libraries throughout the state. In order to facilitate electronic access within public libraries, grant monies were used to purchase one workstation for each public library system, to pay data circuit fees for one year, and to fund subscriptions to electronic databases.

Although such financial support was necessary for the inclusion of public libraries within the network, it was obviously not sufficient. The successful implementation of the network would also involve the selection and installation of the appropriate computer hardware and software within public libraries; the training of public library personnel in the use of these technologies and resources; and the evaluation and selection of databases of interest to public library patrons throughout the state. Beyond financial support, the expertise and resources of staff at academic institutions was critical to the success of this project.

Installation of LLN Workstations

The LOUIS staff developed the necessary hardware and software configurations for public library access to the statewide network. The staff was then responsible for physically installing LLN workstations in public libraries throughout the state. The configuration that was installed within most public libraries included a digital service unit, a router, and a 486 PC running Windows and TCP/IP with gopher and World Wide Web client software. This equipment was connected via 56 KB lines to a regional hub site; i.e., an academic institution that is a LaNet member. LLN workstations were installed, by LOUIS staff, in 66 public libraries between September and December of 1994.

Availability of Electronic Resources

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this particular statewide network is the availability of the state's academic library catalogs; patrons in public libraries throughout the state are provided with very easy and transparent access to this information. For example, a patron in a public library in remote regions of the state can determine, not only that a title of interest is available at Louisiana State University, but whether the item is on the shelf, on reserve, in circulation, and so forth. A survey of public library patrons conducted in March 1996 indicated that over seven percent of the patrons responding to the survey were utilizing the academic library catalogs for this type of information.

The LLN also provides public library patrons with access to commercial databases of information; i.e., journal indexes, full-text journal articles, full-text newspaper articles, and so on. A committee composed of representatives of academic libraries, public libraries and LOUIS staff members has been responsible for the evaluation and selection of these resources. Given that these resources will be used by patrons in both academic and public libraries, a wide variety of patron needs has been considered. In terms of public library access specifically, the one factor identified as critical to database selection has been the availability of full-text articles as part of the database itself.

At this point in time, public libraries had been provided with the hardware and software needed to access the network, and decisions had been made as to the electronic information resources that would be made available to public libraries. The next step in the progress toward a successful implementation of this project was to provide public library personnel with the training needed to access and utilize these resources.

Training of Public Library Personnel

During November and December 1994, LOUIS staff conducted 11 two-day training sessions for public library personnel at locations throughout the state. Over 300 individuals participated in these training sessions. Each training session included instructions specific to the three types of resources available through the LLN workstations: the catalogs and databases available through the LOUIS system using NOTIS software commands, the Vista databases, and the Internet. The Internet portion of the training also included basic information about the Windows environment. For each resource, the training provided an overview of the types of information available; instructions on how to access each resource; and explanations and examples of screen displays, search procedures and commands, and navigation through the software packages.

It was not possible, due to the lack of equipment and facilities at training sites, to allow participants hands-on experience during the training sessions. Such a training environment would have been ideal. Rather, participants were given detailed handouts for each resource. The handouts were developed by the LOUIS staff and incorporated descriptions of the information available through each resource, and explanations and examples of search

commands and screen displays. For each resource, a set of instructional exercises to be completed by participants was also provided.

A laptop computer was used to connect to the LLN system. A portable projection system was used to display the LLN screens to the large screen. Each training session then consisted of trainers actually executing the techniques and commands covered in the handouts. In addition, questions raised by participants could be immediately answered through an actual demonstration on the system.


The previous section describes the many ways in which the resources of academic institutions were crucial to the successful implementation of the LLN project. On the most basic level, the academic library directors throughout the state were responsible for the initiatives that led to the statewide telecommunications network and online academic library network that form the basis of LLN. As a result of these efforts, these individuals were then able to use their expertise to successfully compete for the $2.48 million grant from the Department of Education that would extend the statewide network to public and school libraries. LLN could not have become a reality without this financial support. However, the support to public libraries has extended far beyond these initial efforts.

As mentioned previously, several academic institutions throughout the state agreed to act as hub sites for public library access to the statewide telecommunications network. In addition, eight academic institutions have sponsored electronic mail access for staff members at public libraries, and trained public library personnel in the use of e-mail systems. It can also be said that staff at academic libraries have provided informal technical support, as personnel within public libraries have forged relationships with individuals at academic libraries and approach those individuals for help and assistance. The second phase of the LLN project has targeted the K-12 school libraries that will be linked to the network. Each school library will be sponsored by an academic library that will assist with technological support and training activities.

The support of the LOUIS staff at Louisiana State University has been instrumental in all phases of this project. As has been described above, the members of this staff were responsible for the selection and installation of the LLN hardware and software; the creation of training materials for public library personnel; and the implementation of training sessions held throughout the state. Members of this staff were also directly responsible for evaluating the services and contracts provided by vendors of electronic information resources, reporting the results of those evaluations to various library committees, and negotiating contracts and licenses with those vendors. For several years, LOUIS staff continued to provide ongoing technical support to public libraries by answering questions and troubleshooting problems. These responsibilities have now been assumed by the State Library of Louisiana.

Although several states have instituted statewide multitype library networks, there are aspects of the situation in Louisiana which are unique. Whereas most networks avoid affiliation with any one university, LOUIS was planned from the start to operate at, and be managed by, LSU. Not only did the university have a license to NOTIS software that could be shared with other academic institutions; it was also the only academic institution in the state with a computer center of sufficient size and sophistication, and a computer staff of sufficient expertise, to undertake a project of this magnitude. Given that LALINC is a voluntary organization that does not employ staff, it could not serve as principle investigator for grant proposals. Thus, personnel at LSU served as the principle investigators and managers of the various grants supporting this project.

The cooperation of the academic libraries throughout the state has led to economies of scale and resource sharing that would not have been possible previously. The Master Plan for Higher Education in Louisiana, published by the State Board of Regents in 1994, includes the following recommendations: "Fiscal austerity requires that Louisiana's higher education institutions shift away from undertakings that are individual in scope and, instead, engage in cooperative initiatives as a way to achieve improved economies of scale... For these efforts to be truly successful, institutions and agencies which comprise Louisiana's higher education system must stave off resistance to change, acknowledge programmatic strengths and weaknesses, and forge new cooperative alliances" (p. 79-80). In discussing these recommendations, Fatzer comments, "It may fairly be said that the Regents were depending on the [academic] libraries to set a good example for the rest of higher education in Louisiana by establishing an effective resource-sharing consortium" (p. 68). It can now fairly be said that the academic libraries of Louisiana met that challenge. The extension of the statewide academic library network to include public and school libraries, and the support offered by academic institutions to those libraries, is simply a continuation of the cooperative efforts that have been evidenced in Louisiana during the past decade.


It seems reasonable to conclude that the LLN project has been a success. Every public library system in Louisiana, regardless of size or location, is able to offer patrons access to all of the resources made available through the system; access to the many resources available through the Internet; access to a wide variety of electronic databases; and access to the online catalogs of 18 academic libraries located throughout the state. For many smaller libraries in the state, this project was directly responsible for providing those libraries with their first microcomputer and their first access to any type of electronic information resource. The examination of the actual use of these resources indicates that patrons in every public library system are utilizing the resources made available, and the results of patron surveys indicate a high level of satisfaction with these resources.

It also seems reasonable to conclude that, without the cooperation and shared resources of institutions throughout the state, the LLN could never have become a reality. The spirit of cooperation that was engendered during the initial LOUIS project has been extended to encompass the public and school libraries of the state and, ultimately, to every citizen within the state. In this environment of fiscal difficulties, the willingness and ability to share resources, whether those resources involve grant writing abilities, computer technologies, or technological knowledge and expertise, reap benefits to all participants.


Cargill, J. (1995). A target of opportunity: Creation of the LOUIS Network. Library Hi Tech, 13, 87-107.

Cargill, J., & Hay, R.D. (1994). Achieving a vision of a statewide academic library network. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 19, 386-387.

Coco, C. (1996). Louisiana: Status summary of statewide library initiatives. Library Hi Tech, 14, 141-145.

Fatzer, Jill B. (1996). Budget stringency as a stimulus to innovation: The cases of Louisiana and Ohio. Journal of Library Administration, 22, 57-77.

Nuckles, N. (1994). Louisiana network links libraries. College and Research Libraries News, 55, 414-414.

The Master Plan for Higher Education, Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana Board of Regents, 1994

Paper presented at the 1998 midyear meeting of the Association for Information Science, May 17-20, 1998, Orlando, Florida.

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