Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity       January 2001 • Volume XXIII, Number 3

If you've ever waited ... and waited ... for that one copy of a reserve reading to be available before class, call

Errol to the Rescue

by Marc D. Allan

The problem, as Indiana University– Purdue University Indianapolis library director Barbara Fischler saw it in 1993, was this: How could IUPUI give its students, the majority of whom are commuters, easy access to library reserves? Putting course materials online seemed like the answer to Steven J. Schmidt, head of circulation and access services team leader at IUPUI’s University Library. But electronic reserves didn’t really exist.

So Schmidt and the library’s system officer at the time, Donna Burrow, began to look at document management systems. Ultimately, Burrow came across a Xerox® product called DocuTech. While more efficient than anything else Burrow or Schmidt had found, it required purchase of a very expensive printer the library couldn’t afford and needed to be re-engineered for use with standard World Wide Web browsers such as Netscape or Internet Explorer.

What happened next was the beginning of a partnership that generated Errol, the swashbuckling shorthand name for Electronic Reserves @ University Library. Errol now holds more than 80 percent of IUPUI’s course reserve materials. (The son of Errol, a more powerful and easier-to-use version dubbed Errol-II, debuted in 1998.) Accessing syllabi, articles, handouts, and other supplemental reading material is now a snap—or, at least, a click—for the university’s 27,000 students. In early 2000, Errol earned the IUPUI University Library a Computerworld Smithsonian Collection Laureate honoring the library’s innovative use of information technology.

Steven J. Schmidt, right, confers with a library colleague at one of the IUPUI University Library's many computer workstations. Faculty and students may access digital reserve readings brom these machines and from any Web-capable machine in the world.
Photo © 2000 Tyagan Miller

But that’s now. Back in 1993, Schmidt told Xerox that the library wanted to buy its product, but didn’t want the printer and needed a World Wide Web interface. In November 1993, the company delivered the first version of a product it would market as DocuWeb™. IUPUI was the nation’s first university to have the program on an open server, giving students access to its reserves from any computer linked to the Web.

“When they were designing the new library building here, the joke we had was, if we design this building right, nobody will ever have to come to it,” says Schmidt, sitting in his office in the seven-year-old library. “The electronic reserves go just about the farthest in that direction of anything we’ve got.

“This is a commuter school,” he continues. “The students get off work; they may drive for a couple of hours;they come to class. When the class is over, they’re not really in the mood to stand in line at the circulation desk and hope that the one copy of the one piece they have to read for next week’s class is available when they get up to the desk. This system gets rid of that queue. With Errol, any time students can get to a computer that is on the World Wide Web, they can get access to their reading.”

DocuWeb was good, but the library felt it needed tweaking. So, in weekly meetings with Xerox, whichnominated Errol for the Smithsonian Laureate, Schmidt and library colleagues provided feedback on how to improve the system.

The original system was an archival one, meaning data was entered one time and then called up whenever it was needed. But that didn’t work for the ever-changing world of library reserves.

“When we first started,” Schmidt says, “every three months, we were putting 3,000 things into the system and at the end of three months, erasing them all, doing away with all the passwords, and starting over again. We broke that system very quickly.”

After five years, University Library upgraded to a system called Digital Curriculum OnLine Reserves. For students, the new system looked like the previous one, but behind the scenes, it simplifies the process.

“The system we’re running now is dynamic, and it’s designed for exactly what we’re doing,” Schmidt says. “We’re putting in 2,000 to 3,000 items a semester. When we’re done using them, we can either delete them or just turn them off so they no longer appear. Then, when that same course is taught by that same professor the following year, we just turn it back on. It’s much easier to manage.”

And easier to use all around. The system works like this: A student logs on to She selects the department and course she needs, then types in the course password, which limits access to the materials to only those students enrolled in the course. She can then view the reserve materials, which come up in a standard Adobe Acrobat format, allowing the student to read, take notes on, or print out whatever document she needs.

Students at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis are all smiles over Errol-II, the newest version of the school's award-winning electronic reserve readings system.

“Very workable, very user-friendly, very simple,” says Schmidt, who received his undergraduate degree from Butler University and his master’s in library science from IU Bloomington.

For the library, it’s just about that easy. All materials that professors choose to put on reserve are automatically considered for inclusion in Errol. Reserves team leader John Cooper receives materials and oversees the processing. The materials get a file name, a collection number, and a full citation. Next, they are scanned into the electronic database—two student workers do this task—and put up on the Web. The use of Errol now accounts for about 100,000 transactions in an academic year, while paper reserves have fallen to approximately 20,000 circulations, according to a University Library case study submitted to the Smithsonian.

Patsy Allen teaches a course in User Needs and Behavior in the School of Library and Information Science at IUPUI. She uses Errol not only for reserve readings but also as an overall example for her students.

“We spend a lot of time in class on good system design practices and user interfaces,” Allen says. “Errol is one of the themselves—which provide easy access to numerous supplemental readings—the Errol Web site provides thorough, easy-to-understand documentation for faculty and students. I, for one, wouldn’t want to return to the pre-Errol days.”

Errol also has created at least two great ancillary benefits. One is the elimination of file cabinets. The University Library just pulled out three, four-foot cabinets that used to hold paper copies of reserve readings. More notably, Errol has made IUPUI’s library a model for other schools to copy. The University of Chicago and University of Kentucky have sent representatives to check out the system, and IPFW bought one based on what it saw in Indianapolis.

The biggest bugaboos Schmidt has encountered are copyrights and royalties, which last year cost the library nearly $20,000. At times, it’s been cumbersome to obtain the rights to scan certain articles and put them up on the Web. But, with the help of Kenneth Crews, director of IUPUI’s Copyright Management Center, library staff now follow a workable set of guidelines that allow them to provide the materials students need while staying within copyright laws.

“The first time a particular instructor uses a particular item for a particular course, we scan it and make it available for our students,” Schmidt explains. “Because it’s a password-protected system, we’re not publishing it to the world. We’re making it available only to the students in that class. The next time that professor uses that item for that course, we request permission to use it.

“In 1993, when we called publishers and said we wanted to make something available electronically, they’d hang up on us,” Schmidt says. “Now most of them are giving permission. Some are charging; some are doing it at no charge because we’re an educational institution. We’re still fighting our way through that minefield. I think it’s going to be the big area for the next decade.”

Schmidt, who joined IUPUI in 1981 after managing drugstores in Indianapolis for fourteen years, says he’s not so much amazed as he is pleased at the development of the electronic reserves technology.

“This is the way things should be done,” he says. “We just have to find a way to make it easier and carry it farther. Our purpose is to serve the students and the faculty and make their access as easy as possible. I think Errol goes a long way toward doing that."

For more information on the Web:

Errol Home Page

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