LESSONS LEARNED: An Academic Library's Conversion from DOS and CD-ROM to Windows 95 and Online Access to Databases
Francie C. Davis, M.S.L.S.
Reference & Electronic Resources Librarian
Dowling College
Oakdale, NY 11769-1999
Joyce Renfroe Gotsch, M.S.L.S.
Reference & Information Instruction Librarian
Dowling College
Oakdale, NY 11769-1999
Lori Kim Troboy, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of CIS and Management
Dowling College
Oakdale, NY 11769-1999
PowerPoint Presentation
Background of the Project
Lessons Learned
Social Lessons
Managerial Lessons
Technological Lessons


Dowling College is a 43-year-old, liberal arts institution located on the south shore of Long Island. It serves 6,000 nontraditional, primarily commuting undergraduate and graduate students and specializes in education, business, aviation and transportation.

A major project was initiated in October 1995 to move the Library from dependence on CD-ROM versions of databases to Web-based access where possible. Limited space and finances suggested that an appropriate strategy for our Library would be a heavy reliance on electronic resources. Because we had a relatively small collection with limited depth, we sought access to more full-text information. This conversion was intended to provide much faster access to more up-to-date information and to improve service to Library patrons. The project did not come to fruition until January 1998 and required fortitude, patience, and humor. This paper will examine the sociological, technological and managerial lessons learned.

Prior to this project, the Library housed 13 public access 386-based microcomputers connected to a LAN networking 22 CD-ROM databases and the online library catalog. Since the project's implementation, the LAN has been upgraded to Pentium-based computers workstations with access to an expanded networked tower of CD-ROMs and with Web access to the Library's homepage and online databases.

Most of the databases were in CD-ROM format and needed to be updated frequently. Because our outsourced Computer Services Department performed this update irregularly, we deemed it necessary to seek an alternate solution that would better serve our customers and provide more up-to-date information.

We upgraded our CD-ROM tower for more speed and space allowing greater campus-wide access to materials that did not need frequent updates. This upgrade provided additional new space that permitted us to convert periodical subscriptions to electronic CD-ROM forms, eliminating the time consuming management of paper subscriptions. We also converted from access to CD-ROM programs at one stand-alone station to campus-wide network access.

We saw a golden opportunity when major vendors announced that they would no longer support DOS. This was a compelling argument to update our resources and convince administration that we must convert from DOS to Windows versions of our databases and migrate to Windows 95 / Office 97 in the Library.

The Library's organizational chart is unique. There is no library director. Seven full-time, faculty librarians share professional library management decisions. An additional 10 part-time librarians assist in staffing the reference desk, teaching Information Instruction, conducting research and suggesting specific service improvements, but are not part of the Library's management team. All facility management and clerical staff management fall under the auspices of a non-librarian Information Services Director who holds an MBA. The group of librarians and the Information Services Director report jointly and equally to the College Provost.

Outsourcing is a significant feature in the background of the project. The entire Computer Services Department is outsourced to one company, which manages both hardware and software systems for the College. A completely separate company hosts and manages the Web site for the College. Part of the challenge in this project involved communications between the College and these two companies.

During the course of this conversion project, key personnel changes occurred. The Associate Provost/College Information Services Administrator, the immediate boss for librarians, resigned to take a position elsewhere. The outsourced Computer Services Director left and was replaced. The outsourced Computer Services Department project manager quit. The college-wide web master resigned, as did a long string of students hired to update the web page.

Lastly, the library budget was hit by major budget cuts. An initial budget cut of 15% of the previous year's allotment was followed by an additional 40% cut. These budget cuts had a significant impact on the speed of implementation of the project and increased the necessity of moving to electronic sources.


This section lists the lessons we learned during the course of the project. Taking a sociotechnical perspective, the lessons fall into three categories: social, managerial, and technical.

Social Lessons

The social lessons revolve around using clear and frequent communication to overcome resistance to change and to invite everyone to participate enthusiastically.

Managerial Lessons

The managerial lessons include using good communication skills but also suggest that good planning and thorough training is essential to the success of a project like this.  

Technological Lessons

We have found that planning and communication are absolutely essential to preventing and solving technological problems

In addition to handouts for our customers, we have provided bookmarks to all of our Web databases on our browser. That way, if they do not want to or cannot get to our web page, they can still go to the databases. This has already proved handy when we were teaching an Information Instruction class and we could not get our web page to open.

The Web page is a work in progress. It has much of the usual information about hours and policies. There are subject area links that are useful to areas of the curriculum. Then there are links to our databases. Another division handles corrections to our pages. We have had to deal with personnel changes here and the necessity to justify our goals repeatedly. In addition, the time involved in checking and rechecking pages for accuracy and currency is extraordinary. Add to that the time involved in explaining what one wants to each new employee, and you have much time that could be more productively spent. It also is not being updated in a timely and appropriate fashion. Corrections delivered in June have just been loaded in January. It is important to have control of your own web page if at all possible. We have requested that we be allowed to update and upload our own pages.


In reviewing the lessons learned three key factors emerge. They are communicating, planning, and training.


Planning Training If attention is given to each of these factors, your conversion project has a far better chance of success.