UoL Library Blog

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PackTracker – the future for CLA returns?

Posted by gazjjohnson on 4 February, 2011

Yesterday (Thursday) we had a demonstration of the Packtracker software from HERON.  We’re not members of HERON currently, but one thing we do do is a lot of digitisation of materials for online course packs (well over 2,500 items last academic year alone).  While most of this is under the CLA Digitisation Licenses, not all of it is and for much of it my Copyright & Coursepacks administrator does have to go back to the publishers or other rights holders directly for permission.

It’s a time-consuming task, not simply in the creation of the scans though that is a factor.  It’s time-consuming because we need to keep extensive records and documentation of everything scanned, whom it is for, number of students etc.  Now we’re not doing this simply for the good of our own health, oh no, we’re required to do it by the terms of the license.  We have to make an annual report back to the CLA on items used and all the myriad of details they need so that publishers can be paid the appropriate remuneration as agreed under the license.  It’s a task that certainly generates an awful lot of administrative burden, and as demand for this kind of provision increases (and it is continuing to increase across all our colleges) then two does the admin time.

Now to date we’ve kept very meticulous records on Excel.  It’s not ideal, but it is functional after a fashion.  What it isn’t is scalable really to the level at which we’re now operating.  We’d considered developing an inhouse access database, but without any available staff-time to do this that’s an idea that’s rather fallen by the wayside.  Then last year we started looking at the PackTracker software which by all accounts does all the record keeping and generation of returns to the CLA automatically.  Having seen it live over in Sheffield, we decided it would be best to have an in house demonstration.

PackTracker isn’t installed locally, it runs on a dedicated webserver space maintained by HERON.  It can take our Excel spreadsheets, and with a little bit of work, populate a dataset automatically which was very good news.  Certainly it can do all the things we were hoping it would, but what was my biggest surprise was what it can do over and above the simple records keeping mandate.  It can diarise a lot of activity, sending you warnings when tasks need to be completed and perhaps even more exultingly tie into service standards to make sure items are actioned within our predefined requirements (5 working days normally).  It can generate customisable coversheets for scanned PDFs, something that is an entirely manually driven process right now.  It can even send off requests to the British Library for copyright cleared materials.

I also quite liked opening up the records to other registered users, like our Information Librarians – allowing them to check directly what items were requested for modules in departments they support, and their current status.  This is something we currently have to check ourselves, so labyrinthine are our records to the untrained user!  I was also quite keen on the way it pulled down data from Amazon in part for copyright checking but also to enssure that bibliographic information was right as well.

Personally, I think it’s a good-looking products, and while I have a few niggles about certain aspects it’s something I certainly feel fairly favourable towards right now.  I’m not aware of any competing product out there, which perhaps explains the subscription cost for the system.  In any event my next step is to draft a more detailed evaluation report to go to our senior management team for their illumination and hopeful discussion.

3 Responses to “PackTracker – the future for CLA returns?”

  1. selinalock said

    Sounds interesting. Pretty sure as info librarians we’d find it useful to be able to check things without bothering your team.

    • Well sometimes we like to bothered 😉 But yeah, right now other than Tania or Rob the chance of anyone else getting meaninglyfull data out of our records is a bit of a challenge. I can have a stab, but it’s a lot of sorting and rechecking to do. Nice Web UI would really make it easy as cake!

  2. digitisatom said

    I have used Packtracker in another role – it is certainly a complete and functional system, and it is nice to know that it is under continuing development (though by a single dedicated developer). Personally the user interface nearly made me hide under the desk!

    At my current position we do not use packtracker however, using instead a customised open source solution. It covers most of the same requirements, such as generating pdf coversheets and gathering bibliographic details from copac or our lms, but it does not seem to require so much work to maintain records.

    I think part of the reason it is easier is because it is based around our workflow, recording information as and when we have it, ie getting the biblio details as soon as we enter it into the system, but allowing us to wait until we get the book off the shelf to fill in page numbers and extract author (if the requesting lecturer has not specified them).
    Previously with packtracker the workflow tended to be to gather all the information about digitised items in a spreadsheet and then intermittently enter all these details into the packtracker interface, which was a little clunky.

    The absolute requirements for such a system are actually quite low level, it is really just a tidy database, so for smaller institutions it seems a little expensive to buy into a hosted service like packtracker, though for larger ones it is good to have a guaranteed service which will hopefully improve further over time. Packtracker is also looking to add basic support for interoperability with Talis Aspire, which could be useful.

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