Tuesday, September 11th, 2012...9:30 am

Our Two-Year Aeoniversary

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It’s the two-year anniversary of the online Special Collections Request Account system (Aeon) at Harvard! Aeon is being used many in Harvard special collections including those at the Fine Arts Library, Loeb Music Library, and Harvard-Yenching. Here at Houghton Library, the largest Aeon user at Harvard, we moved completely into the world of electronic requests and circulation tracking in September of 2010.

Aeon was developed by Atlas Systems, Inc. and replaces hand-written carbon paper call slips, in-house databases, excel spreadsheets, and many other forms of tracking, with a single, centralized system for all library circulation functions. Staff can track an item’s travels from the stacks to the reading room, seminar room, preservation, cataloging, end-processing – even out on loan – and back again to the stacks. Researchers can register online, request items from home by clicking on a “request item” link within Harvard’s main HOLLIS catalog, and monitor their use of materials within their own accounts.

Request item link in HOLLIS

In the course of the past two years, Aeon at Harvard has been used to register 3,737 unique users, to process over 69,000 requests for materials; and to keep track of 627 “Events” (classes, digital and/or conservation projects, and exhibitions). Aeon’s reporting system allows us to begin to make more thoughtful decisions about open hours and staffing. We can see the times of year, month, week, and day that are busiest and plan accordingly. For example, we felt that this summer was really busy, but through Aeon we can verify that July 2012 was literally “off the charts” in terms of reader visits for the month – a total of 770! July isn’t prime vacation time for Houghton Public Services staff. We loaded legacy data from previous ten years of record keeping into the system so that we could map that data along with current input. This chart shows monthly visit data back to 2006.

Visits to Houghton since 2006

Behind the scenes, staff members can now view and report on lists of materials awaiting preservation housing, off the shelf for cataloging, or out for duplication. They can also generate reports showing which items in the collections are most often requested. Aggregation of this data can inform decisions about preservation and duplication funding. It also makes use trends more visible to those making collecting decisions.

In Public Services, a typical week brings requests for classes on African-American theatre, Latin paleography and architecture from their instructors, while a team of teaching fellows adds material to a Junior tutorial in the History of Science, and first year students place requests for their seminars on Victorian literature or Orientalism. These requests are all linked to the classes scheduled in our seminar room and flagged for particular sessions of study. Class “event” accounts can be shared with multiple users so that students, teachers, and library staff can collaborate in selecting materials. Here is a snapshot of upcoming Houghton “Events” in the system:

Events scheduled in Aeon

Aeon’s usefulness is recognized well beyond Harvard. Special Collections at the Universities of Chicago, Miami, Michigan, South Florida, and Georgia, as well as Duke, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Cal Tech, and others are all on board. For researchers, the good news is that they will encounter a familiar request interface at all of these varied institutions. Participating institutions will benefit through opportunities to develop best practices, share meaningful statistical and instructional data, and collaborate more easily on various projects.

In the coming weeks, Aeon at Harvard will offer researchers improved request-sorting capabilities in their Special Collections Request Accounts; the ability to export bibliographic data into RefNote and EndNote; and access to more detailed information about their classes or other events, like exhibitions. A new “Save for Later” function will allow researchers to plan ahead for future projects without making requests right away, and a new “Remove from Hold” button will allow researchers to let staff know when they have finished working with particular materials.

To learn more, and set up your own Special Collections Request Account, please visit Harvard College Library’s Access to Special Collections page.

[Thanks to Rachel Howarth, Associate Librarian for Public Services, for contributing this post.]

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