Wednesday, February 07, 2007

German-American School of Portland

"You don't need anyone else in the library, we don't need a librarian around to supervise. Students can find the books they want with just a few clicks!"

Bilingual school in Oregon automates its entire library catalogue and checkout system with FileMaker Pro

Bilingualism is a gift that lasts a lifetime – and at the German-American School of Portland, a skilled staff of instructors passes that gift along to a new generation. Located in the suburban town of Beaverton, Oregon, the school emphasizes not just linguistic instruction for its students, but also cross-cultural understanding – helping pupils from preschool age to the fifth grade to appreciate their place in the global community. A visit to the school's vast library of German-language books will reveal another powerful tool – an integrated and efficient FileMaker Pro database system.

Business Challenge
"Reading in both English and German has always been an emphasis of the curriculum," says Frank Klatil. He's in charge of FileMaker Pro development at the school, and knows through long experience the importance of keeping data well organized. "Our library, however, had been run by volunteer parents only, and relied on an outdated paper-card catalogue system that only served to check books in and out."That system was cumbersome and outmoded enough when the library numbered only 3000 volumes or so – but when a successful fundraising drive made it possible to double the size of the collection, Frank and the library volunteers all knew the time was ripe for a dramatic upgrade. As a longtime FileMaker Pro user himself – all the way back its earliest version – Frank had just the plan in mind. "The time had come for a computer-based catalogue that wouldn't only keep track of books but also be easy to use and support such functions as barcode scanning, flexible reporting, comprehensive searches, security and backup, and even user-defined attributes like multimedia functions." A review of existing off-the-shelf cataloging applications came up short. "For example, most catalogue solutions on the market were designed for use by adult librarians," Frank notes, "and weren't easy enough for elementary students to use." So, Frank set to work with FileMaker Pro Advanced to build an application custom-tailored to the school's specifications.

Successful Solution
The result was an elegant, efficient stand-alone FileMaker Pro solution designed specifically for unattended operation. Each book in the collection has its own record, accessed through a simple kiosk interface designed to be intuitive and user-friendly for even the youngest library visitor. Users may browse the collection, viewing images of each book's cover along with the usual descriptive matter, or may conduct focused searches for specific topics or titles. When they've located their books, users simply scan the attached barcodes – and the volumes are matched to their own user records, providing a simple, foolproof system for tracking each borrowed book. Another scan when the due date arrives, and the returned volume is automatically checked back into the system.

Customer Benefits
A simplified solution to the library-management problem means real day-to-day benefits at the German-American School of Portland. Assistant Head-of-School Heike Schütz-Malinowski had never used FileMaker Pro before deployment of the system, and is now an eager convert. "You don't need anyone else in the library, we don't need a librarian around to supervise," she enthuses. "Students can find the books they want with just a few clicks!" That's an advantage that means cost savings in personnel and more efficiency for users – who can go right to the books they want without waiting for help. The system also takes tight control of inventory management – and that's also a key source for savings. "Every book that goes missing costs us money for replacements," Heike continues. "Books in German are expensive, since most of them have to be shipped from overseas – and the FileMaker Pro system helps us keep control of the collection." The students also appreciate the fun of choosing their own books. "Even my seven-year-old is excited about checking out her own books," Frank adds. "It's so easy, and it gives them the feeling they can use the machine all by themselves. It's fun – and it encourages them to read more!" Frank enjoys the system himself – especially given the ease of development made possible by effective tools like the FileMaker Pro Relationship Graph. "It 's an essential part of FileMaker Pro development," he declares. "With multiple tables in one file, the graph is very useful in visualizing how elements are linked." The system was built with an eye toward the future, with plenty of room for future expansion. Currently, Frank is looking forward to upgrading to FileMaker Pro 8.5 and taking full advantage of the new Web Viewer function by providing direct links to online resources for each book in the library. As the system grows, Frank fully expects to find new and even more efficient ways to bring students and their books together.

Heike Schütz-Malinowski, Assistant Head of School, German-American School of Portland

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