A pair of future technology investments will soon make searching for and checking out items from the Westport Public Library much easier, library officials say.

The library will install a new integrated library system and radio frequency identification system after the Representative Town Meeting's recent unanimous approval of $259,000 for those upgrades.

Library patrons will probably most readily notice improvements to the "integrated library system," the software that handles the library's catalog searches. With the library's current ILS, searches of author names have rigid conditions requiring users to put in the author's last name before his or her first name. Entering "F. Scott Fitzgerald" in the current ILS would not even bring up "The Great Gatsby" author's name on the first page of search results.

The new Polaris-made ILS is more intuitive. It allows name searches in any order and offers a changing list of suggestions, as a user types out the search -- a process similar to using any major Internet search engine.

"Everyone is used to, because of Google and Amazon, putting in what you're looking for, not following the old card-catalog rules of the '70s," said Bill Derry, the library's assistant director for innovation and user experience. "This will save a lot of time and does some thinking, just like the Internet does."

The new ILS will also enable library patrons to search the library's dozens of databases in one consolidated search, which library officials hope will drive greater use of those databases.

"If you're looking for something medical, you can go into the databases, which are going to have more current information than the books you have in your collection," Derry said. "So you'll sync all of these with your search -- that's going to revolutionize how people search our databases."

Implementation of the new ILS will put the Westport Public Library in the top tier of catalog search functionality among area libraries. The public libraries in Wilton and Darien also use a Polaris ILS.

"This is about maximizing the investment that we have put into our resources that, right now, only people in the know or people at the library know about," said Maxine Bleiweis, the library's director.

The new 3M "radio frequency identification" system, meanwhile, will facilitate quicker checkouts of library items by using the same technology as the E-ZPass electronic toll collection system prevalent on New York and New Jersey highways. A stack of books, for instance, will be simultaneously scanned on a pad and read for key information.

"Let's say if two of them have a hold on them," Derry said. "When it gets returned, it says this book is being held and then says do you want to print out a receipt and it prints out a receipt and it goes into the hold file. It's doing more at one time, so it's going to be more efficient at processing for staff, as well as when people check out."

During the next few months, each of the library's approximately 175,000 items will be outfitted with a tag so they can be read by the new RFID system. That task will be mostly be done by a third-party firm hired by the library.

Both the Polaris integrated library system and the 3M radio frequency identification system are scheduled to be installed by June, according to library officials.

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