Import

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There are times when you'll want to add information into Alexandria from outside sources (such as MARC records, book vendors, or patron information from a central database). The process of adding information into Alexandria from outside sources is called “importing”. Our software supports the importation of patron, item, and transaction command information.
- User Notice -
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Need help with your import? View Import Usage Examples here.


- Warning -
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Make sure that your current data is archived prior to performing any data input. Once an import has been performed, there is no way to roll it back other than restoring to an archive.



Computerized Records

Before going further, it helps to understand some basic concepts about computerized records. In order to exchange information between different programs (or even between different computer systems), one needs to get the information into a format that many different programs can understand. The standard, called ASCII[1], is widely used to exchange information between different programs and operating systems. Sometimes an ASCII file is called a text file (“*.txt”) because all it contains is textual information.
ASCII files contain two types of characters: standard visible characters such as numbers and letters of the alphabet, and special characters that are called Control Characters[2]. Control Characters are used for special purposes to control the display or interpret the information in the file. If you have computerized data, you may be familiar with the <tab> and <return> control characters that are used to make text more legible.
When dealing with computerized information systems, you often hear the terms field, record, and file. A field is the smallest unit of information stored. An example of a field is a book's title. A record is a related group of fields. Many records of the same type saved together are called a file. For example, in a file of names, a record consists of the fieldsFirst Name” and “Last Name”. A more complex file may include records with other fields such as “Phone Number” and “Address”. In other words, records contain fields filled with information, and files contain many records.
In the library world, there is a fairly well-defined method of exchanging bibliographic information between computers. This format is called MARC (for MAchine-Readable Cataloguing). Another format of the MARC is called MicroLIF (for Microcomputer Library Information Format). Alexandria has been programmed to recognize both MARC and MicroLIF files automatically during import. Alexandria can also export in both formats.
In addition to importing and exporting MARC and MicroLIF records, Alexandria is capable of importing and exporting files in a tab-delimited format. This format can be used to exchange information with other programs that utilize more complex MARC standards. Most database, spreadsheet, and word-processing programs on personal computers support files in a tab-delimited format.



Tab-Delimited Records

A very common method of exchanging record information between programs is the tab-delimited ASCII file. In the tab-delimited format, fields are separated by the <tab> control character and the end of the record contains the <return> control character.
John <tab> Smith <return>
Bill <tab> Jones <return>
My First Name <tab> My Last Name <return>
Using tab-delimited patron import files, you can transfer information about patrons stored in other computer systems. For example, a school can use this capability to transfer student information from the school administration computer system into Alexandria (or transfer library information back to the administration system).


    Alexandria's Tab-Delimited Import File Format

    In Alexandria, we've enhanced the tab-delimited format by adding special information on the first line of the file, used to interpret the data in the file. This first line is called a header because it's at the head (or beginning) of the file. The header allows programs to figure out where the data in the file belongs. Alexandria headers look like this:
    ###*FileCode/FieldCode/FieldCode/FieldCode/ <return>
    The ###* doesn't mean anything, but is a rather unusual character combination, unlikely to be found at the beginning of most files. If Alexandria discovers ###* at the beginning of a file, it assumes that the file is in a familiar format.


    - NOTE -
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    The Field Code numbers (shown above) don't have any special meaning other than acting as unique identifiers for each of the fields that can be imported or exported.


    The header is optional. If it's present, Alexandria will automatically sort and organize the information and place it into the correct, specified fields. If there is no header, Alexandria displays a Field Mapping window, which allows you to specify the order and type of data getting imported. A header is automatically created for all export files.
    Since the header is automatically created on export, the information can be transferred to another copy of Alexandria and automatically imported without the user knowing anything about the file structure. This makes it easy for central administrators to transfer information to Alexandria operators. In order to be consistent, Alexandria assumes that the first line of any import file is a header. However, it only knows how to process headers in the format stated above.
    Some fields allow multiple lines of information (such as patron notes). Any <return> located in a field is converted into the ‘\’ character on export and on import, the ‘\’ character is restored to a <return>. Generally, you don't need to know about this; however, if you were to examine an exported file, you'd see these characters. Also, if you wanted to add a <return> into a file that is getting imported, you can use the ‘\’ character to make it happen.


    An Example of an Alexandria Import File

    A sample patron import or export file might look like this:
    ###*PT01/1000/1007/1006/ <return>
    1100000 <tab> Bill <tab> Smith <return>
    1100001 <tab> John <tab> Jones <return>
    In the example above, the header field codes “1000, 1007, 1006” specify that the fields are ordered by barcode, first name, and last name. An item record will be in a similar format, except that different field codes are used and different types of field information are entered (e.g. title or author of the item).
    A simple way to study these formats is to export a few records, then examine the export file with COMPedit, Alexandria's integrated word processor.
    If you export from Microsoft Works, you'll notice that Works also places a header at the beginning of its files. The header contains the titles of the columns in the file you've exported. If you want, you can open your export file with Works and replace the Works header with a valid Alexandria header. If you don't do this manually, you'll have to make sure you select the correct fields in the Field Mapping window in Alexandria.


    Importing Transaction Files

    Transaction files are used to enter transactions using text files rather than typing them in manually. Portable barcode readers create transaction files for import into Alexandria. Transaction files can be imported by dropping them onto the Circulation window if they have a recognized header. Alternatively, the user can use the Import Transaction Scripts transaction command.
    When Alexandria is asked to import files with these headers, it will think it’s a transaction file and start processing the contents as transactions.


    Import Files From Vendors

    Librarians frequently ask us what type of records they should receive and what type of barcode they should use when filling out book order forms from vendors.
    Although this can be situational depending on the particulars of your environment, the general response is:
    • For MARC records, choose whatever option lists 852 holdings.
    • For barcode symbology, choose “3 of 9” or “code 39” with no mods and no check-digits.



The Imports Window

The Imports interface places everything you need in an easily navigable window that allows you to quickly find, modify, and perform imports. Additionally, the Imports interface allows you to create and schedule your own custom imports. In order to become an import wizard, there are three things you need to understand: import categories, import defaults, and creating custom imports.
The Imports interface uses the familiar three-panel layout found in most Alexandria management interfaces.
  • The left-hand side of the window is home to the Categories pane, containing your default import types:
  • Patrons
  • Items
  • Textbooks
  • Circulation Groups
  • Images

Selecting a default from this pane determines the settings available for the corresponding import.

  • The upper-right section of the window contains the Import Selection pane, which dynamically changes depending on whether you have the Quick or Saved tab selected.
  • When the Quick tab is selected, the Import Selection pane allows you to choose the file you would like to import from the Choose File button. Selected Quick imports do not store custom selection settings; they are used for performing instant imports or as a foundation for custom Saved imports.
  • When the Saved tab is selected, the Import Selection pane will contain an Imports list with an associated Filter bar. This is where you select (to view, modify, or perform) or create a custom import. If you haven't yet selected a Saved import from the this pane, you will be presented with a larger Imports list; the Selected Import pane for Saved imports only appears after an import has been selected.


  • The Selected Import pane—the bottom-right area of the window—contains settings for the currently selected import in the following tabs:
Overview | Patrons Settings | Items Settings | Items Options | Circulation Groups Settings | Notification | Schedule | FTP


This is the main Imports interface.


Import Control Strip

The control strip at the top of the Imports interface contains the Save and Revert buttons[3], the Operation Management and the Support Center help icons, the Lock/Unlock icon and the Actions (“Actions Icon.jpg”) menu which performs functions related to the selected import.
This is the Imports interface Control Strip.


    Quick / Saved

    • The Quick tab contains a complete list of available imports. These defaults do not store custom selection settings and should not be confused with operator-created Saved imports; they are mainly used for performing instant imports or as a foundation for custom Saved imports.
    • The Saved tab stores the selection criteria used when operator-created, custom imports are performed.

    Operation Management

    Alexandria's Operations Management (“Operation Management Icon.png”) is a specialized repository where past and future operations (i.e. reports, utilities, exports, or imports) are sorted and stored. You can view operation summaries and open, email, or download saved operations that have previously completed.

    Support Center

    Click the Help (“Help Icon.jpg”) button to access the imports section of our online Support Center.



Import Categories

The first step in performing an import is picking the correct import type. The Categories pane on the left-hand side of the window is where you choose the import whose settings appear in the Import Selection pane on the right; the contents of the Import Selection pane change depending on whether you have the Quick or Saved tab selected.
For example, if you want to import a file containing new (or updated) patron records, you would select Patrons from the Categories pane.


This is the import Categories pane.

    Import Categories

    • Patrons—This category (and associated settings) allow you to import new (or update existing) patron records.
    • Items—This category (and associated settings) allow you to import new (or update existing) item records.
    • Circulation Groups—This allows you to import Circulation Group-based data not covered by the other import types.


Import Selection Pane

The larger, right-side of the Import interface is dedicated to the selected import type and contains all of the import's configurable settings and options.
Directly below the control strip is the Import Selection pane; this pane changes dynamically depending on whether you have the Quick or Saved tab selected. Remember, the information that appears in this pane relates directly to the import type selected from the Categories pane; if you have the Saved import tab selected, you'll see an Imports list with an associated Filter bar.


    Import Selection Pane: Quick

    When the Quick tab is selected, the Import Selection pane allows you to choose files for import. These defaults do not store custom selection settings; they are used for performing instant imports or as a foundation for custom Saved imports.


    This is the Quick import tab.


    Selecting an import type from the Categories pane means the Selected Import pane will only import records of that type. For example, if you select Patrons from the Categories pane, you will only be able to import patron records.


    This is how the Import Selection pane looks when the Quick tab is selected.


    Selecting an import type automatically populates the bottom portion of the window (i.e. the Selected Import pane) which contains import information in the Settings and Options tabs. These tabs contain settings specific to Patrons, Items, and Circulation Groups and are essential to how and what information is imported. By default, the Settings tab has focus when a Quick import is selected.
    The Quick imports provide the following tab selections:

    Patrons Settings | Items Settings | Items Options | Circulation Groups Settings


    These are the possible settings available for Quick imports.


    Imports performed from the Quick tab are considered “one-off”; any modifications made to the Settings and Options tabs are discarded immediately after switching to another import category. For example, if you have the Patrons import type selected and then click on the Items category, all information that you may have modified or provided to the Patrons import will be lost; even if you were to immediately return, you would find all your settings wiped.


      Quick Import Settings

      These are Quick import-specific actions and other tools.
      • Browse—Opens the standard operating system / browser explorer window used to locate files. When you select a file from this window and click Run, Alexandria will either perform the import or place it in the import queue. This can be used to open .txt documents, MARC documents, MicroLIF documents and other files for import.
      • Field Mapping—Clicking this button will open the Patrons/Items/Circulation Groups Field Mapping window (show below). Alexandria automatically recognizes file headers created by other COMPanion software to correctly import files without you knowing anything about the contents of the data. All tab-delimited format import files that do not have a header will require field mapping.


      Items Field Mapping.png


      Patrons and items will be imported in sequential order; use the white up and down arrows to correctly align the fields of the import file. Click on a field to exclude it from the import; clicking on fields will toggle them between a green “Green Check.png” and a red “Red X.png”. See Patron Import Fields by Field Number and Item Import Fields by Field Number for more information on the fields that can be imported.



    Import Selection Pane: Saved

    A significant amount of time can be spent manually adding new patrons throughout the school year. Computer technicians and librarians often require time-saving procedures when it comes to importing patron (or item) information. Using the Saved pane, operators can automatically update your patron/item information using files from the SIS (School Information System) system. Although our software is SIF (School Interoperability Framework) Certified, schools that don’t yet have SIF capabilities—or have no plans to implement SIF software or hardware—can use this as an alternative solution to facilitate the flow of patron and item information.
    The Saved pane facilitates automatic data import functionality and allows operators to simply schedule recurrent imports; only requiring a small amount of initial setup time—changing the frequency of imports is quick and easy. Imagine new patrons added and existing patron records updated monthly, weekly, or even daily if required. No further need to request downloadable import files from the office or technical support staff. No more reports to prepare for the office staff; manual entry of fines and overdue statistics become a thing of the past.


    This is the Saved imports tab.


    The Saved tab stores the selection criteria that you (or others) used to create the custom import. The results in the Saved Imports list reflect the import type selected from the Categories pane and can be further refined by the Filter bar. For example, if you select Patrons from the import Categories pane, the Import Selection pane will only display Saved patron imports.


    This is how the Import Selection pane looks when the Saved tab is selected.


    Selecting a Saved import from the Import Selection pane automatically populates the Selected Import pane, which contains import settings that are essential to what and how information is imported. By default, the Settings tab has focus when a Saved import is selected.
    The Saved imports provide the following tab selections:

    Overview | Patrons Settings | Items Settings | Items Options | Circulation Groups Settings | Notification | Schedule | FTP


    These are the settings available for Saved imports.


    Once a Saved import has been selected, it can then be performed, modified, duplicated, or removed.


    Saved Imports Filter Bar

    The Filter bar, in conjunction with the Categories pane, can be used to filter the results of the Saved Import Selection pane. The Filter bar depends that you have the Saved tab selected; the results of the Imports list also depend on what import category you have selected.


This is the Import Selection Filter bar.


    Create Saved Import

    Click the Create Saved Import (“Add Icon.jpg”) button to create a new Saved import dependent upon the import type selected from the Categories pane. For example, clicking the Create Saved Import button with the Items category selected will create a new items import.


Create a new saved import.


Selected Import Pane

The Selected Import pane, located at the lower-right of the Imports interface, is dynamic; the available tabs, settings, and options change depending on the import you currently have selected in the Import Selection or Categories pane and whether Quick or Saved is selected from the control strip.
These tabs contain settings and options that are essential to how information is imported into Alexandria.
By default, the Settings tab has focus when Quick imports are selected; the Overview tab has focus when Saved imports are selected.


These are the settings available for Saved imports.


    Selected Import: Tabs

    The available Selected Import tabs change depending on the import you currently have selected from the Categories pane (e.g. Patrons, Items, and Circulation Groups), the Saved import you have selected in the Import Selection pane, and whether Quick or Saved is selected from the control strip. Use the following links to learn more about the individual settings and options for each tab:
    • Options


    Selected Import: Controls

    The bottom of the Selected import pane has some controls that change dynamically depending on whether you have the Quick or Saved selected.


    These are the controls for the Selected Imports tabs.


    • Create Saved Import (“Add Icon.jpg”)—Allows you to create a new Saved import based on the category you have selected from the Categories pane (e.g. Patrons, Items, and Circulation Groups).




Related Import Topics





Notes, Footnotes, and/or References

  1. American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII).
  2. Since Tab and Return characters aren't visible, they are represented in this guide as <tab> and <return>.
  3. The Save and Revert buttons are conditional and only appear when changes have been made to various fields of an import selected from the Saved tab.