Rocky turbulence or smooth skies?
In the old days, technology-wise, choosing a new integrated library system (ILS) for the library was not an overly difficult task. Department heads got together and talked about what kind of features they would like to see in the basic components of an ILS. Choices and features were limited by the technological capabilities of the system they were considering, and back then, choices were fairly limited. In today’s technological climate, however, it is a completely different story. The paradigm has shifted from a librarian-centered viewpoint with dedicated infrastructure to a patron-access-centered viewpoint with open-source, cloud-based systems, and discerning the technological features and capabilities offered by many of the new integrated library systems today can feel like sitting in the cockpit of a modern jetliner, metaphorically speaking. Needless to say, navigating the companies, technology, and features can be a daunting task. So I offer here some directed help for those who find themselves facing the task of reviewing and selecting a modern ILS for their library.
For many libraries, the need for a new ILS system is driven by the age and maintenance costs of their current ILS. As with the library system where I work, Manatee County Public Library System, it has operated the SirsiDynix Horizon ILS since 1995. Horizon was first developed and released in 1991, and on March 13, 2007, SirsiDynix announced that it had discontinued development and enhancement of the Horizon product, but would continue to provide legacy support to existing customers. In addition, the high annual cost for software licensing and legacy support has increased an average of 5 to 6% per year for a product no longer developed. Although the Horizon product contains the basic components of an ILS, with a rather sophisticated relational database schema, it became quickly outdated after development officially stopped and the needs of our library system continued to evolve with the advent of newer technologies and increasing patron expectations.
A decade and a half into this new millennium, modern ILS systems embrace advances in technological capabilities and have thus moved beyond the basic ILS components model to include such functionality as integrated Web 2.0 and Social Media capabilities, patron-centered services such as intuitive discovery layers to access library resources, e-commerce with online bill payment and account handling, support for mobile devices, use of APIs for 3rd party vendor integration such as eBook integration, streaming video & audio resources, Readers Advisory services, and the use of CSS to produce highly configurable rich content. In addition, there are patron cloud-based services, integrated inter-library loan and automatic notification methods provided by these modern systems. All that and still offering a more cost-effective solution in terms of ongoing support, annual licensing and maintenance fees, thus saving money and providing a better product to libraries and the communities they serve.
The feature list can be long, or short, depending on the vendor and the system they are offering. So below is a list of the basic features I believe any modern ILS system should offer prospective libraries searching for a new system.
- The new Integrated Library System should include hardware/software to support:
- Hosted, web-based, Cloud Computing Saas Platform system;
- Utilize Open Relational Database design to support any third party report writer to access data and create custom reports using SQL;
- Utilize standards-based interfaces with a variety of external electronic services and information resources;
- Provide SIP2, NCIP and Z39.50 connection functionality;
- Provide standard admin/root level access to system;
- Provide functionality for daily, full-system backups.
- Administration, this module should provide for:
- The ability to modify the system, including system settings, to meet the unique needs of the library;
- The ability customize the system, including all web generated displays;
- The ability to create, edit and set system limits for optimal system configurations;
- The ability to create, edit and delete system variables such as collection codes, item types, collection rules, etc.;
- The ability to create, edit and delete user and patron accounts, and set limits and rights to such accounts;
- Run and configure system and statistical reports in addition to creating and editing custom reports and report templates.
- Cataloging, the module should support:
- Standard cataloging methods and authority control;
- The ability to import/export MARC21 and Bib records;
- The ability to create, edit and delete all records;
- The ability to import from OCLC Connexions and other Z39.50 sources;
- The ability to do custom cataloging for local collections;
- The ability to integrate a FAQ File, local community files, and special indexing;
- RDA compliance.
- Acquisitions, the module should have the ability to:
- Have vendor integration and compatibility with book wholesalers such as Baker & Taylor;
- Perform budget management with easy transfer and year-end rollover;
- Import from the catalog to a P.O.;
- Import vendor records;
- Run a report for titles by vendor and titles by budget;
- Use a grid or distribution patterns for orders management;
- Import invoices electronically;
- Do electronic ordering;
- Apply settings for vendor discounts;
- Set up templates for vendor accounts;
- Create work order slips for catalog processing;
- Do batch functions, i.e. cancelling entire groups of orders;
- Do title and non-title invoicing.
- Circulation, the module should provide:
- Intuitive, easy to use screens for standard check-in/check-out functions;
- Inventory control;
- Support for self-checkout machines;
- Ability for mobile circulation and off-line, backup circulation;
- Support the use of RFID technologies;
- Automatic electronic patron notification;
- Debt Collection that includes the capability for patron online bill payment, cash/cashless transactions for debt collection at checkout points, (except self-checkout machines);
- Debit/Credit card e-Commerce functionality;
- Support for financial reporting/account handling;
- Ability to create a hidden branch for “in-house” tracking;
- Ability to transfer holds from one bib to another;
- Multiple indexes for searching patron database;
- Ability to count “in-house” items used by patrons as circulation;
- Provide complete statistical reports and information, including the ability to run custom statistical reports using SQL;
- Ability to search on multiple indexes such as name, telephone, address, email, etc., to the patron database with the ability to choose the sorting method to control the sort order;
- Ability for patrons to make online donations.
- OPAC should provide the following:
- Employ easy, single-search discovery that streamlines access to all library physical and electronic material offerings;
- Offer an easy, intuitive and rich user experience for adult and children using the online public access catalog, including consolidated gateway/information portal and/or discovery layer to provide access to a wide range of library-provided print, electronic resources and downloadable media;
- Provide compatibility and integration by the use of APIs with 3rd party vendor resources such as OverDrive, Freegal, Novelist and others;
- Provide support for technologies such as federated searching, OpenURL, and library standards (e.g., Z39.50, Z39.83, etc.) to search multiple databases with various search terminologies;
- Display the call number of items on the 1st search results screen;
- Support for displaying all member library holdings on the first copy-display screen, with the home-library’s copies displaying first;
- Support for exporting search results, both for printing, texting or E-mailing;
- Support for ability to create special interest profiles or RSS lists that automatically E-mail patrons when items matching their criteria are added to the system;
- Support for displaying an appropriate graphic icon (book, DVD, etc.) at the display of brief bib level. This display is based on data in the local custom 910 MARC tag;
- Display book covers, jackets, integrating 3 party resources to display graphical representations of material types;
- Provide the ability to market/advertise and brand library events functions and programs within the gateway/information portal and/or discover layer/OPAC;
- Allow for Social Media sharing;
- Open system architecture to insure future customization and enhanced functionality of the OPAC;
- Patron controlled account management, such as the ability to pay fines and edit account settings on the Internet;
- Highly configurable and adaptive interfaces using HTML5/CSS to meet library needs;
- Integration with Web 2.0 based technologies including Social Media, user-generated content such as reviews, blogs, tagging, social bookmarking, wikis and community outreach and involvement capabilities;
- User authentication for access to licensed electronic resources;
- Have a “Best Seller,” “Most Recent,” and/or “New Arrivals” type graphical lists to display on the front OPAC page;
- Responsive web design that is mobile-device aware and automatically scales to resolution/screen size of the mobile device viewing the site.
- ILL- Inter-Library Loan, should provide:
- Integrated ILL module/method in the OPAC;
- Provide a level of collaboration involving public services and inter-library loan with OCLC and local consortium.
- Serials and Periodicals:
- Serials and continuations management including resource licensing and management for eBooks, ePeriodicals, and other electronic media;
- The ability to have non barcoded serials;
- The ability to claim functionality and prediction of next issues.
Here are some of the basic questions to ask library vendors about their systems:
- What are the base requirements for a PC to work with the proposed system? Include with your response what type of operating system, processor, amount of memory, and hard disk space needed. Are these desktop requirements the same regardless of module to be used? What type of Internet connection will properly access the system?
- Libraries currently use a wide variety of laser scanners, thermal printers, label printers, receipt printers, and laser printers, etc. Please define any categories of such peripherals that will not work with the proposed system?
- Is there a software client to be loaded on library computers to run the ILS? Are there different clients for different modules?
- Can you describe the upgrade cycle for your product, costs for such upgrades, and customization costs, fees, or structures of costs for such services?
- Can you describe for us your customer support structure in place and hours of operations?
- What is your methodology for system back-ups? How often, where, and how is the data stored?
- Does your system provide an auditing trail for all access made to the system? If so, what types and how long is the information kept?
- Can you specify how many patron statistical categories that can be attached to each patron record? Please also specify how your system tracks and reports transactions at all locations, by users of all libraries, including inter-/intra-library loans (among different libraries). Please also describe the “canned” reports and availability of statistics to all library staff?
- Does your system provide the ability to have “in-house” or “hidden branch” categories for statistical purposes so checked in items can be counted for circulation?
- Libraries are particularly interested in how statistics and rules are applied when patrons access the ILS from home. For example, how are renewals counted? To which agency(-ies) are renewals credited when patrons log in from home? Are first-time circulations counted separately from renewals?
- Libraries often have local bar-codes for statistical purposes only, such as one bar-code number for all paperback books. A patron checking out 5 books will have only one bar-code scanned and the number of books typed in at circulation. Can your system provide this functionality?
- Can you describe how Point-of-Sale/e-Commerce is handled at the circulation counter with your system? Does it work with a cash drawer or is a cash register needed? How are debit/credit cards handled? Are there extra costs/charges associated with this service?
- Can you describe how e-Commerce is handled by your system via the website for the ability to pay fines outside the library. Are there extra costs/charges associated with this service?
- Our library system has thousands of existing database records that need to be converted and migrated intact into any new system. Can you please describe your history converting and migrating records from our ILS to your ILS?
- Please describe on-site and/or off-site training offered by your organization and the costs associated/incurred by our library for such training?
Last, but not least, ask for a list of recent conversions/migrations the library vendor has completed, especially noting public libraries of similar ILS, size and volume of business to your own.
Selecting a new ILS can be a daunting task, but knowing the features ahead of time, and knowing right questions to ask can make the process more manageable. One last helpful tactic is to make use of one-on-one webinars with prospective vendors in a “information gathering” phase of the selection process. Many vendors are happy to pair one-to-one, or a group-to-one, for library staff to be introduced and go through their system in an 1-2 hour webinar-format time slot. In our selection process, this technique was invaluable in helping us to narrow down and identify features we hoped to have in our new system. We discovered that while some systems boasted of great functionality, reality was like flying blind in a Piper Cub. Other systems made our jaws drop in technological features and functionality that was like flying smooth skies in a modern jetliner. Knowing what one is looking for makes all the difference. I hope this list helps any other systems librarians faced with the prospect of reviewing a new ILS.
Rob Taylor, Systems Librarian
Manatee County Public Library System