A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

ILS Systems are Awesome

by on February 3, 2014

Looking around, there are so many options for everything. Besides the exact brand of ice cream my children like, cold medicine was the latest product I needed help selecting due to an over abundance of choices. Library automation systems are no different. We can argue over relevance and retrieval algorithms or how logical (or not) the staff client works. Does it text notices or only call patrons? Regardless of these issues, whatever library automation system you have, rejoice because it is an awesome product.

We are knee-deep into our migration to a new integrated library system. Whether our current product or the various products we saw during the demonstration phase of the decision, the amount of data within any system and how that data is managed is truly a feat of programming and design. Think about what we can do with these systems. We can electronically order a book! With a few clicks, the item is on its way to the library. We can create a brief (sometimes full) bibliographic record so patrons can place a hold. Remember, this item isn’t even on our shelf. We can manage fines, download electronic media, send text notices, upload videos, stop patrons from using a computer. . .the list goes on and will continue to go on as libraries change to match our communities’ needs.

This is a huge project. With over a million items and almost double that in circulation transactions a year, it is exciting to rebuild a system—with fresh eyes—from the ground up. Unfortunately, my consortium went through a migration only two years ago. Fortunately, this has been a great opportunity for me to understand our policies and procedures and learn how independent libraries interact in a seven-county library system.

There is a lot of bad data. That said, this isn’t limited to our current situation. I’m sure most systems are constantly working on database clean up for any number of reasons. For us, some of the data is a carryover from two systems ago. While this might be a complaint it is actually very useful to see how things were handled prior to our current system. Employees who remember that system can talk me through what they didn’t like about it and why they transitioned to another way of doing things. With changes in system programming, most issues have been addressed in our new operation. But, this is a great way to all reassess the “why is it done this way” and “how can we improve.”

After working with a system for only two years, the shortcomings are apparent. Old codes can be thrown out, combined, or changed. BluRay wasn’t as popular to our patrons then but it is now and we can easily accommodate. Library collections change and we need to be thinking about—if not planning—three step ahead. A migration is a great way to examine how we currently do business and what changes we would like to make and how we can meet the future head on.

If 3 years is the standard timeframe to assess a webpage, then now is the time to take the leap to a discover platform. Of course, criticisms run rampant about how these platforms work and everyone has an opinion. However, regardless of vendor, these things are amazing! This is how the internet age works and it’s time to embrace this kind of change—just ask any seasoned internet user how searching works. If libraries are to remain relevant, we have to have modern search practices.

Sure, all these systems cost a lot of money and the process of shopping and selecting can be difficult, but, the end, they are truly amazing products.

*Photo accompanying this post By Steven Walling (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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