Posted by: mhdiaz | October 11, 2011

Why Can’t We Keep Up?

Jane Burke returns to InfoViews for a new series – Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series will be resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.

I hope that you will enjoy the series and look forward to your comments. – Mike

Over and over again, I talk with librarians who are not able to keep up with all of the activities required to keep their collections in front of users.   It’s ironic, because that’s why you invest your precious budget dollars in library resources – to make them available to end users.

We all agree that the composition of the library’s collection has fundamentally changed.  The electronic library resources now account for the majority of both budget and usage.  This OCLC graphic says it very well:

In the last 2 years, we’ve recognized this shift, especially in end user solutions.  The adoption of web-scale discovery indicates that libraries know they need a search solution across the full breadth of the library’s collections, regardless of format, source, etc.  End users don’t care about the “silo” in which an object sits – they just want the right objects, regardless of producer or content type.

But … the software available to the library staff to manage today’s collections has not evolved.  Instead of a unified approach to managing collections, libraries use a patchwork of software solutions – with a tremendous amount of staff overhead.  Libraries are managing today’s collections with yesterday’s technology.

This causes library staff to be unnecessarily inefficient, often doing duplicate data entry.  As much as I personally have been associated with the Integrated Library System (ILS) market, the ILS was conceived in the era of purely print collections.  Despite some technical updates, the basic model of print workflows hasn’t changed.

To deal with the reality of mostly electronic collections, librarians surround the ILS with a variety of other solutions, at tremendous productivity costs.   The workflow inefficiencies keep the library from being able to take on new challenges and a new position within its enterprise, threatening its relevance.

The workflow inefficiencies are huge and often deeply ingrained, because no new technology has been created that solves the problems of bifurcated workflows.    Plus, the old technology model can’t even provide for some of what today’s library’s need.

Librarians identify three major areas of pain from the constraints of the old technology:

Library workflows

  • Split between electronic & print – separate processes for each, instead of unified management
  • Split among jobbers – each supplier has a separate system; then the ILS needs to get updated
  • Metadata from multiple vendors – each supplier sends a separate file of records to be loaded and edited
  • No tools to track requests – selection is total dissociated with the ILS
  • No interoperability – whether it is patron records or invoices, processes require duplicate data entry

No real assessment capabilities, making it hard to illustrate the library’s contribution.

  • Reporting based on circulation of physical materials only
  • No unification of usage of electronic materials
  • No way to link library usage to student success – vital for library support

Need to maintain local hardware and software

  • Local server operator and upgrade costs
  • Premise deployed software staff requirements and delays
  • Talented staff unable to do new things because tied to old technology

As budgets have tightened even further, these issues have become more prominent.  Technology from the 1980’s doesn’t serve the library 30 years later.

In her next post, Jane will focus on the myriad challenges that librarians face due to systems compatibility and interoperability issues.

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