Posted by: mhdiaz | January 24, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to Start Over

Jane Burke concludes her second blog series on InfoViews — Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series is resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.  In this post, Jane examines sustainability issues associated with ILS systems in academic libraries.

Over the past few weeks I’ve given a lot of thought to the shortcomings of current library collection management systems – fondly (or not) known as the “ILS” or integrated library system.  The problem with the ILS, of course, is that it is no longer integrated.  As library collections have become predominately digital, these systems only do part of the job.  Conceived in the 1980’s, the ILS was built to manage a print collection; it was not designed to meet the realities of today’s libraries.

Today, libraries don’t so much work with their ILS as around it for the majority of what they license and purchase.  The ILS does not easily or inherently manage database licenses, PDA agreements for eBooks, link resolution, or assessment of the digital materials.  To get the job done, libraries must invest in separate systems to manage their digital materials.  Ten years ago, when that was a small portion of the collection, it wasn’t a big problem.  Today, however, those digital materials are the majority of the collection, managed by separate staff in separate, often inefficient workflows.

Yet, libraries continue to want the ILS to reflect all of the library’s collection.  So staff perform duplicate data entry, at least at the bibliographic level.  They also replicate financial transactions in order to keep all of the fund balances in a single system.  In today’s budget climate, libraries can ill afford such inefficient, bifurcated workflows.

It’s time to start over.  Declare the old premise-deployed model broken.  Accept that it is past the point of usefulness.  Reconceptualize how libraries do the work of managing collections.  Reimagine!

Instead of an “island”, imagine a network-aware system.

Instead of separate workflows for print and e-resources, imagine a single, unified way of working.

Instead of every library entering and editing bibliographic and authority data, imagine a “customer union” knowledgebase, where basic updates and additions are automatic.

It’s a New Year.  It’s a critical time for libraries.  It’s time to give up the old model and embrace a new one.  If our libraries are going to properly serve today’s users, it’s necessary.


  1. Rings so true and so clearly delivered.

    • Thanks for your comment!


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