Wednesday, 27 June 2007

State of the art ILMS - oxymoron?

My library has an end-of-life integrated library management system (ILMS), Dynix Classic. Every library has an ILMS. An ILMS is a good thing - functional integration, management of resources, efficient workflows, adherence to standards, and so on. But the feature of them all that strikes the librarian venturing into this territory is that they no longer function effectively at the user end and, to the newer user, they just look out of date. They have failed to incorporate features which are commonplace in daily Web use. The development cycle for a conventional ILMS is too long to keep up to date with fast-moving areas of change, such as those loosely described by the term Web 2.0.

Lorcan Dempsey has a recent brief post - and many previous - on the ILMS and he refers to the enquiry into the state of the ILMS recently commissioned in the UK by JISC and SCONUL - a focus on the higher education sector, but relevant to anyone. A new discussion paper on the ILMS from the University of Windsor (Ontario) defines them as "proprietary monolithic systems encompassing the major operations of the library." Windsor, like many others, is not only evaluating its ILMS, but questioning the concept. Since then, Windsor has announced that it is partnering with Georgia Public Library Service in developing acquisitions software for the NZ open source software, Evergreen; there is a nice presentation about this. Also in Canada, the British Columbia public library system is running with BC Pines, a project for "The phased implementation of the Evergreen Open ILS for all of BC . . . over the next 5 years."

There is clearly a lot going on in the ILMS zone, and there seems to be much more willingness to contemplate open source solutions, and other new approaches too. For all of us, the dilemma is that we wish to retain the back end efficiencies and workflows of the conventional, slowly evolving ILMS, but we would also like to achieve the functionality and agility that open source can provide at the user access end.

Another factor: at Swinburne loans of books account for 15-20% of our total managed "transactions" (loans, uses, full text downloads, repository use, online reserve). The ILMS is primarily a tool for managing physical items and material we pay for. As book use declines as a proportion of total use, developers and vendors of the traditional ILMS must surely sense a new business model coming?
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At Swinburne we are taking stock, and we are particularly interested in academic libraries which are doing the same kind of thing.

1 comment:

trutter said...

I strongly agree with your comments about the end user interfaces on current ILMS offerings. In my opinion the most important aspect to end users is the way that the search interface works, since finding information in the primary reason users will access an OPAC. Users expect to be able to do a search any way that they want, even making some spelling mistakes, and for the best matches to appear on the first page of results. This would match their expectations formed through the use of other online search interfaces - Google as an example. When nothing is returned because their search method wasn't what the search index was designed for, or the results are confusing and don't appear to be in any relevant order, the user has only a couple of options. The user will either settle for less-than-ideal results, or give up and go elsewhere such as to Google, which is more forgiving and seems easier to use. Either way, their opinion of library systems (and libraries) as 'technologically backward' and 'too hard to use' is likely to be further reinforced.

Of course the catalogue search isn't the only part of a library system that a user has to interact with. The librarians themselves are users of the software too. However, they're likely to be less demanding than the end users, since they have mastered the clunky interfaces used by current ILMSs. In ILMS development more emphasis definitely needs to be put on improving the end user experience, for the sake of library reputations!