The emergence of a new library management platform from OCLC represents a potential change of major proportions in the library automation industry. Given the size and reach of OCLC, its new entry into the field marks a major event. In recent weeks, this system has shifted from concept to practice as it begins to find production use.
June 2010 saw a milestone in the pilot phase of the Webs-cale Management Services (WMS) from OCLC. The libraries that volunteered as pilot sites provided early input into the project to OCLC, but were not required to put the software into production. Beginning July 1, the WMS became available to libraries willing to be early adopters. These libraries would gain access to early versions of the software that could be placed into production, displacing some or all of the functionality otherwise provided by their local integrated library system.
Within this cycle of early adopters, the Lupton Library of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is on track to become the first library to implement OCLC's new Web-scale Management Services as its production automation system. This library opted for a fast-track implementation, with a very ambitious schedule in order to attempt to complete the migration by the beginning of the Fall 2010 academic semester. The migration to WMS, though a major undertaking, is a relatively small project compared to the planning underway for an entirely new library for UTC. This $48 million project is targeted for completion by Spring 2012. The library's collection totals around 500,000 volumes.
OCLC's Webs-scale Management Services provides a library's core automation services through functionality delivered through WorldCat, eliminating the need to operate a traditional integrated library system. WorldCat has functioned as a cataloging tool from its inception. WorldCat Local was launched in April 2007 as an interface to replace a library's online catalog, providing next-generation discovery features including access to articles and digital content. WMS extends WorldCat further, adding functionality for circulation, acquisitions and license management. SLN did a more detailed description of WMS in its June 2009 issue.
Lupton Library Implementation Process
The Lupton library began the process of implementing a new ILS with the selection of WMS as the library's new automation platform, announced in mid-July 2010. They aimed for an implementation date of August 20th. This date would have the new system in place by the beginning of the academic year. Not unexpectedly, some slippage resulted in the schedule, with full live circulation expected sometime in September.
The Lupton Library will phase out its existing VTLS Virtua ILS as it implements WMS. The library has been a customer of VTLS since 1983, when they adopted their original ILS; migration to Virtua and the Chameleon Web-based online catalog took place in 2001. The library will continue to make use of Virtua for course reserves for at least part of the Fall 2010 semester as this functionality is developed within WMS.
The Lupton Library had been informally investigating new automation alternatives for the last two years. After considering a variety of options, including open source products such as Koha, they selected WMS primarily to improve the front-end interface to its collections and secondarily to make the behind-the-scenes work of the library more efficient. According to Jason Griffey, Head of Library Information Technology, “the library is very focused in all that it does on delivering the very best end-user experience. The biggest thing that drives decisions is what it does for the patron.” In 2009 the library evaluated WorldCat Local quick start and perceived it as a better discovery interface for patrons than its current Virtua catalog. Since WorldCat Local quick start did not have interoperability with Virtua, the library was not able to implement it as its production catalog at that time. Once OCLC made an offer for the Lupton Library to be an early adopter of WMS, the management team of the library determined that it would give its patrons the best experience for entry into its collections.
The management team also resonated with the possibilities for streamlined workflows involved in the way that WMS handles data. Griffey also reported that the concept of highly shared records seems like the way of the future as a data model for libraries. The concept of relying on shared bibliographic records for active use rather than downloading them into a local system appealed to the library.
One component in the quick path to implementing WMS involves the opportunities for streamlined procurement. For many libraries, the process of selecting and purchasing a new automation system can span a year or more. Many OCLC member libraries may be able to move to WMS without an extensive competitive process. OCLC offers WMS, as it does for most of its services, through a simple annual subscription model. Most institutions, even those subject to formal procurement requirements, are able to acquire additional products from an existing vendor. Unlike a traditional ILS procurement that involves a capital expenditure for hardware and software, subscribing to WMS can involve a more lightweight purchasing process.
The selection, procurement, implementation and acceptance testing of a new ILS will generally take place over a 1-2 year period. The Lupton Library opted for a very ambitious six-week implementation schedule. Though the transition to active production will take place a couple of weeks past the original schedule, the library has followed an extraordinary timeline. The implementation of WMS at the Lupton Library has taken place through many long hours of work, including personnel in the library as well from OCLC. The project has provided the opportunity for the library to reassess much of their current workflows in the way that they process library materials.
According to Griffey, the transition to WMS involves two major areas of change. First, library personnel have to learn the new system and how to accomplish their work. The second, and probably more challenging change, involves the differences in how the system treats data. Moving from a model of a traditional ILS based on its own separate stores of data to the WMS approach of highly shared data brings a higher learning curve. Andrea Schurr, Web Technologies and ILS Librarian, skillfully managed the data transition processes, including extraction rom Virtua and preparation for loading into WMS. The OCLC implementation team was deeply involved in the process.
As of the first week in September 2010 the Lupton Library is quite close to full production of circulation and cataloging in WMS. The library has performed full testing of circulation, but is not yet doing live check-outs, pending a mandatory review by State auditors of financial transactions involved, such as reconciliation of fines and fees collected. The library will continue to perform course reserves on Virtua for at least a portion of the Fall 2010 semester. This feature is not currently part of WMS, but is anticipated for release later in 2010.
The library anticipates phasing out their Virtua system by the end of 2010. The library has been able to perform all of the data extraction from Virtua without direct assistance from VTLS. Griffey commented that VTLS has been extraordinarily cooperative as they migrate to a new system and has been very flexible during the transition.
OCLC has not yet set or published pricing for WMS. The product will be offered as a subscription, at an annual cost that will be scaled according to many factors, including the size and complexity of the library and its geographic region. Since WMS operates as a service on the WorldCat platform, the library avoids expenses related to the ownership and maintenance of local hardware and software for their ILS.
Other Early Adopters
Once OCLC has gained more experience implementing WMS, it expects for a 60-day implementation schedule to be routine. According to Andrew Pace, OCLC's Executive Director for Networked Library Services, the work done by the Lupton Library has provided valuable experience developing the processes necessary for a library to move to WMS quickly. Naturally, some libraries may require additional time for data extraction from their current system or to navigate through internal change processes, but OCLC expects the implementation of WMS to follow a radically faster process than a traditional ILS.
Other libraries will soon follow the Lupton Library as early adopters of WMS. The library of the Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation, a special library in Ardmore, OK, and the Pepperdine University Libraries are currently in the implementation process and will be live in coming months. A handful of other libraries will also implement WMS later in 2010 or early 2011. Pace indicates that he has seen a high level of interest in WMS, but that it is too early to anticipate the numbers of libraries that might eventually opt for this approach.
As 2010 we can expect a relatively small number of libraries to adopt WMS as their production library automation environment. Given reasonable success by these early adopters, we can anticipate a much larger number of libraries will shift to this approach in 2011 and beyond.