When transitioning to a new library automation system, what time frame should libraries anticipate and prepare for?
Moving to a new integrated library system represents a major undertaking that requires a great deal of planning and preparation. The length of the timeline for the entire process will depend on many factors, such as the size and the complexity of the library and the scope of the project.
Moving to a new integrated library system or library services platform can be broken down into several phases.
Preliminary discussions. Prior to any formal process, key stakeholders and decisionmakers in the library need to arrive at a consensus that the organization needs to initiate the process of selecting and implementing a new system. A variety of events may trigger the process, such as the availability of funding, increased awareness of the inadequacy of the incumbent system, or other internal initiative. These discussions don't always result in a decision to go forward. It may instead be decided that the current system should be retained, at least for some additional time. Timeframe: 1-6 months
Developing Requirements. Once a decision is made to go forward with pursuing a new system, the formal procurement process begins. These processes will vary according to institutional procurement processes and organizational preferences. In most cases, a set of committees will be established to develop criteria in various aspects of functionality. These areas might include metadata management, electronic resource management, collection development, resource sharing, circulation, reporting or analytics, and patron-facing discovery interfaces. Another group might be charged with technical architecture and interoperability requirements.
Articulating the requirements of the library for a new technology platform should be approached strategically. I recommend going beyond describing the current operational requirements by providing ample consideration to areas of functionality that may have previously been out of the scope of the current system. Detailed checklists of granular functionality are likely to reinforce current task workflows rather than enabling opportunities for new ways of organizing functions that may be more aligned with current and future expectations. Timeframe: 3-9 months
Creating and issuing procurement documents. Usually in conjunction with the organization's procurement officer, these requirements will be incorporated into a Request for Information, or Request for Proposals, which would also include the procedural processes that need to be followed by vendors interested in responding. The procurement documents will usually include guidelines on how the responses will be evaluated. Timeframe: 1-3 months
Vendor response period. Once the Request for Proposals/ Information has been issued, vendors should be given at least 6 weeks to submit responses. Timeframe: 1-2 months Response evaluation. Following the expiration of the deadline for responses, the library can begin evaluating the responses. A preliminary evaluation may identify a subset of the total vendors responding qualified for further consideration. Timeframe: less than 1 month
Vendor demonstrations. The short list of preferred vendors will usually be invited to give on-site or virtual demonstrations of their products. These demonstrations may be guided by a list of issues or questions prepared by the library. Timeframe: 1 month
Final evaluation and selection. Once the demonstrations have been concluded, the library will perform another round of evaluations and make its final selection or recommendation. In most cases, the selection process is conducted by a steering committee with input from each of the functional groups and other stakeholders. Timeframe: less than 1 month
Administrative review and approval. In most cases, the recommendation of the library's internal group will need be vetted through multiple layers of administrative approval. In some cases, the final decision may be made by the top library administrator, such as the university librarian or the chief executive officer of a public library system. Some organizations may also require approval by administrators in the library's parent organization. Timeframe: 0-2 months
Contract negotiations. Following final organizational approval, the library and the vendor will begin the process of finalizing business terms and producing a legal contract. Large organizations or those with mandatory contract terms may take longer to finalize the contract. Once the contract has been executed, the implementation process can commence. Timeframe: 1-2 months
Implementation. The transition to a new system will involve several major stages of activity. Timeframe: 4-12 months
- Preliminary deployment. With the business agreement complete, the vendor and the library can commence their partnership to implement the new system. In most cases, the initial step involves the vendor creating an instance of the system for the use of the library. This instance enables library personnel to become familiar with the new system and to begin its configuration and to plan for loading each category of data. Since most systems are currently deployed via hosted services or on cloud-based infrastructure, the library does not need to install or configure local hardware, operating systems, or databases.
- Data migration. Library systems have many different categories of descriptive and operational data that must be extracted from the incumbent system and loaded into the new platform. Some sets of data follow standards, but others may need to be converted into new formats. In most cases, many other libraries will have previously migrated from the same combination of products, and the vendor will have many tools in place to extract, transform, and load the data.
- Validation and testing. Once the new platform has been populated with the library's data, rigorous testing needs to be performed to identify any problems and make any needed corrections.
- Training. Almost all library personnel will need some degree of training on the new product. This training can commence at any point following the preliminary installation, but in general, libraries prefer to learn on a system populated with their own data.
- Production. Once all data has been validated and the training processes are complete, the library can make the transition to production use of the new system. This transition date is typically established well in advance and other activities are scheduled accordingly.
- Decommissioning. Once the migration has been completed, the incumbent system can be deactivated. Many libraries opt to keep the incumbent system operating behind the scenes for a few weeks to be available for running final reports, troubleshooting data issues, or other contingencies.
The time frame required for each of these phases can be compressed for small libraries. All libraries should go into the selection and implementation process with realistic expectations regarding the time it will take and on the involvement required by a broad set of staff members and stakeholders. Very rough time frames have been suggested for each of these phases. For most libraries, it will be at least a year or two from the time that they begin discussing the possibility of moving to a new system until the time that they are using it. Given this lengthy period, it is important for libraries to begin the process as early as they can and to not wait until the need for a new system is critical.