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Smart Libraries Q&A: Library systems selection tips

Smart Libraries Newsletter [July 2018]


What is the most suitable software that can be used for integrated library automation in an academic library?

In my experience, there are no absolute conclusions regarding the best or worst software for any given type of library. Almost any of the products available has been implemented successfully in at least some libraries with positive outcomes. The challenge lies in finding the technology-based systems and services best aligned with the strategic priorities of the libraries and that offers functionality to support its daily operational work.

Each library type has its own broad set of expectations for the components that comprise its technology environment. Academic, public, and school libraries continue to diverge in the ways they serve their respective communities. Specialized products have been created for each type of library. That said, there are some broad characteristics that an academic library might avoid when considering a new automation system.

  • Avoid products exclusively designed for other types of libraries. Since academic libraries have their own set of needs, using a product designed for a school or public library will probably not be a good fit. You should check to see the distribution of library types using any product under consideration. You will find some products used almost exclusively by academic libraries, such as Ex Libris Alma and OCLC's WorldShare Management Services. Others, such as SirsiDynix Symphony and Innovative's Sierra, have a mix of library types and continue to be used by a very large number of academic libraries. For the products that support multiple types of libraries, options need to be available that address management and access to electronic resources. Naturally, if the product under consideration has been dominantly implemented in public libraries or schools, it is not likely to work well for an academic library.
  • Avoid products that may no longer be actively developed. This characteristic applies to any system for any type of library. Libraries keep their automation systems for very long intervals—often a decade or two. Libraries should have assurance that any product under consideration continues to receive ongoing development and is part of the vendor's long-term roadmap. Part of the due diligence in system selection should include checking statistics on the number of libraries adopting a product versus the number moving away.
  • Seek products or product suites that demonstrate strong tools for managing electronic resources. Almost all academic libraries devote most of their collection budgets to subscriptions to electronic resources. Essential components of a viable electronic resource management include up-to-date and accurate knowledge bases able to support portfoliolevel activation of resources rather than having to manage each title individually. The domain of electronic resource management is complex, and any potential product should be evaluated carefully for its strengths in this area.

One of the major trends in the last decade related to academic libraries has been the emergence and adoption of library services platforms. The trajectory of products such as OCLC's WorldShare Management Services and Ex Libris Alma have been chronicled extensively in this newsletter. ILSs continue to see widespread use in academic libraries. While ILSs tend to be oriented to print resources, they can work well as a component in a broader environment where electronic resource management and discovery are addressed by other components.

Open source products also represent an important set of alternatives to consider. There are established open source ILSs, such as Koha, which have been successfully implemented by many academic libraries. The FOLIO project has made substantial progress toward developing an open source library services platform oriented to academic libraries. Once an initial set of libraries have implemented this product, it will be easier to assess its ability to serve the general body of academic libraries. The core resource management system represents only one component of the broader technology environment supporting an academic library. These libraries also have to consider how they will approach discovery, such as whether to use the discovery service bundled with their core resource management system or integrate a third-party product.

The resource management and discovery products serve as the core of the library's technology environment, but do not address all aspects of its varied activities. Most academic libraries will also operate institutional repositories, create digital library collections, support digital humanities, perform copyright clearance for course materials, manage reading lists for academic courses, or support various aspects of the research activities conducted within the university, such as through data management plans, research data repositories, or research information systems.

The challenge for academic libraries lies in implementing appropriate technologies across all these activities in sustainable ways. A proliferation of standalone components would lead to a fragmented environment that might be difficult to manage. Products able to unify some aspects of this broader academic library support infrastructure may be possible, though a monolithic platform encompassing everything would be both unwieldy and unrealistic. Rather, libraries should seek components with well-developed APIs able to participate in an ecosystem of interoperability.

Any judgement of what constitutes suitable software for an academic library cannot be generally prescribed. While there are some commonalities among academic libraries, many institutional differences also apply. I have given some general advice on obvious qualities to avoid and factors to consider; it is not possible to lay out more specific guidance in the absence of specific institutional considerations. The changing dynamics of academic libraries require investment in technology products receiving active development and those designed with the highest level of openness and flexibility.

View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 07
Issue:July 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24053
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:58:20
Date Created:2019-03-05 15:49:11