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Smart Libraries Q&A: Data migration for a new ILS

Smart Libraries Newsletter [December 2019]


When moving to a new ILS, what recommendations do you have to prepare collection data for migration?

Switching to a new system is a complex process, including many related tasks such as the migration data, configuration of branches and shelving locations, setting up circulation rules, and configurations of financial processes for materials acquisitions. It's important to have a set of collection records that accurately represent the library's collection. When a library moves to a new ILS or LSP, it can consider several strategies related to the migration of its collection data.

In advance of moving to a new system, many libraries work hard to identify and address any problems or inconsistencies in their bibliographic database. A clean and accurate database, in most cases, will facilitate the migration process and lead to a more satisfying result. Even in libraries with the most careful cataloging processes, errors are inevitable. Given that libraries tend to keep the same ILS for a decade or more, the accumulation of problems over that period can be significant. It is common for libraries to take advantage of a system migration to address these issues.

Here are some of the actions that a library might perform to prepare its database in advance of a migration:

  • A physical inventory of the collection. Libraries with smaller collections might find it worthwhile to perform a comprehensive inventory to ensure a good alignment between the item records in the ILS and the actual materials held. An even better practice might be to incorporate inventory management into routine operations, working through small sections of the collection so that a complete inventory is accomplished over a longer time frame. Libraries with extremely large collections may not find a systematic inventory to be feasible but might instead focus on areas with higher churn of circulation.
  • Authorities processing. In the course of routine cataloging or importing of records, associations are made between selected fields in bibliographic records and authority sources. Errors that accumulate over time may be difficult to identify and address manually. Libraries may opt to contract with an external bibliographic services firm for systematic cleanup. This type of authorities processing can update bibliographic records to use current authorized headings for controlled fields with appropriate links to records in national authority files.
  • OCLC reclamation. For libraries that use OCLC's interlibrary loan or cataloging services, it is important to ensure that all holdings are correctly reflected in the WorldCat database. OCLC offers a “reclamation” service, which may incur fees, where the library submits its collection records for synchronization with WorldCat, removing superfluous holdings for items not held and adding holdings for those that may not have been previously set.

In addition to these tasks that involve wholesale or systematic processing of the collection, libraries may also want to carry out smaller-scale or informal work to measure the overall quality of their collection records. These tasks could include spot checks on selected portions of the collection, looking for any irregularities or errors. When performing these checks prior to migration, it would be important to determine whether any issues are specifically related to errors in the collection records or related to the functionality of the incumbent system.

Keep in mind that there are trade-offs involved in these migration strategies. While there are benefits to improving the quality of the collection database, these tasks can add to the cost and complexity of migration. These activities might be unbundled from the migration project and addressed in a different time frame. No library's collection database will ever be entirely pristine, and it is necessary to establish reasonable expectations regarding an acceptable error rate.

Another important consideration lies in whether to address collection database issues prior to the migration process or afterward. It would be reasonable to expect that the new system will come with more powerful tools for identifying and repairing problems with collection records. While the incumbent system may be more familiar, post-migration cleanup can be a good opportunity to learn and exercise the reporting, analytics, and global update capabilities of the new system. Barring systematic errors in the collection records that may impede a successful migration, some cleanup tasks may be addressed more efficiently later in the process.

Regardless of the record preparation strategy chosen, the migration process should include a phase where the library's database can be loaded into the new system in advance of the final switch to production. Most vendors will provide a test load of the database so that the library can work with their own data in the new system for training and testing. Such a preliminary load will ensure that the tools and scripts involved in the migration work correctly with the library's exported collection records. Depending on any problems encountered, the migration process may need to involve multiple iterations of the export and loading routines to ensure a successful migration.

Libraries should pay special attention to the conversion of their records for serials and periodicals. Serial records are more susceptible to problems than those for monographs, due to the complexity of describing large sets of holdings and journal issues. Library systems vary more in the way that they handle serial records those for monographs. Serials records, check-in patterns, and related data should be carefully tested in the migration process.

The library should expect differences in the way that the new system uses collection records for search, display, and processing. Despite the adherence to MARC and related standards, each resource management system may have subtle or significant differences in the way that records are handled. One of the challenges in moving to a new system involves assessing whether these differences are due to errors or are expected behavior. It is also common for inconsistencies in bibliographic records that may have not previously noticed to be more conspicuous in the new system.

If the migration involves an implementation of a broadly scoped discovery service instead of a traditional online catalog, there will be even more differences. Discovery services often involve configuration options for indexing and presentation, which may be customized according to the library preferences and the nature of the clientele it serves.

View Citation
Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 12
Issue:December 2019
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:24784
Last Update:2022-11-25 14:38:13
Date Created:2019-12-21 12:48:49