Replacing our ILS, business as usual


© Peter Morville

As you may have noticed from some of my tweets, the Library of the Unversity of Amsterdam, my place of work, is in the process of replacing its ILS (Integrated Library System). All in all this project, or better these two projects (one selecting a new ILS, the other one implementing it) will have taken 18 months or more from the decision to go ahead until STP (Switch to Production), planned for August 15 this year. My colleague Bert Zeeman blogged about this (in Dutch) recently.

One thing that has become absolutely clear to me is that replacing an ILS is not just about replacing one information system by another. It is about replacing an entire organisational structure of work processes, with its huge impact on all people involved. And in our case it affects two organisations: besides the Library of the University of Amsterdam also the Media Library of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam. We have been managing library systems for both organisations in a mini consortial structure since a couple of years. So the Media Library is facing a second ILS replacement within two years.

While the decision was made because of pressing technical reasons, also with an eye on preparing for future library 2.0 developments, it turned out to be of substantial consequence for the organisation.
This is the first time that I am participating in such a radical library system project. I have done a couple of projects implementing and upgrading metasearching and OpenURL link resolver tools in the last six years, but these are nothing compared to the current project. With these “add-on” tools, that started as a means of extending the library’s primary stream of information, only a relatively limited number of people were involved. But with an ILS you are talking about the core business of a library (still!) and about day to day working life of everybody involved in acquisitions, cataloguing, circulation as well as system administrators and system librarians.

To make it even more complicated, the University Library is also switching from the old system’s proprietary bibliographic format to MARC21, because that is what the new system is using. Personally I think that the old system’s format is better (just like our German colleagues think about their move from MAB to MARC), but of course the advantages of using an internationally accepted and used standard outweighs this, as always. Maybe food for another blog post later…

Last but not least, the Library is simultaneously doing a project for the implementation of RFID for self check machines. The initial idea was to implement RFID in the old system and then just migrate everything to the new one. However, for various reasons, recently it was decided to postpone RFID implementation to shortly after our ILS STP. Some initial tests have shown that this probably will work.

And while all this is going on, all normal work needs to be taken care of too: ” business as usual” .

Now, looking at workflows: the way that our individual departments have organised their workflows, is partly dictated by the way the old system is designed. The new system obviously dictates workflows too, but in other areas. Although this new system is very flexible and highly configurable, there are still some local requirements that cannot be met by the new system.
Of course this is NOT the way it should be! Systems should enable us to do what we want and how we want it! Hopefully new developments like Ex Libris’ URM and the very recently announced new OCLS WorldCat Web based ILS will take care of users better.

Talking about “very flexible and highly configurable”: although a very big advantage, this also makes it much more complicated and time consuming to implement the new system. Fortunately there are a lot of other libraries in The Netherlands and around the world using the new system that are willing to help us in every possible way. And this is highly appreciated!

Other isues that make this project complicated:

  • unexpected issues, bottlenecks: these keep on coming
  • migration of data from old system: conversion of old to new format
  • implementing links with external systems like student’s and staff database, financial system, national union catalogue

I think we will make STP on the planned date, but I also think we need to postpone a number of issues until after that. There will still be a lot of work to be done for my department after the project has finished.

To end with a positive note: the new OPAC wil be much nicer and more flexible than the old one. And in the end that is what we are doing this for: our patrons.

2 thoughts on “Replacing our ILS, business as usual

  1. The point about this not being about just replacing an IT system, but about reviewing and changing organizational work processes is a very good one – I would estimate that the staff time needed to do this takes up at least half the budget (probably more) of a LMS replacement – and of course, this means that even when looking at low cost or free software, the cost of the project is still prohibitive for many medium to large libraries at this time.

    Reviewing and changing work processes can be painful and unsettling for those involved – but not doing this when you implement a new LMS can give you real problems – and cause inefficiencies and unhappiness in the longer term.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.