So you’re trying to help out a small library . . .

A Map of Seward Park in Seattle

More than a week has gone by since Anna Nash and myself started actively working together to bring new life into the Ann Lennartz Memorial Library at the Audubon Center in Seward Park right here in Seattle. As an independent study that’s part of our curriculum at the University of Washington iSchool, this project has more facets than simply show up at the library and serve as librarians. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to not only volunteer our time to helping the library, but we’ve also spent time doing research, reading theory, and consulting with known authorities on what it means to be in a special/small library. That being said, we have only just begun.

Our project this quarter begins with the research, choice, implementation, and successful integration of a library automation system at the library. What does this mean? A library automation system of today occurs in a digital space, such as on a computer or in the cloud. The term typically used to represent a system in a library capable of fulfilling circulation, catalog, OPAC, reporting, and inventory is called the Integrated Library System, or ILS. ILSs come in all shapes and forms. Whether you’re browsing the website of Seattle Public Library, or you’re on a computer terminal at the University of Washington, the ILS you’re using is going to be customized to meet the needs of the library.

It’s very difficult to choose an ILS when a library has never had one before, as I’m sure it is when a library has had one. Additionally, Anna and I have never “installed” an ILS before, and so our consultation experience is organically evolving as we continue to explore the options. And how rapidly the experience is building up! Through many reviews, overviews, and summaries, we have been exposed to a plethora of ILSs designed to assist small and special libraries. Some resources discussed the main points one need to think about when making the great decision. Here is a good resource about the process of purchasing an ILS by Reegan D. Breu. Others have compiled lists of ILSs with the pros and cons of each, such as this one. We even took this slideshow as Chris Kiess as the perfect way to concisely introduce ourselves to the world of the ILS.

There are numerous factors that come into play when making the decision, many of which I plan to discuss in-depth next week when I review the ILSs we’ve investigated. This Friday, it should be noted, we will be meeting with with Ali and Joey who staff the Audubon Center and shed some light on our findings. We will bring the results of the many demos we’ve conducted of the different systems. Screenshots and, when available, full demo sites, will be used to illustrate why we think a certain system works (or does not work) for the library. At the moment we’ve found around seven different ILSs we’ve reviewed. That number will hopefully be narrowed down to only a few options within the next two days. So how do we decide? How do we narrow?

Some of the foremost factors in the decision, which Anna has helped define with her previous in-library experience, and which I  helped refine through my own critical lens and recent research into the open source vs. proprietary debate (last quarter), are as follows. The cost (initial and subscription price), the tech requirements, the ability to meet the the functional needs of the library (such as MARC record access, self-checkout, and specialized reporting), the ease of use by non-librarian staff as well as members, and the available support. Two additional factors, arguably most important each in their own way, are as follows. First, whether the ILS is proprietary (for cost) or open source (free). Open source systems typically require (but not always) substantial installation processes which can end up costing a lot of money to pay for professionals to do the processes for you. Proprietary systems obviously come with a price, but what you get for the price often justifies spending the money. Second, would you like your library automation in the form of a traditional, locally-hosted and locally-installed library (which can cost money and require the acquisition of hardware), or would you like your library automation in the form of a Software as a Service (SaaS) model? The latter is essentially having the library on the cloud, accessible via web browser, and has the benefits of access from any space on the Internet, which can be great for anyone wanting to visit the library from home.

Our meeting on Friday will also solidify our thoughts and provide consultations concerning the installation of a security system within the library. That element will require another extensive conversation going forward. We also plan on spending time talking about articles we’ve read for the class, other libraries we’ve visited, and major issues that libraries in general face, which we will have to address in our way. We look forward to continuing this journey, and hope you tag along for the ride!

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