The ILS and the Future Needs of Libraries

ALL current ILS products suck.

There are several reasons why they suck, but the bottom line is that they fail to serve the modern needs of library which have drastically evolved.

OhioLINK and Ithaka S+R just released the white paper, “It’s Not What Libraries Hold; It’s Who Libraries Serve: Seeking a User-Centered Future for Academic Libraries” detailing the needs of libraries for systems going forward. *note* I served on the committee that helped formulate this paper.

Please note, we originally struggled with using the word ILS. Because the ILS we need now and in the future cannot be the ILS as we know it. But coming up with a name is difficult because what we really need is a true integrated library system, so what else do you call it? Think of the current ILS as Model T and the future ILS is a Tesla. The original Model T didn’t have windshield wipers and you had to crank to turn it on. The Tesla plots your course and will self park. They are both cars. They both served the needs of the population at the time. Can you imagine a Tesla on the unpaved roads of past? Likewise can you imagine commuting in a Model T every morning on the highway (in the winter in Ohio)?

The problem is the current ILS products fail to serve the needs of the current population. ILS products over prioritize the print collection (what the library owns) and fail to deliver on serving the needs of the user which has shifted beyond just the print collection. Since I am a medical librarian I see this most prominently in the medical library world. Librarians have used outside vendor products (link resolvers, discovery platforms, LMS, aggregators, etc.) to duct tape together a system to solve the needs that a true Integrated Library System should.

I encourage everyone, especially medical librarians, to read the white paper and think about the 4 main points we present that are necessary in the ILS of the future (near future IMHO).

  1. Libraries have shifted their raison d’etre from being the keeper of information to a user centered services. Unfortunately, every ILS I know of is centered around the keeping of the collections. The collections are important but they are not primary focus of libraries or users now. ILS products have not full understood that because it requires a complete reframing of the entire system. Too many ILS products are built on legacy coding and legacy structures and new versions and features are glued on. It is like taking a Model T and adding keyless entry.
  2. ILS products are still overly focused on print or physical in house collections. While we still need to keep track of that stuff, we need more help dealing with the external collections like online journals, image databanks, ebooks, music, databases, etc. Having a link in the catalog is not the answer, nor are any of the electronic resource manager modules that the ILS vendors provide. The ERMs do poor job of pulling in that information. Its as if you stuck turn signal lights on the Model T without any electricity to make them blink.
  3. Libraries are more than just where you read a book or study. Library resources are more integrated with their institution’s research, teaching, and learning. ILS products must be able to work with LMS platforms, research platforms and be able to handle the decentralized world that we live in. The report gives an awesome example of this type of unmet need that is NOW (not the future).
    “A medical researcher at the University of Cincinnati is collaborating with a colleague at Case Western Reserve University (both in OhioLINK) and with a third colleague at Oxford University, funded by a grant from the NIH. They are able to set up access and journal alerts for their joint work in three labs with multiple potential authors by seamlessly merging their respective e-resource entitlements and are able to integrate library materials and citations, their own data, and their draft publications in a common online working platform. When lab members are ready to publish, they are able to track where articles have been submitted, accepted, and where and how the Open Access provisions required by the NIH have been satisfied. The library maps seamlessly to the researchers’ workflows.”
  4. Gone are the days of reporting just your circulation stats. Librarians need data to analyze and communicate their value to their institution. Currently ILS products cannot do this in any meaningful way. “Library systems must be completely re-architected for the modern business intelligence needs of libraries & consortia.” If I reported just circ stats that just tells my administration how many times people are borrowing books. Why do they need a librarian to loan books? I need to report on ways we are involved in interprofessional education and how that impacts the educational and research needs of employees and the care and treatment of patients. Reporting on that requires a lot of work gathering data from multiple systems that don’t talk to each other. It is like asking somebody to monitor the gas consumption of their Model T to see if they can make it to the next gas station on their trip. It requires a lot of guessing and math. Hint: The gas gauge is a paint stick. You open the gas cap and look in the tank and stick a stick in to see how full your tank is.

The paper provide several key pieces of evidence supporting these 4 main points. For example:

The Primacy of Print is Past
A snapshot of OhioLINK’s resources clearly illustrates that print is smallest collection component of current libraries. In state wide consortia of 34 libraries, there are 12.6M ejournals, 9M etheses and dissertations, 7.5 ebooks, 6.3M database resources, and only .3M print that were lent within the cosorita*. Why are ILS products focused on print? *1/27 clarification as someone on Twitter mentioned the print number appears low and off. It is low, but to provide more context, that number reflects the stats for the consortial activity, ie interlibrary print lending and consortial digitally provided access. We did not go into each individual institution’s local print circ stats for this specific report.

Users Start Outside of the Library
Google, Google Scholar, and direct (going to the source like JAMA directly) are the first stop for finding information the greatest amount of time. Despite some OhioLINK libraries that have implemented discovery systems, only a teeny tiny amount of people who start their search using the library’s discovery system. Interesting for my medlib people, of the 117 OhioLINK libraries there are only 5 medical libraries. Yet, more people start their search for information on NCBI than on discovery platforms.

I hope you all read the white paper. I know several ILS vendors have been irritated with me in the past as I have critiqued their products. However, this white paper just articulates the needs that we librarians have been saying for years, about your products. We are all riding the information highway in our Model Ts covered in duct tape with modern day accessories (which are more necessity than accessory) as Google, Amazon, and other companies and library competitors speed by us in their Teslas.

2 thoughts on “The ILS and the Future Needs of Libraries”

  1. I use my ILS for two functions: as a catalog for my very small print mostly textbook-type collection, and as an index to my much larger Hospital Archives collection with extensive use of the searchable notes field. As a solo hospital librarian, I have the time to keep up with ONE journals list/finder; now my ILS simply directs users to that resource. As a result I pay a lot of money for indexing products.

    I appreciate the desires for Teslas. In my world, the journey destination and “attractions”–research results usable at the bedside now–are the critical factor that tends to get overlooked as an endpoint in product evaluations. I am at times caught up in justifying how a product expense will enable me to deliver sources or provide clinicians with ways to access the best literature in the least amount of time. I’m holding steady at the moment but continue to survey the landscape for products that better meet my needs.

  2. To be fair, Librarians as a whole are not typically chomping at the bit to embrace new technologies in this market. Take Koha for example; It has been web based for over 20 years and libraries are still hesitant to adopt the system because it is not Millennium… If you want to affect real change then start throwing your vote into progressive open source systems that allow librarians to steer the direction of the technology. Give those products and communities more weight and legitimacy and you will start seeing real change on a larger scale.

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