Two Important aspects to consider when designing or adopting an ILS

Introduction to ILS

“The Integrated Library Systems (ILSs) were developed in the 1990s primarily for printed material,” (Yang 1) yet, as is observable in many libraries, the means by which libraries automate many of their more mundane functions is changing; the struggle remains in keeping up with these changes. As is true of most advances in technology, ILS advances should be made with the framework in mind to simplify the users needs and to avoid unneeded/ unwarranted stress.

Each group of participants in the library systems has needs that must be addressed when thinking about an Integrated library system.  In this blog post I will be addressing the librarians who, when thinking about ILSs, must ask the question of “Does the product meet my needs?” I seek to address this question within the context of Electronic Resource Management (ERM).  The second group that I will be considering in this post is library users, who would pose the question more like this: “Can I find what it is I need?” For their needs, I will be looking at Discovery Tools. The purpose here is not to be thorough in addressing ILSs, but to provide some context by which we can better understand the systems we engage with as a profession.

There are many aspects to contemplate when considering designing or adopting an Integrated Library System: technology, services to your library, cost, open source or proprietary product, users, collaboration, dealing with vendors, and communication with other systems and organizations. As with any large scale/ high value purchase, the more known about the item before hand the better informed the choice will be, and the more confident the buyer will be that the correct decision was made.

From the Librarians Perspective: ERM

As librarians, we are generally more aware of the information and work that is required to make knowledge accessible, findable, and retrievable, but the ends and outs of an Integrated Library System are not usually something we think about every day. In her article From integrated library systems to library management services: time for change?  Sharon Yang makes the observation that “Ideally, a library system should be able to add, index, display, and search RDA fields, but not all the current [as of March 2013] ILSs are readily made for this task.” (Yang 1)  Yang goes on further to state that “at the center of the new library systems is a knowledge base which stores important information needed for a library’s daily operations.” (Yang 4) These new electronic resource management (ERM) systems seek to simplify the entire process. One way in which ERM systems help facilitate holistically integrated ILSs is by requiring “library staff to login to separate modules for tasks based on the division of work or library functions.” (Yang 3) This meaning that Librarians do not need to login to multiple portals or systems to fulfill their various functions and responsibilities, but can do everything within the same system at various points.

One of the larger debates taking place in the world of libraries at the moment is on whether to adopt Open Source Software (OSS) or to purchase a Proprietary Product (PP). There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both, but the most important factor is your need and an understanding of what is being purchased (short and long turn). Sigi Goode noted that, with respect to not utilizing OSS,

“a lack of conventional and ongoing support [is] a critical factor in [library administrators’] decision not to adopt and [they] perceived a lack of reliable support avenues: ‘we think there’s a real lack of tangible support.’ Managers appeared concerned that, if no equivalent to commercial support existed, they would risk having to support their software applications with their own resources. One respondent wrote, ‘We’re not interested because it’s not a commercial offering.’ Tellingly, another wrote, ‘we really don’t know anything about them and don’t want to know. We want someone we can sue when things go to the wall.’” (Goode 675)

Andrew Asher et al. point out in their article Paths of Discovery: Comparing the Search Effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources that “one critical question for libraries considering the implementation of a discovery tool is whether the tool would add enough value to justify its cost in comparison to tools like [Google Scholar] or a library’s already implemented suite of research databases.” (Asher et al.  477) Another problematic situation arises when the company that the library has been doing business with for many years goes bankrupt or merges with another institution? Many adapt this question as to a reason for supporting OSSs in the library because all of the content is stored and managed by the library itself, and not by an outside vendor. Kris Ven et al. noted in their article Should You Adopt Open Source Software? that  “Organizations using proprietary standards… might face significant costs during data migration” (Ven et al. 56)

From the Users Perspective: Discovery Tools

For a great background, accompanied with vendor reported distinctive features and general user comments, I strongly recommend the reader to find the chapter entitled “Major Discovery Product Profiles” in Library Resource Discovery Products: Context, Library Perspectives, and Vendor Positions by Marshall Breeding.

The library has come a long way in making access to information easier for it’s users.  This is because, “within the library, faculty and students have come to expect a simplified, fast, all-inclusive, and principally online research experience that mirrors their use of Google and other search engines.” (Asher et al. 464) There are a myriad of problems here though, one of the greatest of which is the reliance on the Discovery Tools algorithm to do the research for the user.  Andrew Asher et al. emphasize this point strongly at various times in their article:

  1. “The situation of information overabundance makes strategies for evaluating and discerning high-quality information of paramount importance. Unfortunately, students often lacked the conceptual understanding required to complete this task adequately, instead relying on the search systems to do the work for them, in particular, by using the search engine’s relevancy rankings to determine resources’ relative quality.” (Asher et al. 472)
  2. “By following this practice, students are de facto outsourcing much of the evaluation process to the search algorithm itself.” (Asher et al. 474)
  3. “Given their uncertainty in evaluating resources, many students imbued the search tools themselves with a great deal of authority.” (Asher et al. 474)
  4. “Since what is found most quickly and most easily is also what is most likely to be used by students, each system’s biases in the types of resources is reflected in the resources they choose.” (Asher et al.  477)

For more on why this is not necessarily the best method for conducting research, see the section “FALLACY, LOGICAL: Fallacies of weak induction” in the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. It is very likely that the results will get the user what they need, but that does not mean that the user should solely rely on the Discovery Tools algorithm to determine what it is that is needed for their research.  The Discovery Tools of today are continuing to be improved upon, and it is this authors hope that the need of relevancy ranking biases, and cross communication upon competitive vendors will be more fully addressed in the coming years.


    ILSs are changing rapidly, just as the way major advances in technology over the past few decades have dramatically changed the way things have been done. The key concepts in all of this though are 1.) Does it simplify my life (or the life of the users)? and 2.) How do I use these new tools?


Asher, A. D., Duke, L. M., & Wilson, S. (2013). Paths of discovery: Comparing the search effectiveness of EBSCO discovery service, summon, google scholar, and conventional library resources. College & Research Libraries, 74(5), 464-488.

Goode, S. (2005). Something for nothing: Management rejection of open source software in Australia’s top firms. Information & Management, 42(5), 669-681. doi:

Joseph, P., & Namjoo, C. (2013). A comparison between select open source and proprietary integrated library systems. Library Hi Tech, 31(3), 435. doi:

Major discovery product profiles (2014). Retrieved from

Stump, D. J. (2005). Fallacy, logical. In M. C. Horowitz (Ed.), New dictionary of the history of ideas (pp. 775-776). Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Retrieved from

Ven, K., Verelst, J., & Mannaert, H. (2008). Should you adopt open source software? IEEE Software, 25(3), 54-59. doi:

Wang, Z. (2009). Integrated library system (ILS) challenges and opportunities: A survey of U.S. academic libraries with migration projects. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 207-220. doi:

Yang, S. (2013). From integrated library systems to library management services: Time for change? Library Hi Tech News, 30(2), 1.


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