Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Meeting report: OBS-SIS Heads of Systems Roundtable

Meeting report: OBS-SIS Heads of Systems Roundtable
Tuesday, July 17, 2007, 7:30 a.m.

The meeting started off with Mindy Pozenel of OCLC doing a demo of the University of Washington's implementation of Worldcat Local (information page about the project, and link to searching the catalog, at http://www.lib.washington.edu/about/worldcatlocal/what.html). I unfortunately came in late (thinking the meeting started at 7:45) so I missed a lot of the demo, but what I saw was pretty impressive. Pricing is now available on a sliding scale (depending on institution size) and consists of two parts: a one-time implementation fee, and an ongoing subscription fee. Web-based demos are available.

After Mindy left the remaining group (around 10 people) started in on discussions. I think we raised more questions than answers, but the discussion was lively and free-ranging and was one of the best conversations I sat in on at AALL. Some of the topics that came up were:

  • Systems maintenance, upgrading and staffing needs to be part of the library's (and law school's) strategic planning. Buy-in from directors, department heads, "power users" (both within the library and on the faculty) and even law school deans is important. Directors, who tend to come from the public services side of the house, may now be more tuned into system upgrades and enhancements than they were in the past because so many of the latest enhancements are in the realm of public services products.
  • Unfortunately many directors and public services staff have no idea what "systems" people do. While all of the people in the room had systems responsibilities, quite a few did not have the word "systems" anywhere in their job titles. "Systems" almost seems an afterthought, instead of the incredibly important aspect of the library that it is nowadays. The ILS is no longer just a "cataloging system with an OPAC stuck on it;" if the ILS goes down, the library goes down. A session on technical services was part of the "new directors" session at AALL on Saturday, and efforts to encourage directors and public services staff to attend OBS and TS programs should be continued to foster further understanding. Systems people (most of whom have technical services backgrounds) also need to reach out to their colleages and put on a "public services hat" when planning system upgrades and improvements.
  • ILS vendors seem to be shifting development from their flagship systems to "sexier" products such as ERM systems and federated search. They are also developing products that could be considered developments/enhancements to their main systems but charging for them as if they are separate products. In the process, is it possible vendors are pricing themselves out of the market, especially the law library market? There was unanimous agreement that our current OPACs don't cut it for users and that new approaches are needed -- but how are we going to afford all these great new tools for our users (and our staff)? On a related note, it seems vendors still don't understand a library's budget cycle -- having a sale on servers in December doesn't help if the library's equipment budget has already been allocated for the year! It would help greatly if vendors could inform libraries about upcoming special promotions so they can be budgeted for in advance.
  • Staffing was a frequently mentioned issue. All these new products require staff time to implement, deploy and support them -- populating an ERM system was one example mentioned. Even if you can get staff with a strong IT background, they still must learn the ins and outs of a proprietary system and that can have a steep learning curve. (One attendee mentioned that he treats his ILS's annual maintenance fee as an invisible staff position, because that's about the amount he's spending.) Open source software shows promise, but despite the software being "free" massive amounts of staff time is needed to deploy, support and develop it. Inviting some open source companies to a showcase at a future AALL would be of interest.

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