Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Re-Integrating the 'Integrated' Library System

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Re-Integrating the 'Integrated' Library System

Article excerpt

As I track the trends in the library automation industry, I notice that the integrated library system, or ILS, isn't playing quite the prominent role it once did. Like an aging actor, it's been upstaged by a new generation of rising stars. Lately, the industry marketing marquees tend to give top billing to link resolvers, metasearch interfaces, and electronic resource management (ERM). While I believe that this new generation of automation products lends enormous benefits to librarians dealing with the new world of Web-based electronic content, it seems we have taken a step backward in terms of the integration and cohesiveness of our automation environment.


As the scope of libraries expands, we have an a la carte menu of automation utilities rather than a unified and comprehensive environment for library automation. This approach is a given, and it's probably a reasonable path. But, at times, it seems we might be better off today if the ILS had evolved in step with the times, changing the way that it packages information to better meet society's needs. But we--vendors and librarians alike--allowed the ILS to become static, and, by doing so, we diminished the possibility of having software that delivers more comprehensive automation for library workers and seamless access to information for library users. This error has resulted in libraries with tools that fall short of what is needed in today's world, where Google and set high expectations for Web-based, information-oriented interfaces.

Historical Roots of the ILS

The die of the ILS was cast in the 1970s, during an era when libraries dealt primarily with print materials. Without going into great historical detail, a broad observation is that the early automation systems aimed to provide an electronic version of the card catalog and to automate the functions of the library involving physical materials. Those systems came quite close to delivering comprehensive automation for libraries. They centered on print media, established the basic model for a computerized bibliographic system, and made great efforts at creating standards. During that era, the functional requirements for library automation and the business logic to meet these requirements began to take shape.

Times Have Changed: Though it probably didn't seem so at the time, the challenges of library automation of the '70s were less complex than those we face today. For the last decade, library collections have steadily grown to include nonprint content. Libraries of all kinds spend a major portion of their collection budgets on subscriptions to electronic content. Digitization projects are commonplace. Unfortunately, the core ILS did not evolve in step with these changes. At its heart, the ILS remains shackled to the antiquated print-based paradigm for library automation. Some minor concessions to electronic content emerged, such as static links through the 856 tag in the MARC record, but the fundamental nature of the ILS focuses on traditional content and work flow.

ILS Add-Ons: Though the development of the ILS itself has lagged behind, a bevy of other products has emerged to help librarians manage electronic resources.

OpenURL-based link resolvers provide an infrastructure for context-sensitive linking among the electronic resources to which libraries subscribe. Examples include SFX from Ex Libris, LinkFinderPlus from Endeavor Information Systems, MetaFind from Innovative Interfaces, and Sirsi Resolver from the Sirsi Corp. [Editor's Note: See the Helping You Buy installment on OpenURL Link Resolvers in the October 2004 issue of Computers in Libraries, pp. 17-24. Dynix has one now too.]

Metasearch products help libraries craft front-end interfaces for their electronic resources, allowing users to search multiple resources simultaneously. MetaLib from Ex Libris, ENCompass from Endeavor, Millennium Access Plus from Innovative, and Sirsi SingleSearch are some of the major offerings. …

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