Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Selecting a new ILMS, probably the biggest single purchase a library will make so do it properly.

Selecting a new keystone system for any organisation is a major decision and so it is with a library when choosing a new ILMS (Integrated Library Management System). Given the time, effort, resources, and lets face it, the cost, the decision process needs to be well thought out.

However, much to my continued horror, too many school libraries in Australia make this decision with minimal assessment or rigor. For example I have inherited systems because predecessors (and I quote) "asked a few local libraries what they used and liked and went with that". I have also been in vendor presentations and being appalled at the lack of real questions and assessment by my peers. For example, I should not be the only person in the room who asks about what reporting is available. I have also heard numerous ILMS vendors complain that they do the development work for basic modules only for the school marketplace not to understand them or use them. For example, in one school library I asked the teacher librarian how do they do reservations without using the ILMS, she said "sticky notes". WTF I said to myself, sticky notes, give me a break. When I asked her "and how is that working?" the reply was "its not". So even though their ILMS offered a reservation module, it had never been implemented, and the process wasn't working.

So at a time when school libraries should be automating back end processes so they can focus on front of house service delivery AND reporting the value they deliver; even when they have an ILMS that can help them make this happen they don't use the functionality. I would like to report this was an isolated incident, but in my experience it is not. No wonder so many school libraries are under threat of closure or being scaled back. It comes as no surprise that many (but not all) of the ILMS used by Australian schools lack the functionality that the rest of the library community takes for granted.

So rather than bitch about this dire situation I've decided to freely share my processes. However it is important to note that:  
  • This exercise is not about saying which ILMS is better than another. Each library has to choose a system that is the best fit for them as well as being within budget. 
  • This is not presented as being the only, or indeed the best, way of assessing a new ILMS. But, if making this assessment process helps one other Australian school library make a better and informed decision than that is a good thing.
So here it goes:
In going to market four leading school ILMS vendors were asked to participate. We did not have the time, or resources, to review more than four vendors. In selecting these four we choose vendors who have a significant market presence.

All vendors were asked to respond to a set of criteria and supply at least one Melbourne School reference site. As part of the process all communication between the Library and the participating vendors have been documented via emails. This ensured there was a documented record of the assessment and that all vendors are treated equally. The criteria set out the following:

General
Functionality
26 questions
Focusing on the broad level of functionality expected of a 21 century school library ILMS. This also helps ensure efficient and streamlined backend operations.
Circulation
Functionality
8 questions
Focusing on specifics relating to loans functionality to ensure the service can do what is expected of it. This also helps ensure efficient and streamlined backend operations.
Metadata
Functionality
9 questions
To ensure the service meets the necessary library standards to allow for integration into online vendor content as well as strategic partnering with other schools and other local collections. This also helps ensure efficient and streamlined backend operations.
User
Experience
23 questions
To ensure the service is easy to use and gives students and staff a search interface that allows them to quickly find what they are looking for.
Digital
Repository
11 questions
Focusing on whether the service can be used by the School archives to store, protect, and make available the Archives.
It was important to ensure that whatever solution we chose would work in the future as well as the present. Therefore, we deliberately asked questions about emerging changes, for example the move from MARC to Bibframes, knowing that vendors would not be compliant. It was still important however to be assured that vendors were across current changes and had a thought out future development plan.

For an assessment to work the library has to also be open and transparent about it's priorities. Therefore against each criteria we indicated whether the criteria was:
Mandatory
[M]
Functionality is extremely important to us and will be critical in the evaluation process,
Highly Desirable
[HD]
Functionality is very important to us and will play a major role in the evaluation process, and
Desirable
[D]
Functionality is ‘nice to have’ but not critical.
From the vendor supplied response, as well as observations and discussion with the reference sites, the library graded each criteria with a score out of 10 with a possible total score of 770. These responses are outlined in the following table.



Functions
D
HD
M
Total
D
HD
M
Total
D
HD
M
Total
Circulation
0
10
40
50
0
14
39
53
0
14
49
63
Digital Repository
0
5
3
8
0
6
3
9
0
60
27
87
General
0
34
94
128
0
35
103
138
8
62
168
238
Metadata
0
0
18
18
0
4
21
25
0
27
53
80
User Experience
8
64
37
109
15
81
40
136
26
113
60
199
Total
8
113
192
313
15
140
206
361
34
276
357
667

Vendor 4 submitted a response but did not provide details of how they met the selection criteria. As a result it has not been possible to score this service. Needless to say we did not choose vendor number 4.

Finally, we shared this high level overview of the assessment back with each of the participating vendors. It is my personal view that if a library asks vendors to submit detailed information about their services as part of an assessment process it is beholden on the library to share back with the vendors why they were chosen or why they were not. If libraries do not give feedback vendors can not be expected to respond to what the market place needs. However, in providing feedback it is critically important the library does not divulge any information to one vendor that another vendor has supplied commerical-in-confidence.

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