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State of our ILS

May - 4 - 2006
Nicole C. Engard

This was posted on our Intranet by our head of Technical Services:

This year during the ILUG @ AALL (July 2006). There will be discussion on the State of the Innovative System. I would like to get your thoughts and present them during this discussion. Things that will be discussed are:

How has Millennium worked in your institution? What has it helped? What problems has it raised? Where does the Innovative system fit into the IT environment of your institution? … From the standpoint of you and your institution, where do you see library system software heading? Are there any implications for the overall business model?

So I of course had to answer – and since it was such a long answer and the kind of thing I’d usually post here I have decided to share my answer with you all.


First I’d like to state that I can only speak from the point of view as a programmer and web designer -I have no idea how this package works for the people at circulation, cataloging or acquisitions.

How has it worked? This is a question for the people I mentioned above. How has it adapted to the times? This is a better question for me – and the answer is poorly. The interface is clunky at best and the customizability requires more work that it’s worth. There is poor HTML and CSS hidden from the people who can make a difference. A year ago there was an extra tag – I had to wait for a new release to fix this problem when I could have easily gone in and deleted it if I had the control. I frequently have to tell people in my workplace that I can’t change or fix something because it is out of my realm – nothing should be out of my realm – we pay for this product and should be able to alter anything and everything we choose.

What has it helped? Once again I don’t think this really applies to someone in my position.

What problems has it raised? It has raised several design issues – with more open code, or an API I’d be able to go in and make things look the way we’d like – instead of having to explain to people that the catalog design has nothing to do with me – the web designer. It has also caused issues with the way we store data. We have a separate customer database and we have to import data into the III on a nightly basis – if we were allowed to run simple “select” queries and edit the coding behind the scenes, we could have access to more up to the second data by pulling it directly from our database. The same goes for information we’d like to get out of the system. The statistics provided to us are spotty at best, there are missing pieces that, given the rights, we could be getting for ourselves out of the database.

Where does III fit? I’d say it’s a like the crazy cousin you have to deal with because he’s family! It doesn’t fit, we are a very open IT environment, we have applications all over that need to talk to each other nicely and the III system is a brick wall preventing us from getting the information we need and sending the information we’d like.

Where do I see it heading? No where – I haven’t seen any changes that have been advantageous to my work or my department. Where would I like to see it headed? I’d like III to look at Talis (http://www.talis.com/home/), I’d like them to see how this company is communicating with it’s users on the user level. I want to see III join forces with Talis and the other vendors to implement the idea of the Platform (http://www.talis.com/platform/) by visiting the Shared Innovation site (http://www.talis.com/tdn/) and working together. We pay for these applications and should have the ability to model them around our own business model and company mission.

I’m not sure I understand the last question – but I read it like this, “What’s wrong with the current business model and how can we change it?” Right now libraries are required to buy the same main package and then have the option to add on additional features/packages. A quote from my blog:

“Library 2.0 is about opening the library up and delivering content to our users where they are when they want it. We need to engage our users – which we are doing, but we need to do even more. Paul called for us to “disaggregate our monolithic library systems”. He explained this to us like this: Imagine a great big black box which a vendor sells you and instead of taking everything the vendor offers you take only the bits you need. Plugging in bits of other applications – maybe from other vendors – or that you have written yourself. Which is what I have the hardest time with – we have this ILS that was written for primarily academic libraries and we’re forced to buy the whole package and use only 1/3 of this – then out comes an add on that makes more sense for us – but we have to pay extra to get it – why not let us pay for the core and then pick and choose the other pieces we’ll need – customizing our catalogs to our specific institution? Paul says library systems should be like Lego, you can build the picture on the box or you can build something new and different.” (http://www.web2learning.net/archives/266)

Let us make our own packages – why should we be paying for a user database when we already have one – why not let us write a bridge script to get the information to and from our database instead of having to rely on the limits imposed by the current system?

It’s a new world and building onto a system that is more than 15 years old isn’t going to cut it anymore – there needs to be a new system, one that allows for more freedom, and it has to come soon, because more and more libraries are going to turn to open-source. I know that I’m ready to go out and lend a hand on one of the open-source LIS projects out there – especially if it means I get to have a system that will do what I want, how I want – and let me make changes when I want.

Additional Reading:

13 Responses so far.

  1. Good to see that our efforts at Talis have not gone unnoticed.

    Also it’s not all brick wall on the III front, see my posting on Panlibus Shared Innovation – please!

  2. Jonathan says:

    “There is poor HTML and CSS hidden from the people who can make a difference.”

    Well said! I recently completed a redesign of my library’s Innovative catalog. As one who strives to use web standards, trying to get the catalog to do what I would like it to do has been an exercise in frustration. I’m glad to hear there are people out there who are promoting efforts to change things.

  3. Nicole says:

    We’re planning a redesign of our library site and catalog – and I’m dreading it for this very reason.

  4. [...] Nicole Engard last month posted about The State of our ILS, describing the systems as: I’d say it’s a like the crazy cousin you have to deal with because he’s family! It doesn’t fit, we are a very open IT environment, we have applications all over that need to talk to each other nicely and the [ILS] is a brick wall preventing us from getting the information we need and sending the information we’d like. [...]

  5. [...] Nicole Engard last month posted about The State of our ILS, describing the systems as: I’d say it’s a like the crazy cousin you have to deal with because he’s family! It doesn’t fit, we are a very open IT environment, we have applications all over that need to talk to each other nicely and the [ILS] is a brick wall preventing us from getting the information we need and sending the information we’d like. [...]

  6. [...] While in UNC-CH for JCDL I’ve had occasion to rant with/at some people about the state of the integrated library system marketplace — including, of course, how we got into the spot we’re in and how we might get out of it (and those people were kind enough to engage in the rant). Along comes a series of posts from Casey Bisson and Nicole Engard ultimately pointing back to John Blyberg’s “ILS Customer Bill-of-Rights” that is singing the same tune. There still seems to be a desire for a solution from an existing vendor, and in fact that was part of counter-points brought up by some on the receiving end of the ILS-must-go rant. (Paraphrased: ‘No one can satisfy the need of a library like a library automation vendor’ and ‘As libraries we’re not strong enough to take on the task of building the next ILS ourselves.’) Yet there does seem to be this mounting pressure to get control again over our data and how we present it to patrons. ¶ [...]

  7. [...] I wrote yesterday of Nicole Engard’s comment that the ILS was about as open and flexible as a brick wall. Today I learned that the vendor of that ILS had tried to squash her public criticism. [...]

  8. [...] John Blyberg has a great summary post of the fiasco that seems to have started with my State of our ILS post. I advise you to read it and see all the different sides of the story. I also left a pretty long comment on John’s post, so I’ll let you read my points over there. [...]

  9. [...] June 1 – Touched a Nerve – An account by Nicole Engard of a run-in with some III folks at IUG (Innovative Users Group meeting). Her post seems to be the one that kicked off this particular vendor roast. Essentially, She mentions an incident at this year’s Denver IUG in which a III employee expressed displeasure at her post, State of the ILS. I agree with Nicole that it’s probably a good thing that III employees are a little upset with some of these assessments. I’ll also stand by my comments on Nicole’s post–I’m among the first to admit that III can be infuriating to work with and I would not recommend it to any library interested in doing heavy customization. I’d caution all parties, however, to address the problems and not their emotions associated with this hot potato. [...]

  10. [...] Læs hele indlægget “State of our ILS” pÃ¥ Engards weblog. Publiceret af Morten Brunbjerg Bech Gemt i kategorien Biblioteker [...]

  11. [...] to be honest, I have only seem two library systems front and back (and soon one more) and they are III and Koha – so I don’t know if there are others out there that can also do what Koha can – but [...]

  12. [...] of you (over 1000 of you) have read my post on the State of our ILS. Well I recently found out that at least one of those people was from [...]


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