This week we looked at a variety of ways libraries use technology to retrieve and store the vast amounts of materials owned and accessible by each organization. The textbook and videos gave insight in the past, present and future of material retrieval and library automation. Allowing staff to focus on patrons and research library technology can be seen as very beneficial for forward thinking libraries who must battle funding shortages and offering more services with less staff time.
The textbook reading was very informative for me because the terminology I hear everyday has roots in historical library technology. For example OPAC, I had no idea what it stood for and that its roots stemmed from the patron side of the catalog, I thought it was exactly the opposite in that staff referring to the OPAC meant the staff side of the catalog. Another term that I thought little about before is “integrated” as in Integrated Library System, currently my institution is running a hybrid like system where many workflows are completed in III Millennium while others have not yet integrated. This simple term has me thinking about our current review of the ILS and our proposal for purchase of another, more updated (really more integrated) ILS. This proposal looks at the current workflows and what we could do to provide a seamless user experience for our patrons. Integration within the software means integration and ease of use for our patrons. This reading is timely, as I have to give a presentation on the circulation module for our town hall meeting regarding process of updating the ILS and our vendor review. I wanted to talk about how an updated ILS would help both staff and patrons and what our needs are, this gave me a good deal of background information into how the ILS has evolved to be integrated and where we could be in the future of an updated software package.
The text offers several pertinent questions to look at when reviewing the ILS and what to investigate prior to a transition. One type of vendor we did not look at was an open source software provider. The institution I work at is quite large and many staff were concerned we would be a “guinea pig” for an open source or emerging ILS vendor. OCLC has excellent ideas, but many are still in the design stage. When we do decide to transition to a new vendor or updated package from Innovative will they have what we need when we need it? This is where the group focused on software technologies that are already built and being used in similarly situated organizations. With millions of volumes to keep track of the group was worried using a newer or more recently designed software would keep us from getting up and running quickly after the transition. Thankfully many are open to new workflows and we looked at what our ideal ILS would like and worked backwards from there. Rather than fitting the ILS to our workflows we want to update and integrate with a new technology that could help us with more seamless service for our patrons.
One challenge I see with overall integration is the lack of seamlessness for discovery layers. We currently use Summon and I get very annoyed when people compare these discovery layers to Google. None of these act anything like Google. Summon is more like the shopping experience I have with Amazon. I can refine and reduce the plethora of search results that may or may not be relevant to my initial search. Will we ever be able to rid ourselves of the local catalog? Maybe. Probably. It is a possibility. If Summon could find a known title like the local catalog then sure, I’m all in. Summon instead brings back hundreds of books reviews and confuses the heck out of patrons, “well the search said you have this book”, when in the catalog we actually don’t. My worry with discovery layers is the shear amount of materials a simple search yields. An undergraduate student searching for research materials on abortion, healthcare or any other popular topic does not need thousands of things to sort through. The only way to get the technology to meet the needs of our users is to use it, review it and update it. Summon has greatly improved in the past couple of years that I have been using it at the reference desk and the questions about how to use it have been decreasing. We have been putting more time into showing the service off in instruction sessions and I hope one day the discovery layer will be useful for finding specific items.
Growing with changing technology and advancing our services to meet the needs of patrons will continue to be a challenge, but I like the idea of not know what my job or workflow will look like in the next 20 years.