Library Automation Software

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Library Automation Software

by Faulkner Staff

Docid: 00018817

Publication Date: 2002

Report Type: TUTORIAL


Library automation software provides library personnel and patrons with
an efficient
means of managing diverse multi-media collections, including both
and electronic assets. The market for library automation software
seems to
have reached a level of maturity that ensures the capabilities for
collections has become increasingly attractive and useful. This report
the current state of library automation software and provides detailed
recommendations to help libraries evaluate their automation needs.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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automation software provides library personnel and patrons with an
efficient means
of managing diverse multi-media collections, including both paper-based
electronic assets. The major providers of library automation solutions,
such as
SirsiDynix, ProQuest, and Ex Libris, concentrate on
integrated library system (ILS)
software. ILS software coordinates numerous library functions,

  • Acquisitions
  • Cataloging
  • Circulation
  • InterLibrary Loan (ILL)
  • Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC)
  • Patron Management
  • Serials

automation tools are becoming more and more of a commodity so many
automation vendors are working to provide the additional functionality
libraries of all types demand. The library automation space is generally
divided into five sectors:

  • Academic or university libraries
  • Special libraries, such as medical, law, and business
  • School libraries, serving primary and secondary students
  • Public libraries
  • Library consortia or library networks


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Before the advent of library automation systems, personnel manually performed
library tasks. These duties were cumbersome and disparate. For example,
materials were placed using paper slips and individual sources were catalogued
separate index cards via the card catalog system. Library automation systems
change all of this, making it easy to keep track of books and materials issued
and returned, bills sent and paid, etc. 

When properly
implemented, library automation software can free staff from repetitive
and provide patrons with higher levels of service. Today, library
software is often purchased in the form of an integrated library system (ILS).
"Library automation systems are not necessarily exciting technologies, but
they are workhorse applications that must support the complex tasks of
acquiring, describing and providing access to materials and services. They
represent substantial investment, and their effectiveness is tested daily in the

To avoid large
upfront investments, libraries often choose to implement an automation
in phases, adopting modules as they are needed. This gradual approach
also helps ease the burden on library personnel and patrons who must
familiarize themselves with the new system. Table 1 depicts the major ILS

Table 1. Major ILS




Tracks the purchase of materials through ordering, claiming,
receiving, invoicing, and processing.


Provides an online, interactive system for creating catalog
records and establishing a single, authoritative form for all


Enables staff members to quickly and easily charge, discharge,
place renewals or holds, and enter payments.

InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

Manages the location and movement of books and other resources
between libraries, or between branches of the same library.

Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC)

Provides an online, interactive system for patrons to
interrogate catalogs and other sources of library holdings.

Patron Management

Manages interactions with library patrons, including
membership, identification, loans, fines, and special requests.


Manages the prediction, receipt, and routing of all serial
subscriptions, generating and maintaining a separate
Machine-Readable Catalogue (MARC) holdings record for each

Reports Allows for the production of reports to detail the movement of items
along with staff and patron activities.

An integrated
library system consists of modules that operate both independently and in
connecting library personnel, patrons, and external resources, like other

Part of the
demand placed on ILS systems is the ability to deal with diverse and
ever-changing collections. To accomplish this, many libraries look to
Open Source ILS systems that allow for a high-degree of customization. One desirable
key component of Open Source ILS systems is support for that system.
Although Open Source systems are much more customizable than out-of-the-box
those same systems can be intimidating to library staff without the proper
training and technical capabilities to maintain that system. Although Open
Source Library Management systems have become much more commonplace, it is
this lack of technical know-how that leads many libraries to chose a
proprietary ILS system over an Open
Source ILS system.

proprietary ILS software vendors, especially mature vendors, also offer a
variety of additional layers of functionality that make it possible for
libraries to further customize their system. This layering makes some of
proprietary ILS software systems more attractive to libraries that are
expanding their digital collection management or putting a new system in
This option is especially attractive to libraries that already have ILS
in place and would like to expand their management capabilities.

Current View

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In the 1970s,
libraries began taking advantage of advances in computing and technology
share resources. Often, they developed their own system in-house. In the
these libraries began turning to large providers for comprehensive,
systems to perform library functions Over the past few years, libraries
begun looking to library automation software and systems to help them
systems, resources, and patrons, often in the form of Open Source systems
are highly customizable to their specific needs.

Using the Internet and other networks provides higher
levels and ease of use, as well as integrating storage and information
retrieval functions into their automated computing systems. This includes
improving user interfaces to better reflect the nature of information
that patrons are accustomed to using on the Web. 

Consolidation in the Marketplace

The market has seen some consolidation over the past few years as some
companies have merged to blend product offerings and reach more customers. In
2015, ProQuest acquired competitor Ex Libris – the acquired company now does
business under the name "Ex Libris, a ProQuest Company." In January
2020, Ex Libris went on to acquire a third competitor, Innovative, a fellow
library automation provider. Innovative is now a business unit of Ex Libris.
Such mergers enable companies to offer strengthened portfolios to clientele
although many of these organizations have been in the business for years. 

Balancing Digital and Paper Collections

challenge facing all libraries is the growing collection of digital media
must be integrated into classification systems. To meet this challenge,
many libraries have allocated a larger percentage
of their budget to technological systems, often to the detriment of
and maintaining traditional media. The greatest challenge here is ensuring
spending is balanced between collection management, acquisitions, and
management. Many vendors in today’s market are beginning to realize this
for balance, although the solutions that are available at this time often
to be combined to ensure that balance occurs.

the last time you looked seriously at [integrated library] systems, the
fundamental nature of your collection has changed,” Jane Burke, VP of
development for ProQuest, said at the “Intota: The
Transformational Library Services Platform” event during the American
Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. “The last time we built a
generation of systems, it was all about managing print collections…. We’ve
reached a tipping point where collections are predominantly electronic….”2

Thorough Training

training is vital to the successful implementation of an automated
system. In particular, libraries should solicit opinions from their
patrons concerning the type of training required. Options include some
combination of the following:

  • Public classes
  • Online tutorials
  • Posted notices
  • Library service guides


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The cloud offers great options for libraries, including streamlined data
management across multiple locations or libraries; improved communications; and
overall better performance. Additionally, cloud-based library automation enables
users the freedom to access information from their own devices in any


Libraries have to consider that their data is always at risk of cyber threats
such as ransomware attacks. In January 2020, California’s Contra Costa County
Library system was affected by ransomware – all 26 community library branches
were under attack and services were unavailable. This is just one example of how
libraries can be threatened if adequate security is not in place. As security threats increase and cyber thieves use
more sophisticated techniques, all computerized systems need to keep up.
Automation software technologies should be using encryption in various
capacities – servers, connections, and databases – to prevent the loss of

Search Capabilities

Given the
challenges that libraries currently face with connecting digital and
collections, another area that is likely to see growth is in
products that allow patrons to explore databases that connect both digital
physical media. The challenge with these databases is connecting existing
physical catalogs with ever-expanding digital collections. Several vendors
these search capabilities available, but it is not yet clear if any single
search capability will rise above the others.


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libraries have different automation needs. For example:

  • Academic libraries often operate around the clock.
  • Special libraries, such as medical or law libraries, process an
    enormous volume of periodicals.
  • Public libraries are pressed to provide large numbers of high-speed
    Internet terminals.

It is
therefore imperative that libraries carefully evaluate their particular
before selecting an automation solution.

  • Evaluate current operations to determine needs.
  • Clearly outline expectations and goals.
  • Plan for growth.
  • Evaluate the physical site to determine if modifications are needed
    (increased network security and expanded electrical configurations).
  • Set timeline for implementation.
  • Interview staff and assess their concerns.
  • Interview staff at automated libraries to get recommendations.
  • Interview vendors about product scope and functionality.
  • Ensure that technical support is provided with the product.
  • Ensure communication between computer professionals and library
    professionals throughout the implementation process.
  • Provide thorough training for all employees.
  • Assign maintenance responsibilities.

evaluating providers, consider the following:

  • Years in business.
  • Reputation.
  • Size and experience of technical support staff.
  • Scope and variety of offerings.
  • Ease of use of offerings.
  • Number of installed sites.
  • Current client satisfaction levels.
  • Implementation support (especially if migrating from a legacy system).
  • Quality of staff- and patron-oriented documentation. 
  • Security capabilities to protect against threats like ransomware and data

providers will offer libraries demonstration disks to help them evaluate
product functionality and ease of use. Take advantage of these demos
before choosing a library automation software solution.


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