The Integrated Library System (ILS) Primer

What is an Integrated Library System?

An integrated library system (ILS) consists of a series of interconnected operations that streamline input and retrieval of information for both information professionals and researchers. An ILS usually has back end or staff functions for keeping track of purchases, receipt of print and digital materials, and cataloging or input of data and records. The other half of the ILS includes retrieval components through a discovery layer which provides access to collections and catalogs, and circulation. The major components of an ILS system are acquisitions, cataloguing, serials, and the catalogue itself. Internal components may include reporting functions, and management of interlibrary loan requests and reference queries. Help sections aid both staff and researchers with input of data and query configuration.

Background / History of Integrated Library Systems

Historically, libraries and archives developed paper-based systems to track acquisitions of monographs, serials, and records. For centuries, these systems were hand-written in ledgers that served a variety of purposes and cross-referenced one another. Beginning in the nineteenth century, inventory information was placed on slips and later, on typed and printed cards detailing acquired monographs and providing check in for serials. These cards included information about each item that was cross-referenced for public access through printed cards denoting call number, author, title, and subjects. An internal shelf-list or inventory arranged by call number, or record group in the case of archives, provided master information integrating internal functions and operations with public access to collections.

With the invention of computers, stand-alone components or databases were developed that emulated the paper based systems. As computer and online catalogue systems developed, the stand-alone modules were integrated into a single system that included back-room operations, public catalogues, and circulation operations. Additional enhancements included access to finding aids for archival collections and corporate records, and access to audiovisual collections and informational databases. Today, ILS systems are built of interconnected components that are customizable depending upon your institution’s information needs. 1

Purpose of Integrated Library Systems

Integrated Library systems range from simple inventory programs to complex, interconnected components. Some are Web based, while others reside on institutional or vendor computers and servers. The size and scope of an institution’s holdings is a determining factor when considering an ILS. The smooth running of an information center is dependent upon the operations needed for controlling inventory and providing reference and research services. The complexity of the ILS is dependent upon the needs of the institution and the variety of operations performed. Even those institutions where materials never circulate may want a circulation component to track internal use, requests for information from staff and external researchers, and photocopy and scanning requests through Interlibrary Loan Agreements. Tracking usage is integral for documenting and supporting the need for information services and staff.Traditionally, an ILS includes a range of components and operations. Some systems include all the functions below. In other cases, institutions select the components they require with the knowledge that they can integrate additional modules as their needs and collections expand.

Administrative (or Back End) ILS Operations

Integrated Library Systems include components for acquisitions: ordering, receipt, and forwarding of materials purchased on standing order or subscription. Materials may include print monographs and serials and physical audiovisual materials, in addition to an ever-growing array of digital materials. Digital materials include e-books and digital resources, digital serials, images, and streaming audio and video programs. Once the materials are in-house, the acquisitions department checks receipts against orders and claims any missing items. Reporting functions help keep track of costs, workflow, and items that are late or lost.

The cataloging system includes, or provides links to, all records pertaining to each item—print or digital, archival, permanent, or temporary—that resides within the institution’s collections. Archival collections, corporate records, audiovisual materials, scanned items, and, of course, monographs are all cataloged and the records are entered. Catalogue records may be MARC (Machine Readable Cataloging2) or EAD (Encoded Archival Description3) records; Information professionals and researchers can then access the catalog and retrieve requested information.

Serials4 are those items that are received by the information center on a regular pattern; daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, and even yearly. Serials are usually numbered in a sequential manner and accumulate quickly. Serials include newspapers, magazines and journals, reports, and monographs. They may be produced and distributed on paper, microfilm, microfiche, and in electronic and digital forms. Serials may be reports, calendars, catalogues, and even indices. Serials modules integrate acquisitions with a claiming system and a retrieval or access system. The ILS streamlines the process from ordering to shelving and use. The back-end system includes ordering, receiving, and claiming serials from publishers and subscription servicers.

Archivists who use an ILS may leverage the serials module for control of records for active organizations and institutions. Active records are those that are of historical and permanent value and are deposited on a regular basis. They may also be records that are sealed or controlled for a period of time such as birth and death records. The archives may have the physical records, but provide only moderated or limited access to the records and perhaps even the indices. Instead of an ILS, archivists may use an archival collections management system.

Records managers may use serials modules to control location and, in some cases, duplication and / or digitization of indices, ledgers, and documents by type and time period. For public records managers in court houses and government administrative operations, serials may include property records by type and time period, court cases by type or jurisdiction, vital records, and reports of commissions, judges, and committees.

Once received, the newest issue of each serial is added to the online catalog by either an indication of receipt and shelf location, or its appearance as a digital asset. At this point, researchers and information center staff can retrieve issues for reading, research, and use.

Reporting functions may include lists of items on order, received, missing or late, claims for items not received, cataloging, subjects and types of serials, location, and even requests for items in storage or requests for electronic and digitized resources.

Public-Facing ILS Elements

This is the heart and soul of an integrated library system. The OPAC contains records of all the holdings of an institution. They are traditionally accessible through author, title, subject, and call number queries, as well as keyword or natural language queries. Some OPACs have a browse function that is visible once a query is made. The browse function is most commonly used for searching subject headings and authors.

Today’s catalogues include not only print bound materials but audio-visual materials, three-dimensional objects, and archival records. Digitized items and electronic resources are also accessible through catalogs through attachments, links, and PURLS (Persistent or Permanent URLs).

Reports within the catalogue module may include shelf-lists, formats, call number sequences, subject/author/title lists, location and storage information and allocation, and reports that sync with use and circulation records.

Circulation modules are integral for keeping track of resources within information centers and cultural institutions. Traditional circulation operations and programs include patron records; location of the item (which is traditionally in the catalog module); use records that connect catalogue records of items that are borrowed with the borrower or patron; requests for returns of circulating items; sending overdue notices; tracking requests to borrow or renew items; and interlibrary loan of physical materials or duplication and scanning requests. Many circulation systems include internal circulation records for items that are used in-house in special collections, museum collections, and archives, removed from shelves but not from the room or building; requests and downloads of digital and electronic resources; and for exhibition or display. Some institutions will use the internal circulation system to indicate when materials are temporarily off the shelf for preservation, digitization, repair, or binding.

Each component of the circulation module links the catalogue records with patron records. Reporting functions include the number and types of materials circulated, borrowed, used, or even downloaded. Other circulation reports focus on costs to replace lost and damaged items, shipping materials to external locations, loans and borrowing of materials within the institution or consortium and to other institutions.

Circulation systems can track interlibrary loan requests for items, articles, and scanning and photocopying within an institution, a consortium, or beyond, including compliance with copyright and use fees. Reports can be generated to track and document all circulation functions.

The ILS is used to service reference queries by in-house staff, corporate researchers, and external users. Staff can track the flow of queries from receipt by the information center to completion and delivery of requested information or materials.

An ILS includes management components to keep track of requests for information, for materials, and for interlibrary loan of collections. Digital resource specialists are familiar with the ins and outs of licensing of digital assets and whether such materials can be loaned or copied for ILL (interlibrary loan requests).

The management component of the ILS system can also compile reports of use, assets, and even reference requests depending upon the needs of management and the sophistication of the system. Reporting functions are essential components of ROI justifications.

The ILS is integral for Knowledge Management. It provides a structure for organizing information in a hierarchical manner and for streamlining information center operations. Catalogues, indices, finding aids for archival record groups and public records are the structural or overarching components of an integrated library system. Reporting functions document the use of collections and resources, staff time, and budgets.

Integrated Library Systems are composed of interlocking modules that track items and functions within an information center, record center, or library—and sometimes, an archive, historical society, or museum. Institutions with a broad range of collections in a multitude of formats and media can identify, make available, and track the location and use of its resources. A sound, well-conceived ILS performs many of the functions of project management and workflow within cultural institutions. Reporting functions aid in the control of resources, and identification of the use and costs of every operation—from acquisitions and cataloguing to query, use, and return of materials.

Special Librarians and Integrated Library Systems

Special librarians support activities all along the services and deliverables spectrum with integrated library systems, (ILS), also called library management systems (LMS) or library automation systems (LAS). These are ideally Web-based and vendor-hosted (“software-as-a-service, also known as SaaS) and offer traditional library functions like cataloging, acquisitions, and serials management, along with Knowledge Management (KM) capabilities that go way beyond classic library automation functionality. Special librarians also leverage reporting and request management applications to make evidence-based decisions on purchases, training, department or practice support, and marketing of underutilized yet valuable resources. Lucidea delivers best-in-class ILS software with our flagship products, SydneyEnterprise and GeniePlus.

How do special librarians leverage library software?

For examples of the many ways Lucidea’s clients leverage our ILS products, please read our Client Success Stories; you’ll be impressed and inspired when you see real world examples of the impact a great Integrated Library System delivers.

Success Stories

Behavioral Health NPO Leverages SydneyEnterprise

With SydneyEnterprise’s OPAC, multimedia options, request management for optimized workflow, and powerful statistics, a behavioral health nonprofit’s library delivers impact and gets senior advocacy.

SydneyEnterprise is the Law Firm Library Efficiency Engine

The library at Duane Morris LLP relies on SydneyEnterprise as the “go-to” for all back-office library workflow.

SydneyEnterprise and Cargill Success Story

Cargill uses SydneyEnterprise ILS to support a global team of ~143,000 staff in 67 countries with digital content, containing costs and expanding impact.

SydneyEnterprise and ETS Success Story

ETS uses SydneyEnterprise ILS to offer single venue access to all content and integrate library databases with existing resources, including SharePoint.

SydneyEnterprise and Masonic Library

The Masonic Library & Museum of Pennsylvania uses SydneyEnterprise to manage over 75,000 texts and artifacts related to Freemasonry.

SydneyEnterprise and Miles & Stockbridge Success Story

Miles & Stockbridge law library staff have many plans for SydneyEnterprise, and have achieved serious results in terms of workflow, analytics and integration.

How do you evaluate and select an integrated library system/library automation system?

Finding the perfect ILS for your organization involves doing a lot of due diligence, and should be based on much more than a canned software demo. At Lucidea we love to work with educated clients, and we believe that long term professional relationships with mutual benefit are the best kind! We’ve put together some materials on vendor and product selection, including this blog post: 5 Ways You Can Get the Most from a Software Demo, this webinar: “Selecting an ILS: How to Find Your Perfect Match” and this eBook: Find the Perfect ILS: How to Evaluate Your Options.

1 Defined here in Wikipedia Components of an ILS are described in Richard E. Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, 3rd Ed, (NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2010): 230-232

2 “What is a MARC Record and Why Is It Important?” Network Development and MARC Standards Office, Library of Congress

3 “Encoded Archival Description” Technical Subcommittee on Encoded Archival Description (disbanded), Society of American Archivists and “Encoded Archival Description (EAD)” Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology

4 Serials include journals, magazines, reports, and publications that are produced on a regular schedule as frequently as daily and as seldom as yearly.

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