March 16, 2018

Wish List | Library Systems Landscape 2016

Survey indicates a desire for new features, functionality

According to a recent LJ survey, a majority of librarians are happy with their current integrated library system (ILS) or library services platform (LSP), with 72% of those using a commercial system saying they are satisfied (44%) or very satisfied (28%). Some 28% describe themselves as somewhat (23%) or completely (5%) dissatisfied. Similarly, 81% of open source ILS users say they are satisfied (43%) or very satisfied (38%). Technical services staff are the most positive, with 86% satisfied/very satisfied. By contrast, 40% of public services and reference librarians are unhappy with their current system, and 24% of library directors and managers say they are somewhat dissatisfied. Even librarians who are pleased with their current system wrote in plenty of suggestions for improvement, including new features and enhancements to staff clients and patron interfaces. When asked what features they would like to see added to their ILS, write-in responses ran the gamut, including mobile-device optimized staff clients, responsive design/mobile-friendly online public access catalogs (OPACs), integration with third-party vendors (including OPAC ebook integration for ILS vendors that have not yet fully integrated with major ebook providers), easier duplication of patron records, autorenewals, batch deletion capabilities for patron and bibliographic records, better integration with ebook collections and other digital resources, improved reporting and report customization functions, a way to increase the font size in the staff client, online fine and fee payment capabilities for patrons, more seamless interlibrary loan (ILL) integration, the ability to place multiple holds at one time for book discussion groups, and the option to change the status of an item (to “damaged,” for example) without first checking it in.

Write-in complaints involving staff client search functionality were common, with one director/manager noting that “currently, if one letter is wrong or a punctuation mark [is out of place] it returns no results.” Another director/manager whose library shares its ILS with others in a consortium noted that the staff-side of the system requires “a lot of ‘clicks’ to narrow down a search for items specifically in my library. Most of my staff end up using the PAC to look up our own items if a patron is just trying to locate an item or to see if the item is in [or] checked out.”

Similar complaints were echoed by several public services staff who did not specify consortial relationships. One wrote, “I have lost track of the number of times I have had to find a record via our OPAC because a piece of punctuation was ‘just so,’ and then go back and find it in the ILS to place a hold for someone. So frustrating.” Several respondents suggested that a “did you mean…” feature for misspelled searches and/or an autocomplete feature for common searches could help resolve these problems.

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When asked what types of features patrons have requested, or what type of features would be of greatest assistance to patrons, search functionality again came up frequently. In addition to general write-in comments about requests for “better search features,” “better ranking” of OPAC search results, and “ease of searching with natural language,” several respondents said that patrons have asked why their library’s OPAC can’t be “more like Amazon.” This could imply general dissatisfaction with the user experience, or a desire to see specific features added or enhanced (such as search- or reading history–based book recommendations, or the capability to add book reviews and read the reviews of others).

Another common theme was patron requests to view their own reading and holds history. As a couple of respondents noted, reading history features may already be available through an ILS/OPAC, but many libraries and consortia don’t activate these features, often owing to privacy concerns related to the long-term retention of data on individual patrons.

Even among libraries that do enable reading history functions, some respondents noted that their system could use enhancements. “We have a feature in which the patron can activate a reading list on their account (the staff client side does not have access to this feature to protect patron privacy), but there’s not a way to search whether or not they’ve checked out an item. So, if they’re an avid library user, they have to scroll down a looooonng list,” one respondent wrote.

On a related note, many respondents said that patrons have asked for more recommendation features. Better recommendations could be facilitated by systems that retain and analyze a patron’s holds, checkouts, and catalog search history and compare the histories of multiple users, but many libraries are currently grappling with how to manage these potential trade-offs between privacy and functionality.

Other features requested by patrons include online fine and fee payment, easier navigation between the library’s website and catalog, better-integrated ILL functionality, digital library cards for smartphones, more options to customize notifications (such as reminders, overdue notices, etc.), the ability to change the pickup location of a hold request, enhanced access among linked accounts (parent access to a child’s account, for example), social media and book reviews functionality, clearer holds lists, and the ability to log in with a user name instead of a library card number.

Recent additions

When librarians were asked to list features that have been added to their ILS during the past year, the most common response was “web-based and mobile interactivity for patrons” (28.6%). Almost 25% said that better reporting/­analytics tools had been added. About 21% noted that their library had added a discovery layer or that their ILS provider had enhanced its integrated search module. Almost 19% reported that their ILS had received updates that made it more user-friendly or easier to use, and almost 18% said that their ILS provider had launched a mobile-friendly interface for staff.

Fewer respondents said that their ILS had recently added features such as patron history functionality (13.1%), enhanced customization (11.4%), or more holds flexibility for patrons (7.4%).

Fifteen percent said that features other than those listed by the survey had been added, and write-in responses included integrations with ebook vendors, integration with hoopla streaming media, SIP2 enhancements for self-checkout systems, automatic order uploads from Baker & Taylor, and more. Several respondents also wrote in to note that their ILS already offered all of the listed features prior to 2015. A handful of respondents complained that some features that should be standard are being packaged and sold as new products.

Open source vs. proprietary

Almost 80% of respondents were using a proprietary, commercial ILS, while 11% work with an open source system, such as Koha or Evergreen. Of the 79.6% of respondents using a proprietary system, 24.5% said that their library had considered moving to an open source system. Forty-two percent had not formally considered open source, and 33% weren’t sure.

The quarter of respondents on a commercial ILS who had considered going open source outlined the pros and cons the move might entail, with many citing the annual maintenance costs of a proprietary ILS as a reason they had thought to make the switch.

“The cost of annual maintenance for [our] current ILS is massive and is out of line for our size library—open source yearly maintenance is much lower—it will allow the library to invest savings in developing new open source features or put toward other things such as the collection or programs,” one respondent wrote. “[Our] library investigated going with a different product offered by [the] same vendor in order to reduce annual maintenance costs but was told no matter what product we had we would still pay the same maintenance.”


Others expressed concerns about whether on-staff expertise would be needed to operate an open source ILS—a perception that development houses such as ByWater, Equinox, and LibLime have been trying to battle. One respondent who had served on an ILS search team noted that despite being “extremely unhappy” with one commercial ILS, the library ultimately moved to another proprietary solution “due to insufficient funds for open source support staff.” Another wrote that an “open source solution has great appeal due to the customization possibilities. The cost and maintenance factors also play into this. But you have to have the internal capacity to support open source, and with budget reductions,we just haven’t been able to consider an open source option.”

Several respondents also described the ways in which consortia memberships had impacted their views on open source. One noted that their library’s IT staff had been advocating for open source, but “we’re part of a larger consortium that utilizes a proprietary ILS, and switching would make consortium interaction far more complex.”

Of the 11% of respondents using open source, only 9.5% had considered switching to a commercial ILS. But one of these respondents offered an explanation that might sound unfortunately all too familiar to small libraries using any type of system: “The other users are all much bigger than we are, so the development of features that we need—which are most important to us—are never a priority, because they aren’t a priority to the other users. We pay for development, but the development is not for what we need; it’s for what they need.”

This article was published in Library Journal's April 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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