April 24, 2018

Wanting More (Survey) | Library Systems Landscape 2017

Academic librarians want interconnected systems, enhancements to basic ILS functionality

Academic librarians are concerned about the decreasing number of competitors in the integrated library system (ILS) and library services platform (LSP) market, and many are dissatisfied with their current ILS or LSP, according to the results of a recent LJ survey.

Almost 90% of respondents said their library uses a proprietary ILS or LSP, while only 6.7% said they were currently using an open source or community-sourced system such as Koha, Evergreen, or Kuali OLE. However, 36.2% of those respondents using a proprietary ILS said that their library had considered switching to an open source or community-sourced system, and 14.9% said that they weren’t sure whether such a move had been considered.

By comparison, in LJ’s 2016 survey of public libraries, 79.6% of respondents said their library used a proprietary ILS, and, of those only 24.5% said their library had considered switching to open source.

Academic libraries may be looking into open source ILS solutions at a higher rate than public libraries as the result of established due diligence practices. Several respondents wrote that their library had considered open source solutions as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the market, or that they had been watching the development of projects such as OLE from the sidelines with no near-term plans to migrate.

Other comments, however, indicated that some academic libraries are taking more than a pro forma look. More than 43% of respondents described themselves as somewhat dissatisfied (33.5%) or completely dissatisfied (9.7%) with their current ILS or LSP—significantly outpacing the 28% of dissatisfied proprietary ILS users in last year’s public library survey. Many respondents expressed frustration about the cost of proprietary systems and maintenance fees, with one respondent writing in all caps “COST SAVINGS” as a reason to explore open source. “Proprietary systems leave you at the will of a company’s bottom line,” another wrote.


Several others described open source systems as more customizable, making it possible for colleges with the IT staff and know-how to “gain functionality we currently lack.”

However, the perceived need for IT support was a sticking point for other libraries, as exemplified by one respondent who wrote that “our director is mistrustful of open source options that lack robust support and may require more advanced programming skills from our librarians.” Although open source service providers such as ByWater Solutions have recently signed a number of college and small university libraries to contracts for Koha support and development, many academic libraries may still view in-house expertise as a necessity for adopting open source solutions.

current frustrations

More than three-quarters (76.9%) of respondents said their ILS or LSP included reporting/analytics tools and course reserves features. But only 57.5% currently have a discovery layer or integrated search module, and only 55.2% have integrated interlibrary loan (ILL) features.

Only 44.8% described their system as currently having a user-friendly interface, and only 43.3% felt that their system was customizable or offered the ability to adjust vendor settings.

This year, 44% of respondents said their systems currently offer single sign on (SSO) support, but only 43.3% said that they offer mobile features or apps for students and faculty, and only 30.6% said that the their ILS currently includes mobile features or apps for library staff.

When respondents were asked what features they would like to see added to their ILS or LSP, several complaints about basic functionality, discovery layers, and a lack of user-friendliness with both the front- and back-end user interface (UI) surfaced in the comments. One respondent wrote, “I would like to see it return pertinent results when performing a simple title search. I would like it to have a truly functional and integrated acquisitions system. I would like to be able to browse by call number. I would also like to see it spontaneously combust.”

Another described their ILS’s discovery layer as “little more than a catalog overlay product for academic libraries. (The functionality to link to vendor records is available for public library vendors such as OverDrive). I would love it if they branched out and offered more for academic libraries in this regard; otherwise, I feel like we’re paying far too much for what amounts to a prettier catalog.”

And another wrote, “It’s not so much new features that I want, as improvements to existing features.” Several singled out the need for electronic resource modules, or improvements to existing electronic resource management (ERM) features. One requested “a more stable staff client.” And a few criticized the “à la carte” module selection and pricing model used by some vendors, arguing that more features should be supported by default.

feature DEMAND

The more aspirational wish list comments included many requests for enhanced reporting features, including collection analysis tools, APIs (application programming interfaces) to access data for library-created or third-party analytics systems, institutional comparative analytics features, integrated statistics from vendor databases, and more.

Connectivity and integration was another theme throughout the write-in comments, with several respondents saying that they would like to see better interoperability with other institutional systems, such as accounting, student registration, and learning management systems. Within the library, respondents said they would like to see better integration with ILL tools, course reserves, full-text online resources, social media pages, external data repositories, and vendors involved with acquisitions.

Other comments included requests for linked data capabilities, SSO functionality, a built-in citation generator, highlighted keywords in discovery records, SMS alerts for patrons, and more.

ljx170401webSystems6Some vendors have been addressing these needs. In a “select all that apply” question regarding which features their ILS/LSP provider had upgraded or added during the most recent two years, 37.4% said reporting/analytics tools, 35% said integrated search module or discovery layer, and 20.3% noted mobile features or apps for students and faculty. Also, 18.7% said that UI improvements had been made, 17.1% said their system now included mobile features or apps for staff, 16.3% said that ILL features had been added or integrated, and 13.8% said that their vendor had made it easier to adjust default settings or customize their systems. Another 13.8% said that linked data or open web visibility features had been added, and 13% said course reserve features or integration with course reserve systems had been added. Only 9.8% said that SSO functionality had been added.

Unfortunately, 26% said that no additional features had been added or upgraded. In some cases, this could be owing to a library, university IT department, or consortium not updating to the latest version of an ILS. Yet regardless of the reason, judging from the combined 142 write-in comments concerning features that students request or library staff need, many respondents were feeling some level of frustration with their system. The shrinking number of alternative vendors may also play a role in that frustration. A majority of respondents (57.1%) answered in the affirmative when asked if they were concerned about consolidation in the ILS/LSP market; 26.7% said that industry consolidation had not been a concern, while 16.2% said they were unsure or didn’t know.

Although students and faculty may not be acquainted with ILS/LSP or OPAC terminology, survey respondents were also asked to write in what sort of features were most requested by their patrons.

Requests for improved search and discovery appeared in multiple iterations. “Although they do not know the name of such a service, they want to find everything in one search,” one respondent wrote. Others said that students and faculty complain about the volume of unrelated results they receive when conducting simple title or author searches. One respondent suggested that better faceting and filtering features were needed, and another noted that patrons “seem happy to use Google Scholar, and if they have to use library resources they seem happy with what we have to offer.”

methodology Conducted between January 13 and
February 10, 2017, this online survey received responses from 156 academic librarians, facilitated by emails to a targeted group of LJ subscribers and requests for participation
in LJ’s Academic Newswire email newsletter.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (64.1%) work at four-year colleges/universities, while 16% work at community colleges, and 19.9% at postgraduate academic libraries, such as law libraries and medical libraries. The majority of respondents were directors or assistant directors (18.1%), or working in technical services (18.1%), reference or information services (10.5%), electronic resources (9.5%), or acquisitions/collection development (8.6%). Most respondents were from universities or colleges in the South (29.3%) or Midwest (22.7%), followed by the Northeast (16.7%), Canada or other international locations (16.7%), or the West (14.7%).

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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