Thursday, July 21, 2011

Alliance shared ILS: it's about shared culture not shared technology

At the recent Alliance Summer meeting, I gave a presentation with Natalie Beach on the work of the Shared ILS task force. It was great to see all the interest in this initiative and now that Council gave the go ahead to proceed with procurement, the rubber will really hit the road.

I think there may be some misperceptions about where the value will come from with this initiative, however. In the last couple decades, many institutions shared an ILS in order to save hardware and software licensing costs and system administration costs. This is certainly a factor, but I don't see this as the primer driver of sharing an ILS in the consortium. With software available in the cloud, libraries should be able to acquire a fairly robust, feature loaded ILS on an individual basis at a reasonable price.

I think the real value of the shared ILS will come from shared workflows that the system can enable and foster. A simple one is of course borrowing within the consortium. A new system should support this existing practice in a more efficient way than the current system. Collaborative technical services could be a new shared endeavor, but it will really be the culture and practices of collaboration not the technology that determines the success of this.

The Alliance is an organization that at least as a starting point, is based on geographical proximity. In an increasingly electronic environment, this proximity matters less and less for the sharing and provision of information. But the proximity and the organization itself can continue to foster a culture of collaboration and sharing and going into the future. This will be the Alliance's biggest asset. The Alliance should invest not only in infrastructure that enables collaboration but also in that shared culture. That is, creating a culture of working together. The Summer Meeting and the upcoming shared technical services symposium are ways that we can begin to create that culture.

A big question related to the ILS in general is how relevant it will be in an increasingly electronic environment. In the print environment, the library could legitimately make the case that the ILS functioned to manage its collections. But the reality of the electronic environment is that collections come in large aggregations that are often cataloged and organized by the content vendor. In the future, the function of "managing" electronic content for your library could be as simple as flipping on or off a few hundred different content products. ILS vendors are making their best efforts to position their products as managers of highly complex electronic content. But there is a question in my mind about how complex of an activity this needs to be. An interesting twist is that a content vendor, Proquest, will be offering an ILS product through Serials Solutions.