The Holy Grail of Library Automation: The Shared Library System

Over the last year, I’ve been working closely with consortia in my home state of California. I’ve participated in something of a “listening tour” to hear what is working and what isn’t working at the consortial level and to find out what they really need that the consortium could provide.

What I’ve learned is that it is very hard for get beyond the basics:  shared e-resources, shared delivery and networking with their peers. Initiatives much bigger than that, strike them as beyond the realm of possibility.  What I would love to see is some “hive mind” where the members suddenly become aware of their ability to address many of the challenges that hold them back with one big change – moving to a shared library system.

The shared library system is the holy grail of library automation. It’s awesome and yet so difficult to acquire. For libraries lucky enough to have gone down this path years ago, it might not seem so magical, but the shared library system has many wondrous qualities.

Environmental and Organizational Assessment and Strategic Planning Consultation

PaILS is a consortium in Pennsylvania which provides a shared Evergreen system for 37 library systems across the state.  The engagement included:

  • assessing existing services and operations
  • re-evaluating the PaILS Mission Statement
  • reformulating the PaILS Vision Statement
  • identifying strategic priorities and developing activities to support them
  • developing a plan to address challenges related to the need for stable funding for the disparate needs of a diverse group of libraries
  • developing cost share formula that more accurately reflects current environment and supports sustainability

This work was led by Lori Bowen Ayre with Galecia Associates Lucien Kress and Sam McBane Mulford.  The final deliverables included a recommendations document which served as the basis for a Strategic Plan which the consortium adopted.  We then worked with them to develop a formal Strategic Plan used to guide the organization over the next 3-5 years.

Environmental and Organizational Assessment and Strategic Planning Consultation

The Galecia Group has been working with NC Cardinal since May 2016.  NC Cardinal is a consortium in North Carolina which provides a shared Evergreen system for 31 library systems across the state.  The engagement includes:

  • assessing existing services and operations
  • identifying emerging needs and aspirations of shareholders, and
  • creating a 5-year strategic plan to grow the system, enhance the services, and define a sustainable funding model

The final deliverable was a recommendations document and a planning document that was developed during a one-day workshop with the NC Cardinal Board.  It included a calendar of prioritized activities to pursue over the next 3-5 years with assigned owners for each activity.

This engagement was led by Lori Bowen Ayre with Galecia Associates Lucien Kress and Sam McBane Mulford.  

Do More With More

My consulting practice seems to go in phases and lately I’ve been in the consortia phase.  It’s a gratifying place to be.  In each case, I see the power that comes from libraries coming together to do something better than any one library could do on its own.  In some cases, it creates opportunities that would be completely beyond a library’s capability due to lack of resources (be they human or financial or both). 

Initiatives that require costly technology or costly technology experts are particularly good projects to handle at the consortial level.  The integrated library system (ILS) is one of those big, complicated, costly technologies that can be leveraged in many ways. There’s the underlying platform (server and operating system), the application (the ILS itself), and there are the people involved in managing the system (ILS Administrator) plus the staff using the system.  Some, or all, of these components can be shared across libraries.

For example, a group of libraries can use the same server and application yet operate as independent libraries.  That’s what a group of libraries in Northern California is doing.  They are each part of a shared Koha system hosted by a service provider.  Each library administers its own system and has its own patron records and collection. But they save a lot of money by sharing that platform and that vendor contract, and by not having to manage the operating system and deal with backups and software updates.