An integrated library management system, or “ILS” for short is an electronic program that help librarians and users to circulate and catalogue items, manage patron activity, track item movement as well as interact with databases from other libraries or institutions, amongst other functions. An ILS (sometimes abbreviated LMS) is meant to increase the output and efficiency of a library, and improve access to resources for its patrons, by automating the processes that would otherwise have been done manually.
An integrated library management system has several main features, which include:
- A database – this is where all the information belonging to a library is stored, such as MARC (MAchine Readable Cataloguing) records, patron information etc.
- Cataloguing module – allows librarians to add materials to the database
- Circulation module – checks items in and out, keeping track of the location and status of the library’s resources
- Patron management – this enables you to add, delete and manage your library’s patrons.
- Staff interface – this is the interface through which a librarian manages the ILS. Modern library management systems have web-based interfaces which are accessible through a local network or the internet via a web-browser
- OPAC – The Online Public Access Catalogue. This is the interface through which your patrons can search for books and other items, access their accounts, place holds, track their circulation history, make payments for fees and fines etc.
- Reports – the ability to run various reports on item movement as well as staff and patron activities.
The benefits of using a library system are immediate and obvious. By automating processes that would otherwise have been done manually, an ILS can exponentially increase the productivity of your library. Use of modules such as copy cataloguing means a librarian can simply import existing MARC records from other institutions into their database, rather than doing the whole process from scratch. Circulating items becomes a matter of scanning barcodes, rather than laborious manual writing on library cards and date stamps.
Patrons will also enjoy the ability to do simple and advanced searching using the OPAC, which will save both them and the librarian precious time. They can also make holds and purchase requests via their accounts, as well as get notifications by email, phone or text messages when they check books in or out, or if an item they had previously reserved becomes available. All of this means that a library can operate much faster and efficiently at a much lower cost than if it was to try and achieve the same by hiring more employees.
Open source library systems are of great value to both large and small libraries. In previous years, the latter have often been unable to adopt an integrated library management system largely due to the cost and complexity of previous software. But with the advent of highly scalable open source software with great support,any institution can now modernize their libraries at very low costs, regardless of the size of their holdings.
Some of the advantages of opting for open-source ILSs such as Koha and Evergreen include:
- No purchasing cost
- Low cost setups
- High scalability – both large and small libraries can use the same system
- Great community support
- Frequent upgrades and updates
- Active librarians within the development and user communities
- No vendor lock-in – several support companies exist from which a library can choose.
Whether you opt for an open source or paid management software, your library should seriously consider getting an integrated library system for the benefit of both your staff and patrons. For more information on how an integrated library system can be of use to you, please contact us here.