Changing your Integrated Library System (ILS)

Changing your Integrated Library System (ILS) involves careful research. This guide outlines the major factors involved in selecting the best ILS option, preparing a business case, and planning the change processes.


Reasons for change
List of ILS requirements
Open Source ILS
Making the choice
Submitting a business case for funding to your Board of Trustees
Workload, timeline and disruption considerations
Planning the process

Reasons for change

Reasons must be based on carefully evaluated library needs and the new ILS must demonstrate that it will add value to library services and student outcomes.

Reasons for change include:

  • Present programme is outdated and static
  • Present programme does not have updates or add-ons that will cover current and future needs.
  • Present programme is not user friendly
  • Need for a programme that is web based to deal with new resources such as websites and ebooks
  • Need for a programme that will enhance access to all library resources and add to student achievement within the school
  • Need for a programme that will embrace not only print material, but multimedia formats, social media and the online working environment.

Case study example - from a New Zealand secondary school

  • Present programme has worked well for 10 years but access to many e-resources and social networking sites such as the library wiki cannot be incorporated into the ILS.
  • 24/7 access through the school website cannot be achieved with this programme.
  • Current access to all library resources is from multiple sites and takes a lot of time.
  • When contacted, the present provider has no immediate plans to upgrade the programme to the extent required.
  • Future-proofing our library access – this programme will not be able to handle the management and circulation of ebooks.
  • Students learning is not supported due to the limited functionality of the current system.

Staff input into the ILS selection process

Sometimes there is pressure to change your ILS from outside of the library, for a variety of reasons, often budgetary. This presents the library management team with an opportunity to put forward a sound professional response, remembering that:

  • The person who manages your library and ILS is often able to make a major contribution to decisions on changing your ILS, although there are likely to be other key people involved.
  • The ICT leader, or your network manager, the school principal or Chair of the Board of Trustees will be a mine of information, and will be involved in the decision making process.
  • The person who manages the library should ensure these key people have a clear understanding of your library requirements, including whether an ILS supports your library services.

Reasons sometimes put forward for changing ILS

  • We are changing our provider for student management administration. This provider has a library package and we want all our programmes under one provider
  • Local schools are forming a consortium and this is the programme the committee has decided to use
  • We need to cut costs – this programme is cheaper
  • We want you to look at this free open-source programme. (Please refer to the Open-source paragraph in this guide)

If reasons such as those listed are being put forward, your Library Manager will have to provide evidence in support of a more effective solution:

  • Explain that this provider may not have a programme equal to your current ILS, and request that you, as the expert in library software within the school, be given time to research the new library programme.
  • Provide your school management team with an outline of the features provided by your existing dedicated software, and (if the new programme falls short) a list of features that are not incorporated into the new programme.
  • Refer decision makers to this guide and to the excellent Checklist in the ILS guide.

Read the Integrated Library System (ILS) guide

List of ILS requirements

Having established that you have good reasons for changing your ILS, then the next step is to list your requirements.

  • Consult the Integrated Library System (ILS) guide
  • Think about the frustrations you encounter with your present ILS and list improvements you would need to have in the new ILS
  • Ring some other schools who may have more advanced programmes and ask them which features they really like and whether there is anything missing
  • Futureproof your purchase as much as possible by brainstorming with your library committee and school staff the functions they will expect your ILS to handle in the next 5 years. For example, e-textbooks and ebooks.

Initial contact with vendors

Having written your list, you will need to contact all the ILS vendors and ask them to send you their marketing information.

The School Library Suppliers List includes ILS suppliers.

It is important that you look at as many ILS programmes as possible.

Following recommendations is fine, but you are making a serious decision here and you need to do your own research thoroughly based on the list of your particular needs.

Important information you require in each vendor's marketing package:

  • Status of programme – web-based or web-enabled.
  • Hardware necessary to run the ILS
  • Price of the complete package
  • Ask them to be quite specific about what comes in the initial package and what doesn’t. For example, rather than being an integral part of the package, one ILS may have statistics as an add-on (that you will pay for), while another may have the access to images of book covers as an add-on.
  • List and price of all recommended add-ons
  • Costs for transferring data from one system to the other
  • How much training is given – what the training covers, and whether it would be sufficient for your needs
  • Price of training, travel and accommodation
  • What ongoing support is included, including availability of helpdesk services.
  • What level of support is provided free of charge, what level of ongoing support would incur costs, and their scale of charges
  • Price of website hosting – and whether this would be necessary
  • How future-proof their system is - for instance, whether it will it be able to handle recording and circulation of e-books
  • Whether there is a demonstration system available that you can look at or be guided through.

Questions the vendor may ask:

  • The number of students in your school
  • Your existing ILS – some ILS providers lock in the data and therefore it is very difficult and more expensive to change to another system.
  • The level of staff expertise – to establish training needs
  • The state of your data, and whether you can arrange for the database to be put on a disk to send to the company for conversion
  • How soon you are likely to know if you are able to purchase the ILS, as the quote will generally be valid for a limited time.

Open Source ILS

Open Source Integrated Library Systems are library management software that is free to download, install and use. The source code for Open Source software is freely available for use, modification, and re-distribution.

Open Source ILS have the same range of functionalities and features as commercial ILS. This includes modules for acquisitions, cataloguing, and circulation of materials and serials, as well as online public access catalogues (OPACs) for users.

Open Source software is typically developed by a community of interested users who share that software with each other. One of the strengths of Open Source software is the potential for customisation to meet individual user needs and requirements.

When making the choice to switch to an Open Source ILS you need to carefully consider whether you have the technical expertise in-house to install the ILS, migrate data, implement and maintain the software. There are a number of New Zealand based companies that provide technical support for installation, migration of data, maintenance and support of Open Source ILS. It may also be possible to have your ILS hosted off-site and for all security, backup, maintenance and upgrades of your ILS to be managed by a commercial vendor.

It is also important to find out if there is a strong and active user community and whether updates to the software will be freely available. Whilst there is commonly user community support and documentation available to support you in solving technical problems, most schools would need to consider the cost of either contracting a company to provide individualised support and/or having their ILS hosted off-site.

Factoring in associated costs for installation, migration of data, implementation , maintenance and ongoing technical support is an important part of the decision making process.

Further reading

Case study from Albany Senior High School by Mark Osborne

When choosing an integrated library system (ILS) Albany Senior High School looked closely at the needs of its patrons. As a school, we wanted to really support meaningful research and high academic achievement alongside developing a lifelong love of reading. We were also aware that most of our patrons were huge consumers of the web (and social media in particular) and thrive on online interaction with others. So with a shopping list that was long on cutting-edge features we looked at all of the ILS products in use in schools, universities and public libraries and went through a thorough evaluation process before deciding on Koha which has thousands of school library installations worldwide.

Because we are on ultrafast broadband, a crucial decider for us was for the ILS to be web-based and hosted offsite, and Koha ticked both these boxes. We didn’t want to maintain the system; we just wanted it to work all the time and to have good support available if we needed it. Being web-based, any computer can be turned into a issues desk, while patrons can search the catalogue and do things like reserve and renew items from anywhere in the world. As a bring your own device (BYOD) school this, and the smartphone app, means patrons can not only search the catalogue from anywhere but also scan a book’s ISBN, see if we’ve got a copy and reserve it there and then!

One of the first things we saw in Koha was the rich level of patron interaction with the catalogue. Patrons can write reviews and post these for others to read, rate books using a 5 star rating system (just like Amazon!) and create and share reading lists of their favourite books. By turning students into advocates for reading it means that students are now reading more books because their friends have recommended them and rated them highly. Teachers can also create and share ‘recommended reading’ lists for courses and tag particular resources with keywords and topics. Tagging is one of those web 2.0 or ‘social media’ features that is extremely important to us because it means all patrons can organise and arrange items in the catalogue in ways that make sense to them without having to go through a librarian.

We’ve got a wide range of items in the catalogue from fiction to non-fiction, audiobooks to graphic novels, cameras and AV equipment to websites. We’re also using Wheelers’ e-book platform to deliver e-books to patrons via Koha. For collections that are not housed in the library but still managed through the catalogue we’ve used the temporary collection and multiple location features.

Using RFID tags has meant a lot less work for our librarians, particularly around stocktake. Because RFID tags are ‘smart’ one can run a scanner down a shelf, see which items are on the shelf and update the ‘last seen’ date in the catalogue. Stocktake is done! Another thing that has worked really well has been our 3M self-check system which integrates well with Koha. These has meant that an increasing number of our issues and returns are happening at the self-check desk rather than the main library desk, freeing our librarians up to work more closely with students. Because at the end of the day, it’s about meeting the needs of our patrons!

Albany Senior High School ILS on Koha

Making the choice

This is something you may want help with, and there are key people you may need to consult:

  • If you are the only library staff member, team up with an interested staff member or form a library committee.
  • You could include student librarians in the discussion as well.
  • Ensure you involve your network administrator or server manager or ICT person, as they may need to upgrade your hardware, they will probably copy the old catalogue onto a disk for conversion and they will certainly need to know when your new ILS is to be installed.

Now that you have all the information from the vendors whose product you are interested in, it is time to compare the features of each ILS:

  • A good clear way to do this is to set up a spreadsheet listing all the features and all the brands you are investigating.
  • As well as comparing the features, visit other libraries that are already running these ILS programmes and get their feedback on the performance.
  • List any queries you have, contact the vendors and document their responses.
  • When all this is done, call a meeting of all those involved to discuss the options and make the decision.

Submitting a business case for funding to your Board of Trustees

Your written submission should include:

  • The growth and expansion of your library resources and services that give rise to your need for a more appropriate ILS
  • The shortcomings of your current ILS, and any further relevant information. For example, you have contacted the system vendor, and they cannot provide the service you need in the near future, or your present ILS is still in 1990s mode.
  • Comprehensive information on the new ILS you have selected
  • Vendor information and reputation – include a copy of the marketing package
  • Quote and terms of sale agreement
  • Features of this ILS
  • A disc or sample website to view
  • Other schools in the area that are using this ILS and would recommend it
  • Advantages to the library, the students, the whole school community

Often, with Board of Trustees members and senior management being so busy, it is useful to produce a simple matrix. This helps them to see at a glance what the difference could be. The matrix below illustrates how looking up 8 different places was reduced to looking up only one site with the purchase of a new ILS.

Matrix comparing your current ILS with proposed new ILS
Current ILS covers: Proposed new ILS includes:
1. Library administration of print resource records only 1. Catalogue records for books, magazines, DVDFs, e-resources and ebooks
2. No facility for management or circulation of ebooks 2. Ebooks
3. Web OPAC for student search of print records only 3. Email notifications
4. Access from within the school only 4. 24/7 access, even to our subscription databases
5. Access to digital resources for research, to magazine databases and other e-resources and websites to support student research are accessed via the school intranet 5. Subscription magazine databases, and digital resources for student research
6. Lists of websites supporting the curriculum not accessible via ILS 6. Lists of websites supporting the curriculum
7. Library wiki accessed separately, for information supporting reading and research 7. Enables access to the library wiki for reading and library news
8. PDF or Word documents not accessible via current ILS. 8. PDF or Word documents accessible, as well as access to teacher resources.
  9. Allows collection and access to short instructional videos which will enhance the students' efficient use of social networking and internet sites.

Workload, timeline and disruption considerations

As with any major task undertaken in the library, there will be disruption of some services, and extra staffing hours allocated for tasks that need to be completed before the process begins.

In order to complete a successful conversion, here are some preparation tasks to consider.

Your catalogue records

The data you are transferring over to your new ILS needs to be as accurate and consistent and ‘clean’ as possible. Here are some details to check as part of your preparation:

  • Check all fields in your catalogue entries. Check the ‘type’ field. Does it list just 'Non Fiction' or have you sometimes put 'Non Fic' or 'NF'? Do all records have a ‘location’? Are you using the same term for location e.g. library, main library, bookroom? In most ILS there is a bulk change system that will allow these entries to be changed to a common term very quickly.
  • Classification – check whether the format is the same for every record.
  • The MARC fields in your SCIS or SchoolsCat records will be fine, but you need to check the local fields such as ‘Type’ or Location’ where school staff have added entries.
  • You may have some resources that were catalogued manually by unqualified staff, where the catalogue records do not match up to your current downloaded MARC records from SCIS or SchoolsCat. Rather than transferring erroneous data, would this be the time to look at retrospectively cataloguing your whole library or just the non-fiction section?

Read Cataloguing Guide section on Retrospective Cataloguing

  • Are there records on your catalogue that no longer need to be there, such as class texts that may have been lost and the department hasn’t let you know?
  • Perhaps this is the time to revisit decisions made in the past. For example, for the past 10 years, you may have had all the school sports equipment catalogued and issued through the Library. Is this appropriate, necessary or still being used enough to put these onto your new Library database?

Access to your library and the library catalogue

  • There may be a short period where the catalogue is not available for searching. You don’t want this to be at the same time as every Year 10 class is doing their research module.
  • Are some of your resources old and due to be weeded? Perhaps this is the time to be doing that weed, so that you are not transferring old, irrelevant records onto your new database.
  • Timeline for conversion. Depending on how busy your new provider is, this could be spread over months rather than weeks. You may get some initial work done and then wait for the holidays to change systems and have childfree training days.
  • You may need to close the Library for training days. It is very important for all library staff to attend these days, so that you can get the best out of the new ILS.
  • Time allowed to write or re-write your catalogue procedures, and record changes in your Library operations quick reference checklist. This should include the usernames and passwords. It often happens that these are not recorded; the library assistant leaves and no one can get into the catalogue, let alone manage it properly.

Read the library operations quick reference checklist

When thinking about changing from one ILS to another, very careful consideration must be given as to whether this is the best year for a task such as this. For instance if you are also having a major library renovation done, we would recommend waiting until that is finished.

Planning the process

Here is a checklist, pulling together advice from throughout this guide, to help you with your preparation and planning:

  1. Ensure that the library data you are transferring is accurate and consistent.
  2. Check that you have weeded out of your catalogue any stock that is old or out-of-date.
  3. Check that records marked ‘Missing at Stocktake’ or ‘Lost’ are removed from the catalogue if they still cannot be found.
  4. Back up your data and your system files before they are sent away for conversion. This is a very important precaution.
  5. Check that your back-up system has worked and the records are retrievable. If you are unsure how to do this then contact your school network administrator.
  6. Look at your annual library timetable and choose a time when it is not very busy to arrange the transfer of your data.
  7. Check these dates also suit your network administrator, or whoever is going to arrange the data transfer from your current ILS to your new system; and suit your new ILS provider.
  8. As you will not be able to continue using your old programme for issuing, it is a good idea to try and arrange the transfer to happen at the end of the year or during other school holidays.
  9. If it happens during school time, you will need to arrange a manual alternative, perhaps writing each issue or return into a book. These details can then be transferred into your new ILS when it arrives.
  10. Keep your old software loaded until the new ILS is installed, just in case.
  11. Book training dates for you and your staff with the vendor.
  12. Ensure that there is time available to update all the entries in your Library operations quick reference checklist that cover usernames, passwords and all functions managed by the new ILS, including issues, returns, importing records and cover images, reports, stocktaking, and other tasks.
  13. Initiate contact with the new ILS helpdesk so that they know you and your preferred method of contact – for example, phone or email.
  14. Keep a log book of system questions as they occur, so you can refer back to the details when you contact the helpdesk.