Librarians’ Assessments of Automation Systems
By Marshall Breeding and Andromeda Yelton
Wed, 08/10/2011 - 10:02
Cost pressures and moderate satisfaction may lead to system turnover
For the last four years, Marshall Breeding has conducted an online survey to measure the satisfaction rate with multiple aspects of the automation products used by libraries. The results of four editions of survey data, along with brief interpretive narratives, have been published on Library Technology Guides. The May/June 2011 issue of Library Technology Reports takes a deeper look at the survey data, including an expansion of findings based on the 2010 iteration, an examination of trends seen across the four years, and additional analysis not previously published. The survey data has been extended with additional fields that provide the opportunity to separate the findings into categories that show some interesting trends not otherwise apparent.
The data represented across the four years of the Perceptions survey provides considerable insight into the dynamics of the library automation industry. Only within the ranks of small libraries do we find superlative satisfaction with their automation scenario. Once we excavate below the surface layer of highly satisfied libraries, we find strata of trends that run in different directions. In this report we have explored some of the differences that arise as we look at public versus academic libraries among those with differing collection sizes.
The survey instrument included six numeric ratings, three yes/no responses, three short response fields, and a text field for general comments. The numeric rating fields allow responses from 0–9. Each scale was labeled to indicate the meaning of the numeric selection.
While some companies and products perform better than others, none provide a resoundingly satisfactory solution for most libraries of substantial size and complexity. The survey seems to reinforce the idea that the costs of the current systems press the limits of what libraries can bear. Of the comments dealing with cost issues, almost all reflected concern; some state that current costs already exceed what they can tolerate. Hardly any comments reflected a sense that libraries feel they receive excellent value for their investments.
Analysis of the results fails to confirm open source library automation as a panacea. While those already involved with open source continue to support the concept strongly, the survey does not validate the open source ILS as the key to satisfaction. Outside the ranks of those already involved, we detected no evidence of libraries being poised to abandon proprietary systems in droves. We saw combinations of open source ILS products and support companies that produced widely varying levels of support and product satisfaction. Companies providing services surrounding an open source ILS face the same kinds of challenges in satisfying their clients as those faced by their counterparts involved in proprietary software.
The survey data shows that, on average, libraries are moderately—sometimes extremely—satisfied with their software, and fairly loyal to their vendors. However, cost pressures, troubled relationships with vendors, and alternate models such as discovery layers and open source software drive widespread reevaluation; 21% of libraries surveyed in 2010 are shopping for a new ILS. While this benchmark stands a bit lower than in the economically stronger years of 2007 and 2008, it predicts that we may be in store for new rounds of churn in the turnover of automation systems.
In broadest strokes the survey results do not paint a picture of libraries in turmoil against their automation systems and vendor. Rather, it reflects levels of disconnect between expectation and performance that may drive libraries out of their patterns of inertia and lead vendors toward new models of technology and service with the potential to narrow the gaps of discontent.
MARSHALL BREEDING, director for innovative technology and research for the Vanderbilt University Library, is also a speaker, writer, and consultant. He is the creator and editor of Library Technology Guides, a columnist for Computers in Libraries, editor of Smart Libraries, and has authored the annual “Automation Marketplace” published by Library Journal since 2002. He has authored nine issues of ALA’s Library Technology Reports, and written many other articles and book chapters. Marshall has edited or authored six books. He regularly teaches workshops and gives presentations internationally at library conferences.
ANDROMEDA YELTON is a member of the founding team at Gluejar. She is a 2010 Simmons University GSLIS graduate interested in the intersection of people, technology, and information; a 2011 ALA Emerging Leader; and a 2010 winner of the Library and Information Technology Association/Ex Libris Student Writing Award.