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August 2011

The integrated library system has fallen onto hard times, especially when it comes to academic libraries. Over the last decade or so, libraries in colleges, universities, and other research organizations have been at the forefront a broad trend where electronic content has grown more and more dominant. Unfortunately, library automation systems have been slow to respond to this obvious and fundamental change. The essential model of the integrated library system, one comprised of functional modules such as cataloging, acquisitions, serials, circulation, and an online catalog, was conceived in the print era. It seems that now, the ILS has prevailed past the time when its functionality reflects the best way to organize a library’s strategic activities.

To the extent that the ILS specializes in managing print resources, it’s subject to an ever diminishing role in academic libraries. The original model of the ILS emerged during a time when libraries primarily dealt with print materials. Once electronic materials became a major aspect of academic library operation, we saw a proliferation of products that were designed to supplement the ILS and provide capabilities to manage them. Library personnel divide their attention among products like link resolvers, electronic resource management systems, digital asset management systems, and institutional repositories in addition to the various modules of the ILS. The support and operation of this assortment of separate systems has become an immense burden that can’t be sustained in the long term.

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