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TL v59n2: Planning by the Seat of Your Pants: Implementing an ILS on a Deadline
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 2



Planning by the Seat of Your Pants:

Implementing an ILS on a Deadline


Paul Gahn, ILS Librarian
Kay Cunningham, Electronic Resources Librarian 
Elizabeth McDonald, Head of Cataloging

University of Memphis

2009 TLA Annual Conference Program Abstract: Migrating from a character to a web-based ILS required extensive work and flexible prioritizing to meet a six month deadline.

Migrating from a character to a web based integrated library system (ILS) required extensive work and flexible planning to meet a six-month deadline.  This paper traces the University of Memphis Libraries’ experiences, successes, and mistakes in selecting a system and migrating from DRA Classic to Innovative Interfaces Inc.’s (III) Millennium during the time period 2004-2008.  We discuss the history and environment of former integrated library systems at the University Libraries, data migration, cleanup, training, modules yet to be implemented, and lessons learned, paying particular attention to the seven months leading up to “going live.”


Historically the University of Memphis Libraries ILS has been shared among as many as five institutions, including a major metropolitan research university (1,212,556 items), the university’s law school (89,625 items), a community college (138,428 items), and a small historically black liberal arts college (111,596 items).  Additionally, only three partner libraries are located in Memphis.  Jackson State Community College is about an hour’s drive from Memphis. These disparate member institutions and their individual needs bring a unique set of challenges to the management of an automated system.

Currently there are four partner libraries: University of Memphis Libraries, University of Memphis Law School, Jackson State Community College and LeMoyne-Owen College.  In the past, former partners have been Shelby State Community College (now Southwest Tennessee Community College) from 1995-2000 and Dyersburg State Community College from 1998-2001.  Millennium is the third ILS for the University of Memphis.  Earlier systems were CLSI (1984-1994) and DRA Classic (1994-2008).

Millennium was selected through a request for proposal (RFP), which began in the fall of 2004.  A three-phase process, the RFP included writing, reviewing, and finalizing the draft.  A taskforce made up of the following subcommittees—Acquisitions/Periodicals, Circulation/Reserves, Cataloging, Public Presence, and Systems—contributed to the project.  Partner libraries, as well as faculty and staff from all library departments, were involved with each step. Desired features for a new system were collected from library staff and ranked.  Then the university looked for funding.  In 2006, revisions to the RFP were called for; these came mostly from the Library Systems Department and the University’s Information Technology Division.  Funding was then sought again.  Finalization of the RFP occurred in June 2006; the following month saw its delivery to vendors. Vendor responses were received and reviewed in September 2006, and four vendors were invited for onsite demonstrations that October.

After Millennium was selected, a series of budget planning meetings began in February 2007 to determine five year cost projections.  During these meetings authority control processing was identified as needed and would be a recurring cost if we outsourced it.  An RFP was written, issued, and a vendor chosen for this service in March.  This was then added to the funding request.  By November 2007, implementation meetings were scheduled; in December a test extract of the DRA database was done and sent to the vendor.

On-site training, profiling, migration and implementation occupied staff time from January-July 2008, with the “Go Live” date for Circulation on July 22, 2008, somewhat before the start of fall semester in late August.


The Libraries and the vendor each had different configurations for their respective implementation teams.  The Libraries had one main task force composed of the chairs of the individual work teams: Technical (systems and IT), Acquisitions/Serials, Bibliographic (including cataloging and profile/database evaluation), Circulation, Public Presence/ERM/Federated Search, Bursar Interface, and Location Codes. Library teams included 4-6 members, at least one of which came from a partner library (when applicable). Millennium assigned three teams to our implementation: one for the entire ILS, a second for the federated search tool and a third the faceted search overlay.

Among the challenges facing the implementation teams, the greatest was that DRA support would end in July 2008. Our deadline was set.  We had to have a functioning system by then: there could be no extensions. This left little time to learn the Millennium ILS or to plan what we wanted to do with it.  This short timeline led to many of the other challenges. We had to deal with technical issues at the same time as we were preparing staff for coming changes, and developing the training that needed to occur with the new system.  Some modules could come up later on, but others like Circulation and Cataloging had to be up and running quickly.  Our old system had been a character-based, menu-driven system, and the new one is a fully web-based system.  This required greater training for the staff to switch interfaces.

We also experienced personnel challenges.  During this process, the chair of the Acquisitions/Periodicals work team retired.  The University of Memphis hired a full-time ILS Librarian in March 2008.  Although he fortunately had experience with DRA and had been working part-time on the initial test data extracts, he had to be brought up to speed on numerous other issues.  Also, the initial system training began in January 2008, two months before the ILS librarian’s arrival.  An additional challenge occurred when the vendor trainer/consultant was pulled to another project before the Libraries’ training was completed. 


Migration offered us the opportunity to clean out and start over with certain data types.  Each data type was analyzed and approached differently based on historical knowledge of the work team and the time available for migration. Overall, bibliographic, item, patron and fine records were migrated, while authority, acquisitions (vendors, funds, orders), course reserves, and serials holdings records were not. Even though only selected data was migrated, extracts were made for serials, vendors, and orders; these were saved in Microsoft Excel for future reference if necessary. Three specific data types required particular attention: authority control records, fine records, and serials holdings.

DRA had no ongoing authority control service, so it was decided to send all 1,053,167 bibliographic records to MARCIVE for authority processing.  The existing 475,212 DRA authority records were not sent to MARCIVE for processing and these were not loaded into the new system.  MARCIVE supplied 719,926 new authority records that were configured for Millennium. Because Millennium requires two versions of a name authority if the heading is both a name and subject, the true number of new authorities records received is unknown.  In addition, MARCIVE provided database cleanup on records.  Coordinating work between the authority vendor, MARCIVE, and the Innovative deadlines resulted in an ultra tight schedule for this part of the project.  The authorities’ librarian spent many long hours making sure the work was correct.  Automated authority control processing can only do so much, so post-processing continues as certain headings require manual review, especially those involving heading splits.  We have also subscribed to monthly files of new and updated authority records and have not started loading these.

Sending the entire bibliographic database out for processing also necessitated a gap period and gap load.  During this gap period cataloging staff could continue to add and edit new records, but they had to stop editing records that already been sent to MARCIVE.  The gap period lasted from late March to early June.  This necessitated a temporary restructuring of work in the cataloging department.

Library fine data has long been an issue at the University of Memphis because of mandates that the University bursar’s office, not the library, collect all money owed for fines.  Because the DRA-bursar interface functioned intermittently, paid and unpaid data did not correspond to one another in the two systems.  To avoid displaying paid fines to patrons in Millennium’s web interface (and the public relations problems that would have entailed), we chose to migrate fines data but to suppress unpaid fine information until all current UM faculty, staff, and student records had been audited against the bursar’s system, a process that was not finished until the end of October 2008, about three months after Circulation was implemented.  During these three months, patrons were allowed to view and renew checked out items through the My Library account, a novelty for them as the old OPAC had not been configured to display any sort of patron information.  Reconciliation of non-current student fine data continued into 2009.  Non-current students could not log in so the possibility of their seeing incorrect fine information was a non-issue.

Holdings data for serials in DRA was, in large part, erroneous or incomplete, and massive amounts of editing would have been required to make the records transferable. Therefore serials holdings were not migrated, although bibliographic title records were. The result was that for some time, serial titles could not be retrieved in searches limited to the University of Memphis Libraries since limiting depends on holdings data. As a stopgap measure, we substituted our SerialsSolutions A-Z list for Millennium’s OPAC journal title search, designing it to look like a Millennium screen and inserting it into the OPAC.  The search page included cautionary text advising users that print and microform holdings information was being reentered and directing them to consult shelves or library staff for specific title holdings. This solution was employed throughout the Fall 2008 semester until February 2009 when temporary holdings records were created for serial bibliographic records still lacking holdings records.  With this, the scope could work, but more importantly, print and microform holding information could be exported to SerialsSolutions for integration with online titles.

Since the input of holdings data remains a work in progress, print and microform volume/date information was not included in this export to SerialsSolutions.  Only the title, ISSN, and a link to the catalog record were exported. Using the link to the full record, patrons can see holdings information if it has been entered or which branch library might have a particular title. After eight months of data entry, roughly 2,100 of 3,100 current subscriptions’ holdings have been entered.  Another 9,100 ceased and cancelled publications have yet to be entered and will likely take another couple of years to complete.  As a means of prioritizing the data entry, staff began entering information for titles beginning with the letter “J”, so titles beginning with “Journal of ” were done sooner rather than later; and as these were such a large number of titles, their completion gave staff entering data a small psychological boost.


Implementation Team received four weeks of onsite Millennium training spread throughout spring semester 2008.  See table below.


Training Covered

January  29-Feb.1

        1. ILS WebPac and database evaluation
        2. System and WebPac administration
        3. Circulation parameters
        4. Acquisitions and Serials parameters

March 11-13

        1. Cataloging I, Acquisitions I, Serials I

April 15-18

        1. Circulation I, Acquisitions II, Serials II
        2. Systems

 May 13-15

        1. Cataloging II, Circulation II
        2. Media Management

As no more than ten were allowed in each class, attendance was limited to members of the general implementation team.  Attendance could have varied by module, but the institutional decision was to have a core of people who knew what was happening in all modules. One of the benefits of having everyone in the same training is that if Public Presence wanted something then Cataloging and Systems could discuss the issues to make it happen.  The team leaders then developed in-house training once internal procedures were finalized.  As the last training occurred in mid-May and the go live date was in July, we only had two months to finalize and provide the training for faculty and staff at four partner libraries.

In addition to the training listed above, there were two webinars in June devoted to the Electronic Resource Management (ERM) module and to Research Pro.  Lastly, ENCORE received a half day of on-site training.

Training used a combination of vendor online tutorials provided by III and hands-on training, prioritized based on department/work group migration demands.  Technical services training included members from the partner libraries.  Cataloging and circulation training occurred first and was complicated by partner libraries different processes in these areas.  OPAC training for patrons was offered in various formats including demonstrations, demos with hands-on opportunities, and requests for comments.

Staff training proved challenging as the team leaders were essentially working “one chapter ahead” of their students. Team leaders were being trained at the same time as they were planning and providing training for library staff while simultaneously making decisions related to location codes, data migration, and the OPAC design and functionality.  A further complication was that the test database only contained roughly 25% of the DRA database, a fact that had to be explained repeatedly to staff as they began to test the new ILS.   Also, customization of the web interface took time and staff had to understand that we were training on an interface that would be changed and it would continue to evolve.  All of this testing was going on simultaneously while the system was configured and training was being offered.

Customization of the web catalog interface was not completed until a month before “Go Live;” therefore, some staff didn’t believe the migration was going to happen until they could see it. Staff inability to perceive the need for their own training until the last minute led to some encroachment on patron training. Lastly, in addition to the change in ILS operations, we were learning and teaching multiple interfaces (a traditional web catalog versus Encore’s Web 2.0 features) and new concepts in search (faceted, federated search).  We were also involved in branding the new interfaces.  All in all, we faced a steep learning curve with limited time for adjustment.

Continuing Implementation

Libraries who are planning for migration should realize that while going live with Circulation is a significant date, it is but a milestone in the process. Much work has gone into the database to this point, but implementation of other modules may only have just begun. 

In our case, the acquisitions module would not get off the ground for another 6-12 months, although it would ultimately only be implemented by the University of Memphis Libraries and the Law Library.  Implementation of the ERM, a module only used by the University Libraries, was not started until January 2009, and that only involved the manual creation of resource records. License and contact information will be incorporated later. Media management, which allows scanned articles and sample tests to be incorporated into course reserves, will also take time to learn and implement.  Reports and statistical functions will also be worked out in time. Serials are still being worked on.  Even after cataloging was implemented, current and former partner data loads and extracts have created ongoing cleanup that will continue long after the migration to Millennium.  All the above will impact existing workflows, if not change them entirely.

Further down the road, we hope to customize the design and color-scheme of the OPAC for each partner, adapt the login for Jackson State and link to Google Books when available.

Positive Experiences

Positives for us included a clean migration of our records and the cataloging and circulation modules reaching basic functionality with relative ease and on time. Our initial customizations of OPAC pages for partner libraries also worked well.  Lacking a book budget was for once beneficial, since it allowed us to wait to bring up the acquisitions module.   

What We Would Do Differently

If we could do our migration over, we would allow greater flexibility regarding who receives training from the vendor.  Although it is important for a core group to understand the system as a whole, not everyone needs or wants to absorb all the minutiae of every module, and more appropriate personnel could have been substituted into the different training sessions.  We would change the module training order, completing all training for cataloging and circulation before beginning acquisitions and serials, since cataloging and circulation modules are needed from day one.  More attention and original thought should have been given to the design of location and item codes, utilizing mnemonics rather than alpha-numeric codes.  Early in the process, we spent precious time trying to recreate the old system instead of recognizing the potential of the new product.  Also we would have opened up viewing the training database to more people much sooner.

While a Gantt chart was of great help in focusing our attention, we did not start using it for projections until midway through the implementation process.  In order to project a timeline, track miscellaneous details and set deadlines, generating a Gantt should be a first step.

We also recommend requesting a vendor project manager based in the company’s headquarters. Ours worked out of her home office on the opposite side of the country, three time zones away from the rest of her team.  While this worked for the most part, we wonder if having daily contact among vendor team members might have resulted in better service.  We also recommend asking for a full test load of your database, not a partial load. It would make comparisons easier and doesn’t raise so many questions about what’s missing.  Finally, we recommend using the free Google Analytics service with your web catalog as a method of tracking usage. We added the application after having been on the system for seven months, and we wish we had been collecting this data from day one.


Although time during a migration will be limited, take as much time as possible to learn and understand your new system before you set up policies that you will be living with for many years to come.  Also, if possible, have someone on your side who will advocate your library’s position relentlessly. Librarians tend to be timid. Having someone who doesn’t accept a vendor’s “no, we can’t do that” can sometimes produce beneficial results. At the same time hope that your trainer will steer you toward good practices, because you may sometimes need to be told that some of your ideas are really bad ones.

We also advocate planning for change even if it isn’t coming tomorrow. Always be ready to migrate. You never know when your parent organization might decide they can’t afford your current system or determine that it’s not compatible with their other systems. Also, stay flexible. You may learn something after making a decision that would cause you to change that earlier decision. Involve all library staff members and the sooner the better. Finally, never forget that technical decisions impact public services and vice versa. Hopefully, someone in your organization who can see both sides of the system will be charged with the system’s ultimate overall functionality and be able to resolve issues when they arise.

Related Links

Google Analytics

Jackson State Community College OPAC

LeMoyne Owen OPAC

University Libraries OPAC (Catalog Classic)

Catalog QuickSearch (ENCORE)

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