Monday, April 25, 2011

Taking a Flying Leap into the Cloud

I posted last week that the library staff has been in training on a new integrated library system (ILS) called WMS. It is not only new to us, but it is a in a whole new generation of library systems. Hope is part of a small courageous cohort of early adopters (including Southern California neighbors; Pepperdine University, Westmont College, and Vanguard University) implementing it at the same time.

WMS operates "in the cloud" meaning, among other things, that it is not hosted on our campus. Not only is the catalog, WorldCat Local, on the web, but so are the back-end staff modules and functions such as acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation. This is known as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model in which the only software we need on our staff computers is a browser such as Firefox. The rest is managed by the proprietor, OCLC (Online Computer Library Center, Inc.)

Here is a really simple explanation of cloud computing:

While I think it is important to stay technologically up-to-date, I do not feel comfortable living on the bleeding edge of technology. So, why are we so far ahead of the curve on this one?

First, systems librarians spend about 70% of their time with system administration activities for a typical ILS like our old one. With this new platform, it is expected that we will be able to reduce that to 30%, leaving more time for more user-centered library services. We like the idea of getting rid of the only UNIX server on campus. It requires a unique skill set to run it and is dedicated to very little more than facilitating the finding of books on our shelves – when we have so much more to offer!

Secondly, we got a good price for agreeing to be an early adopter. But we weren’t desperate to change so we could have stayed with our old system for the same price. And, as it turns out, shortly after we signed with OCLC, the company that owns our old system announced they are developing a similar cloud-based product. We could have held on for that.

However, while OCLC has been in the (not-for-profit) business of developing cooperative online library services and resource for over 40 years, they are new to offering this kind of integrated/comprehensive product. This kind of thing usually makes it on the “con” side rather than the “pro” side of my list of considerations. But one thing I have become convinced of is that a lot of eyes are on this venture – and on our cohort of libraries. OCLC really wants a group of happy customers for the word-of-mouth value. They have asked our permission to be used in their marketing of WMS. (Apart from that, we have already had the staff of another library visit to interview us about what we think of the implementation process so far.)

This puts us in a good position when asking for help with implementation and migration issues and for suggesting changes to the product as it is still being developed. For a small, thinly-stretched library staff like ours, getting timely support is essential to an efficient effective workflow.

The “pro” list just got longer.

By the way, we "go live" with the new system on June 6, 2011, but if you want to check out the early model of the catalog, go to or click on the "new" link near the top the library's home page.

1 comment:

Beth Lee said...

I haven't had to list anything on a physical server before so I feel as though I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept. It looks like it is going to be a fun adventure and great advancement for our community.