Library Lifeline part 4: What to consider when purchasing a library management system for my library

07 Mar 2022
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Welcome to the fourth blog in our series, Library Lifeline, written in association with the School Library Association. This series is designed to support anyone working in a school library by answering their questions directly. If you have a question that you’d like to ask our ‘agony aunt’ – the SLA’s Member Development Librarian, Dawn Woods – then please email us at worldofstories@literacytrust.org.uk and your question may be the focus of a future blog!

School Library Management Systems

We recently had an email from a librarian who wants to choose a library management system (LMS) that’s right for her school and that her SLT will be able to see the benefits of.

I wanted to ask if you could give clear recommendations for what to look for in LMSs for specific purposes. This would make choices much more straightforward for librarians making this decision and it would give the SLT a clear reason for our choice.

Computerising library records gives access to data that would otherwise be time-consuming to collect and it’s a fantastic way to catalogue your school library resources, however, with a range of Library Management Systems to choose from, it can also be confusing to decide which one will suit your school and its library needs best. What’s more, the initial cost and time taken to set it up can be a daunting factor in making that commitment.

Benefits of Library management systems

The end of this article links to specific LMSs and their particular strengths, however, first let’s lay out the benefits of a good library management system.

An electronic LMS allows you to:

  • Have an easily searchable catalogue, encouraging the use of keywords and search strategies
  • Easily trace stock
  • Collect statistics of stock use and borrowing behaviour, which can be important in subsequent interventions
  • Have quick and accurate borrowing and returning processes allowing pupils to use it more independently
  • Remotely access the library’s resources which have proved invaluable over the past two years

Deciding which system is best suited to your school

There are a few vital factors to consider when committing to any LMS.

Budget

Beyond the installation and training costs, it's worth finding out annual running costs for different systems, including for updates, labels and additional software and hardware, such as for cataloguing or for scanners. The library budget will need to cover this, in addition to a stock budget.

If budget is particularly limited, then is it worth having a system in place at all? The answer to this is absolutely yes. Even if you’re currently unable to subscribe to an automated system, then you need something in place, such as a card catalogue system recording the title, author and subject of each piece of stock in the library, combined with something as simple as a spreadsheet to keep track of circulation. Again, this can provide invaluable information about gaps in stock, as well as patterns of reading.

Who will be using the system?

Consider who will be using the system and what they will be using it for. Sophisticated systems offer great functionality, but will you use everything you are paying for? Consider if you are paying for functions you simply won’t have the time or training to utilise.

Pupil librarians

Leading on from that, also consider who will be operating the system. Is it important to you that pupil librarians (once trained) will be able to carry out simple returning and borrowing functions? This can be a real asset in the library and if it’s something you’re willing to undertake then definitely ask your LMS provider how user-friendly it is to run the system.

Stock

If you are migrating from a different computerised system, check compatibility. If your stock is not catalogued, every item will need to be added manually, so functions that lessen the time needed for the initial set-up, such as automatic cataloguing may cost in the first instance, but save time in the long run.

Your LMS should be able to accommodate a range of different media, to cope with a variety of resources.

If you’re doing an overhaul of your stock, how easy will it be to update this on the new system? Click here for advice about weeding stock.

Borrowers

The database of borrowers needs to accommodate classes as well as individuals, staff and students. It's important to be able to set different parameters for different groups. Check if the system allows you to import data directly from your school's administration database. As this always changes annually a quick automated process is simpler than manual updates.

Questions to ask

Many systems are similar in terms of functionality. The less you pay, the less functionality there will be.

Major things to decide what is important to you are:

  • Can you personalise the front end for students and staff? Is it attractive to pupils?
  • Will it run on your existing computers?
  • What is your budget, and if there aren’t funds for a LMS is it worth cataloguing stock anyway.
  • If you are a multi-site school will it be possible to run one system to cover all sites and also be able to treat each site as a separate entity where you can search and return items anywhere?
  • How easy is it to search - does it allow for poor spelling?
  • How easy is it to catalogue – from where does it draw automated cataloguing records and how comprehensive is this?
  • How does it account for overdue books?
  • Does it sync with your school management system so when pupils join/leave, you receive updates frequently?
  • Does it support ‘single sign on’ so there are no issues around students remembering passwords, thereby encouraging use?
  • What reports are offered as templates? Are you able to create your own reports so you can discover usage?
  • How easy is the circulation? Can pupils use the system independently?
  • Can users access the system remotely?
  • How much training is needed in cost and time, or is it intuitive?
  • What is the Help Desk service like? Don’t take the word of the company – ask other users for recommendations
  • Take advantage of most companies’ offer to demonstrate a live working of the system, so that you can see if it’s one you would like to pay for.

It’s really handy to go through the above and get clear about what it is that you need and want from your LMS. Then you can go through the list of the actual systems, which is kept up to date on the SLA webpage, to select the one that suits you.

The SLA also welcome any school who would like to chat about choice. Click here and scroll down to “Library management software” for further detail.

Explore our series of Library Lifeline blogs