System Architecture and Information
Integrated Library Systems (ILS)
System Architecture and Information Access
Information and communication technology (ICT) is not optimally developed in South African Public Libraries, and a
gap exists between potential and reality in this field. Although online connectivity is increasingly available,
even in the more remote areas, financial restrictions, poor telecommunications, and infrastructure failures hamper
the full realization of an exciting potential.
What is a Public Library Integrated
Library System (ILS)?
automation would help ease the daily circulation functions and ease the job of processing library materials.
Therefore, it was proposed that the Library’s operations should be automated. An integrated library system (ILS) is usually comprised of a relational
database, software to act on that database, and two graphical user interfaces (one for patrons OPAC, one for
staff). Most integrated library systems (ILS) separate software functions into discrete programs called modules,
which are then integrated into a unified interface. Examples of modules include: acquisitions (ordering,
receiving, and invoicing materials), cataloguing (classifying and indexing materials), circulation (lending
materials to patrons and receiving them back), serials (tracking magazine and newspaper holdings), and the OPAC
(public interface for users). Each patron and item has a unique ID in the database that allows the integrated
library system (ILS) to track its activity.
History of Library
Librarians are known to have been some of the early entrants in the
use of Computers
Martin, S.K. (1986), Library Networks
Library automation activities started during
the 1950s and 1960s in the US
and UK respectively. During that period, library
systems were developed locally on mainframe
computers of parent organizations using local programming language expertise.
The first phase was experimental during the 1960s and was largely
characterized by in-house developed systems. The second phase was in the 1970s when the off-the- shelf turnkey systems were introduced.
This phase was enhanced by the development of micro computer technology, which propelled computing into the public domain due to lowered
costs. During this period library cooperative schemes consolidated their position in the automated library
market place. The third phase started in the 1980s which saw the emergence of the off-the-shelf integrated
systems offering circulation, acquisitions, serials control, cataloguing and online public access with all
modules sharing a common database.
The emergence of the Internet during 1990s
added various options for libraries to automate. During the later part of 1990s, library systems have been
developed increasingly as gateways (internet) to external databases. Developments in information technology have
enhanced the openness of the library systems to Internet and occasioned evolution of digital libraries across
the world. The concept of digital libraries is used interchangeably with electronic, virtual library or library
without walls in literature.
Worth noting is the fact that some public
libraries in South
Africa started automating some of their library
functions in the 1970s. This is over a decade later than the US and UK libraries. One of the earliest librarys to automate in South Africa was
the eThekwini Municipal Library in 1987.
Proprietary (Commercial) or Open Source ILS
Today proprietary software suppliers sell
packaged integrated library systems (ILS) and configure it to the users needs. The supplier installs, trains,
gives ongoing maintenance/technical support and include software upgrades. Training,
implementation and support are important factors in integrated library system (ILS) selection.
See Open Source library systems
Service Level Agreement
Service level agreement is a key issue in
management of IT services, ensuring that agreed services are delivered when and where they are supposed to be delivered. The service
level agreement is dependent upon all the other areas of service delivery providing the necessary support that
ensures the agreed services are provided in an efficient, secure, and cost effective
manner. A comprehensive service level agreement is
an essential requirement for the provision or receipt of any important service. It quite simply defines the
parameters for the delivery of that service, for the benefit of both parties. See Minimum Standards and Features
for Purchase of ILS
Hardware maintenance and
Hardware maintenance and the network
infrastructure is not usually included in the software agreement. Minimum specifications are given by
vendor to client to ensure that the hardware and network specifications are met.
PCs, Printers, and Other Devices:
The public library integrated library systems (ILS) can
support anything from 1 to 1000 PCs depending on the software and hardware. Usually a few PC’s and printers are
there to provide direct use for the public library’s patrons/users (online public access to the catalogue, PCs with
word processing and access to the internet, etc.), with the majority ICT equipment used to support library staff
Budget cuts over the past few years have
disrupted many public libraries 3 year replacement schedule for replacing PCs and other technology assets;
restoring this replacement schedule will be a challenge for most library's. Most public libraries
in South Africa have standardized new hardware purchases in-line with the ICT
department’s procurement policies (e.g., HP Laser Jet printers and HP photocopiers). Older IT equipment/devices
from other manufacturers is still in use and will gradually be phased out as the maintenance warranty
The public library’s network
enables communication between the main and branch libraries that are in different locations:
Local Area Network (LAN)
Wide Area Network (WAN)
Internet connectivity especially access for the
Web OPAC, is of key importance. Web library systems facilitate access to information resources across the
Internet. In spite of the large number of public library services indicating that they had access to Internet
facilities, only a few are providing Web-based information services to library users. The web (internet
connectivity) is not yet used to provide information services at most public libraries in South Africa. The
value that can be added to information provision is not exploited e.g., library web sites, where they exist,
tend to be duplications of existing library brochures. The following internet connectivity bandwidth is used by public libraries
in South Africa:
56K dial-up connection
128K ISDN line
LAN/WAN (fibre cable)
Broad overview and
insight into the complexity and interrelatedness
of the integrated library database and the library operations
A library system has two primary databases:
1) Bibliographic database that
stores records of material provided by a library. Within the database are the following record types:
bibliographic records describing each title or piece
of information in the library catalogue
authority records providing references or links from
alternative names, subject, and titles
order records, tracking items, being
item or holding records identifying each copy a
serial check in records and tracking
community information and digitization.
2) Patron database
patron records identify each patron/borrower/user,
interact with item records, and store statistics
item records interact with patron/borrower/user
records, storing the checked out items, and due date for each circulation.
In an integrated library system, all the
different modules can access the bibliographic records. Transactions such as editing a record or a circulation
action on a record takes place immediately and the changes made to the updated record can be seen from all
modules on the integrated library systems (ILS).
Data are stored in two
1) Fixed fields: contain fixed-length
data such as dates, library codes, fund codes stored in the system data tables, e.g., vendors and fund codes in
2) Variable-length fields: contain
data in a specific format e.g., Patron/borrower/users name, address, bibliographic titles, authors or free text
for internal notes.
Most integrated library systems (ILS) can
generate standard, predefined reports and customized reports according to the library’s statistical and
See Minimum Standards and Features
for Purchase of ILS
integrated library systems (ILS)
Though it is normal to change systems largely
because of obsolescence, reasons that have been given indicate that most libraries are not happy with the performance of the integrated library systems (ILS).
Lack of or poor support from the vendor, technical problems with the system and sustainability.
Consequently the current system needs to be replaced with one that meets the needs of the public library and
their services. However, considering migrating to a new automation system because of lack of adequate support
from the vendor will be a waste of ICT funds and resources.
The question of digital divide has appeared in library and information
science literature frequently as impacting negatively on the provision of library and information services. The digital divide is a disparity in
access to ICT between countries and communities.
The causes of digital divide
include, but are not limited to:
high cost of access
inappropriate or weak policy regimes
inefficiency in the provision of telecommunication
language divides, and lack of locally created
The divide creates an environment where the
disadvantaged groups in society are unable to contribute to and benefit from the information age and global
communities created by the Internet.
The question of the digital divide phenomenon
and its implications for the provision of information services should concern information professionals with
regard to how it should be addressed. The digital divide, if it is not addressed, has the negative impact
on the provision of information services of under-utilization of information resources and information
The emerging information society is
characterized by the rapid growth and use of information and the widespread exploitation of various ICT
information sources. In an information society, people have multi-sectoral needs and the manner in which they
find information is crucial for their advancement. It is important for them to know and appreciate their
information needs, where to get the information, how to get the information, and in the end, how to use it
critically. Lack of information literacy inevitably hampers effective survival in an information society
Public Library’s ICT Plans
Technology plans need to be reviewed
continuously to ensure that service goals are being fulfilled while also meeting the demands of emerging ICT
technologies. This should be done in conjunction with the ICT department, library professionals
(Systems Librarian), the library staff, library board, and members of the community so that newer technologies
are synchronized with patron/borrower/user’s needs.
For the cost-effective implementation of ICT, libraries need strategic plans, looking at least five years ahead,
with objectives that meet expected patron/borrower/user’s needs.
Barriers to Information Communication Technologies
The introduction and effective use of ICT in
public library services in South
Africa is being hampered by a number of factors.
Most of the cases indicate a lack of adequate funding and; in some cases; a lack of commitment from Local
Municipal Councils in the deployment of ICT in their public libraries. Public library services are generally
poorly funded, and as a result a large number of them depend on external assistance and funding for their ICT
Lack of budget and resources for ICT. Annual costs
relating to ICT in public library services include the costs of hardware and software maintenance and
upgrading, software licence fees, internet access fees, and telecommunications charges. Some libraries
meet these costs from their budgets, while in other cases, the costs are taken care of by the
information and communication technology (ICT) department of the local
Lack of ICT department support at some of the
municipalities creates problems, especially when the library does not have a Systems Librarian to keep equipment operational. Small
technical problems often mean that libraries are not able to use their equipment because they have to
wait for an IT technician. Because the ICT department is a separate department from the public
libraries (usually in another building) there is no immediate onsite IT support and these delays are
sometimes very long, and both librarians and the patron/borrower/users are disadvantaged.
Lack of ICT qualified staff in the
Reluctance among staff and management to use
Library lacks updated ICT
Difficulties in training library staff in appropriate
ICT skills. Management needs to increase the technology knowledge and skills of all library staff. They
should identify and provide training opportunities for ‘electronic services’ staff (should be
Burglaries, Theft of computer equipment has become an
obstacle to service delivery at public libraries in South Africa as it sometimes
takes several weeks to replace vital computer
Very few Local Municipal Councils have Systems
Librarians/Technical Librarians positions in their libraries structure (mostly due staff budget constraints) and
that is also probably why Local Municipal public libraries are left behind as far at technology is
concerned. As mentioned above, this also leads to non-delivery of services as the absence of a Systems
Librarian/Technical Librarian and the staff’s lack of appreciable knowledge of simple troubleshooting methods
result in a lot of time-wasting. Jobs have to be put on hold while waiting for an IT
Public libraries, are adopting modern
information and communication technologies, including the use of the Internet and e-mail. However, the use of
ICT in automating library functions (integrated library systems) and the provision of digital information
services is very limited in some public libraries in South Africa.
Unfortunately, public library services are
understaffed for various reasons, among them poor conditions of service and incentives. The ratio of
professional librarians and information staff to the number of registered library users is not encouraging. In
most public libraries information resources and equipment are inadequate therefor working in public
libraries in South
Africa is a difficult challenge. Most public
library services do not have budgets for ICT, and the lack of funds is the major barrier to the deployment of
ICT in public libraries. In most cases, funding for the acquisition of ICT is provided by local and
international funding agencies. However, some public libraries in South Africa are
also benefiting from funding provided by the provincial library services.
There are many variations
in South Africa’s library automation environment with various public libraries at
different stages of deploying ICT. The use of commercially available integrated library management systems is
largely limited to larger Local Municipal Councils in South Africa.
See Public Library Automation
Although public libraries are best placed to
serve as universal access points to global information in their communities, because of barriers mentioned, many
public libraries in South Africa have been unable to
take advantage of ICT facilities to play this role and benefit their communities. It is important that the public
libraries reassess the importance and necessity of IT in order for them to determine the effort needed to
bring about desired change to enhance access to resources within public libraries and make use of integrated
library systems (ILS) in their libraries. The alternative is to do nothing about it and risk becoming irrelevant in
the emerging global information society.