Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stephen Elfstrand and MnPALS: Introduction and Summary

Hi All,

I'm Stephen Elfstrand, Executive Director of PALS; the office supporting the MnPALS Consortium of Libraries in Minnesota. I've been here nearly a year now. Many of you know me from my previous position as Head of Systems and Circulation and the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. I'm looking forward to seeing you all again at WILSWorld.

MnPALS consists of the MnSCU public higher education institutions including State Universities, Community Colleges and Technical Colleges. Basically everything except the University of Minnesota. In addition, we have several state government libraries such as the DNR and Legislative Reference Library and we have several private institutions such as St. John's / St Ben's and Gustavus Adolphus. There are 63 libraries in all. We are currently using Aleph from Ex Libris,as our library management system and have we think the largest multi-ADM environment of any Aleph site. Since Ex Libris is working on a successor product to both Aleph and Voyager, we know there is a system migration in our future.

We are investigating several approaches for Next Gen Library Systems. An example is Open Source ILSs. We recently paid Equinox and LibLime to come to our office and do two-day seminars and go into greater detail than what is available in the 1-2 hour "gee-whizz" demos we've all seen at conferences. Day one was a technical seminar that discussed HW, system architecture, development environment languages. etc. We have actually installed both on servers here. Day two was a functional review of each system and a review of the development plans. Our conclusion is that neither are really ready for a major shared system for an academic library consortium that needs a full feature set that includes Serials, Acq, ILL, Course Reserves, booking, etc. but that they are both moving in the right direction and we are tracking their developments closely.

As for discovery layers we looked seriously an Open Source product that uses SOLR and Lucene: Fac-Bac-OPAC and got fairly far along with it. Later though we looked into VUFind and thought that it had a more advanced feature set, especially for Web 2.0 features, tagging etc. So we decided to go to that as a platform. We hope to release our VUFind for use by any library that wants to use it by August 15th.

We are also brokering OCLC WorldCat Local for several libraries, so I guess we are taking a "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach to the future,rather that trying to figure out what "The Best Way" is. It is significant in this regard that we have a wide variety of libraries and so there may not be one solution that works for all. We hope at a "reference work day" next spring we can have some of our members compare and contrast VUFind and WCLocal in terms of retrieval, display and user acceptance.

We are brokering OCLC Link Manager for some of our members but we are also looking into the CUFTS open source OpenURL linking product for future use. CUFTS is also working on open source ERM and federated search tools, which we find interesting. Since state budgets for higher ed are not growing, rather the opposite and of course library services budgets are tight as well, it is unlikely that we can afford to buy Metalib or Primo - types of products. Our conclusion is that we will have to grow our own to some extent if we want to offer any beyond-the-OPAC/LMS services to our members in the future.

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