An Exciting Look into the Thrilling Life of a Library Director

I’ve been busy the last . . . half year? I have no idea. I’ve lost track, really. I’m at the point where I don’t know what day it is, or what week it is. All I know is I’ve got my life written down on my Google Calendar, and as long as I look at what’s coming up in the next few hours, I’ve been able to stay on top of things. (More or less.) I keep thinking this busy-ness is going to ebb soon, but I keep being consistently wrong. (Some of that can be seen by how sporadic the blog has become the past bit. I do think I’m getting back to normal on here, but apparently it’s going to still take a while.)

It’s not that I mind being busy. I prefer it, actually. But I also really like having some time now and then to breathe. To have a few days where I can just sit there and think things through. Plan for what’s coming. Organize. I am, after all, a librarian.

So for today’s post, I thought I might show you one of the things that’s keeping me busy at the moment, since it’s something I imagine most non-librarians would even think of. (And it’s a process that I have often wished *I* didn’t have to think of.) What is it? An RFP for a new ILS, of course.

If you’ve been around larger libraries for a while, that sentence likely makes perfect sense. Since you haven’t, let me phrase it differently. A Request For Proposals for a new Integrated Library System. That’s still not clear? Perhaps some history will clear things up.

Back in the day, libraries organized everything in those wonderful card catalogs. There was no such thing as digital. You looked things up by author, title, or subject, and you had to be in the actual library that held the book in order to find it. With the advent of digital, we were able to broaden our horizons. In Maine, a group of like-minded librarians Voltron’ed up to form URSUS, a joint catalog between the University of Maine System Libraries (Orono, Portland, Fort Kent, Presque Isle, Machias, Farmington, Augusta, and the Law Library), the Maine State Library, the Bangor Public Library, and the Law & Legislative Reference Library. The goal was simple: be able to search one catalog to find the books in any of the libraries.

To do that, you need an Integrated Library System. This is basically a platform that allows libraries to do all the things they need to do in order to buy, organize, and circulate materials. It has the public interface (the library catalog you search when you’re looking for something), but it also has modes for cataloging, purchasing, managing serials and electronic resources, and more. Often, each library will have its own. In a system, it’s shared (which makes things more complicated, as it means you have to have all the libraries agree on the rules of the system. What checks out to whom and for how long, how late items are handled, what cataloging standards you’ll have, etc.)

URSUS has had the same ILS (more or less) for decades. It’s approaching end of life (it won’t be useable a year or three from now), so we need to replace it. Enter the RFP. We drew up a (long) list of the requirements we’re looking for from a new ILS, and we sent that out to ILS companies, who took a look at what we were asking for and figured out what it would cost for them to provide it. (There aren’t really a lot of ILS providers. There have been many buyouts over the last few years, and the market has consolidated a ton. These days, there are no more than a handful.) They sent those proposals to us, and now we have to decide which one to go with.

To do that, they’re presenting the ins and outs of their ILSs to us. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and Friday, I’m in 4 hours of Zoom meetings that are basically non-stop demos of what each platform can do. You might think that sounds like a good time. You would be very, very wrong. There are around 70 librarians in the Zoom sessions, each of us with different specialities. You’ve got the catalogers who want the ILS to do awesome cataloging things. The circulation folks care about how well the ILS handles check out and check in. The reference staff want to see how easy and accurate it is to search. To make things even more complex, the academic libraries generally want different things than the public libraries in each of these different areas, so multiply the opinions by two for each.

Once these presentations are done, the library directors are each handed a Bat’leth, a curved, bilateral Klingon sword that can decapitate its victim with a single stroke. We then go into a giant fighting arena fifteen stories beneath Fogler Library at the University of Maine in Orono. Many directors enter, and 1 exits. And that director is crowned High Ruler over all of . . .

Just kidding. That’s way more exciting than what we really do, which is Zoom and email for a few more days and weeks as we collect feedback, weigh costs, and come to a consensus about what the heck we’re going to do. (Theoretically. We haven’t actually gotten that far yet, so I’m keeping my Bat’leth handy. Just in case.)

Of course, you have to remember that while all these meetings are happening, the rest of my normal job is moving forward to. Without me. Which means I have to scramble to catch up to it in all of the extra time I just have lying around.

In any case, that’s about the size of things. I have no idea if you found this remotely interesting. (Probably about as interesting as I find 4 hour Zoom meetings), but if you’re wondering why my eyes are looking a bit baggy, now you don’t have to ask . . .


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