Library Systems and Systems Librarians

a data general mini computer tape deck from the 1990's

20th Century tech

Back in the day Libraries generally had one main computer system; this was the Library Management System (LMS) that drove the core back and front end operations and services. In the late 1980’s and early ’90’s ours ran on a computer the size of a fridge freezer that lived in the basement of Kenrick. It was temperamental, fiddly to operate and required a fair amount of care and attention. It took several of the tapes in this photo to back up the data every morning, so someone had to be on hand to remove each tape and load up the next one until the process was finished.

In 2012 we have any number of computer systems running the myriad services that we offer, but we still have an LMS at the centre of things. These days it’s called Alto, and it’s this that the Systems Librarians look after. For the time being it still runs on a computer in the basement of Kenrick (it’s a lot smaller than a fridge freezer), but in our highly connected times it could just as well run on a remote or virtual server anywhere in the world.

As well as Alto Chris & I have responsibility for Prism, the RFID and EM driven self service kiosks, Sentry at Kenrick, and our venerable reading list system.

“Looking after” the LMS essentially means making sure that the systems are all functioning correctly and are available to staff and Library users when and where they are needed. Beside the basic technical stuff of dealing with software updates, managing the day to day running and troubleshooting problems the work is largely based around communication and liaison; we spend a lot of time discussing the ever changing business requirements of Library and Learning Resources with colleagues, then trying to ensure that the systems are configured to support these. We work with our external system suppliers so that they are aware of our business and our development needs, and we liaise very closely with our colleagues in CICT so that they understand what the Library wants to do, and are able to provide the infrastructure that we need to deliver our services.

A key area for us is to develop and improve the integration of our systems into the overall IT infrastructure of the University so over the last few years we’ve seen a Library widget launched in the iCity portal, and we’ve introduced an epayment option for Library fines, based on the University’s online shop. We’ve improved the ways in which we take and use information from the Student Records System, and we will shortly be starting to develop for the first time some links  between Alto and the HR system that will allow us to manage Library records for University staff more effectively.

The eLibrary team covers a lot of ground, and like the rest of the team I regularly get the opportunity to be involved with projects outside the core work that I do. This year I’ll be working alongside colleagues to help ensure that Summon is as good as we can make it when we launch in the Autumn, and I’m representing us on a large project currently underway across the University to deliver an integrated Access Control System for the TEE, the Mary Seacole Building, and for the new building currently going up in the City Centre.

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