Library Automation at the Statewide Scale

By Marshall Breeding |

This column appears in the Nobember 2010 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter. To read more from Marshall Breeding on mobile library technology and other facets of the library automation industry, you can purchase this issue or subscribe to Smart Libraries Newsletter at

Computing platforms available today can scale almost infinitely, remov¬ing technical limits that previously may have constrained the number of librar¬ies that can share common infrastructure, such as an integrated library system. Munic¬ipal or county library systems and regional consortia routinely share an ILS. Recently, some libraries have begun to strive for state¬wide sharing of library automation systems.

The state of Delaware recently achieved an important milestone in resource sharing through the comple¬tion of a project to bring all of the public libraries in the state under a single auto¬mation system. The Delaware Library Catalog, based on a shared SirsiDynix Symphony ILS, provides the automa¬tion infrastructure supporting a multi-type consortium of throughout the state spanning 52 facilities, including public, academic, school, and special libraries. This consortial ILS has been in place for over 5 years, including most, but not all the public libraries in Delaware. In recent months the remaining 13 libraries joined in, most moving from independent Sirsi¬Dynix Horizon systems. The consortium also includes the four campuses of Dela¬ware Technical and Community College, Wesley College, and the University of Wilmington, which also has four campus libraries. Richard James, the Administra¬tive Librarian for the Delaware Division of Libraries, headed the effort to migrate the remaining libraries.

This project stands out in that it pro¬vides a comprehensive statewide auto¬mation environment for public libraries, each under the control of its local gov¬ernment. The Delaware Library Cata¬log is a true consortium of public and other libraries, though it is managed by the Delaware Department of Librar¬ies. Though Delaware, with a popula¬tion of less than one million, is a very small state (45th out of 50), bringing all of its public libraries, plus others, into a single shared system stands as a major accomplishment. Vermont, by contrast ranks 49th in population, and has over 60 separate ILS implementations in opera¬tion, and as many as 100 libraries with no automation.

Comprehensive statewide library automation is not unprecedented. All of the fifty-one public libraries in Hawaii, for example, are all part of the centrally managed Hawaii State Public Library System, which has been in place since 1983. Hawaii has carried this statewide system through multiple gen¬erations of ILS products, beginning with a Ulisys system, and moving through Dynix and DRA, and now sharing a SirsiDynix Horizon ILS.
The WYLDCAT, the Wyoming Libraries Database, shares a SirsiDynix Symphony ILS among over 100 libraries in the state, including all 23 county library systems, as well as sev¬eral community colleges, school districts and special librar¬ies. This automation project has been underway since its 1983 implementation of a GLIS system from Geac, replaced by a system from DRA in the mid 1990s, and onto its current plat¬form in 2002.
In Rhode Island, all 50 public library systems partici¬pate in Ocean State Libraries, sharing a Millennium ILS from Innovative Interfaces.

Other projects are underway that aim toward state-wide scope. The PINES consortium in Georgia, for example, serves 282 libraries with the open source Evergreen ILS it developed. PINES does not include many of the population centers of the state, including Atlanta - Fulton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County, and others. In Canada, British Columbia is working toward a province-wide implementation of Evergreen, with 66 out of 252 libraries currently participating.
A more nascent statewide effort was recently announced in Pennsylvania. An initial group of libraries participating in a shared Millennium ILS hosted by HSLC, will migrate to Ever¬green with a VuFind discovery layer later in 2010, paving the way for additional migrations in the coming years. Though the project has ambitions toward statewide participation, its success will depend on attracting independent library systems to shift from other systems.

As libraries plan strategies for automation, it’s interesting to consider the practical limits of shared automation systems. Here in the United States, we can see several examples of shar¬ing at the state-wide level. We see some longstanding projects, some emerging only recently, and spanning organizational con¬figurations from centralized to consortia of independent librar¬ies, some multi-type and some homogeneous. Most of these projects are based on proprietary ILS products, though recent efforts rely on open source software.