Library to receive grant for software upgrade

The College was awarded a grant to possibly begin updating the library’s system software. On Sept. 25 the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent agency of the federal government, announced the College would receive a $24,417 grant in order to investigate the development of an open source Integrated Library System (ILS).

The College itself will be contributing $11,949 to the project in matching funds. The College will collaborate with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, William Paterson University and Rutgers University to explore the feasibility of a system that will share resources and services with academic libraries across New Jersey.

The project was initially proposed in April by Edward Corrado, systems librarian at the College, during a retreat for the Virtual Academic Library Environment (VALE), a consortium of academic libraries in New Jersey. The grant proposal to ILS was submitted in January of this year.

Taras Pavlovsky, dean of the College’s library, said the move is part of an effort to free the College from dependence on legacy library management software. Such licensed software is both more expensive in the long term, compared to open source solutions, and puts the College “at the mercy” of slower-moving software companies, Pavlovsky said. Those companies, according to Pavlovsky, take feedback from customer institutions like the College annually, and use their own discretion in implementing new features and functionalities.

“They might get a list of a hundred priorities, and they might develop priority 52 and 73, for example,” Pavlovsky said. In contrast, an open source platform will give the College “the flexibility to respond,” to develop and implement features according to its own schedule. Moreover, according to Pavlovsky, the number of commercially available software packages has been diminishing, leaving the College with fewer options. The library has been using its second generation of management software since 1980.

While “it’s unlikely that (an open source ILS) is going to change the way students use (the library’s) system,” at least in the short term, Pavlovsky said, there are a couple of benefits that could arise from a new ILS.

While the College can currently make minor, cosmetic changes to the library’s Web-based interface, an open source platform could allow the College to develop a far more “interactive, Web 2.0 catalog site,” Pavlovsky said.

Additionally, since the open source ILS will include “a shared patron database,” a student from the College visiting another school’s library could be able to easily check material out, Pavlovsky said. The open source software package could be adopted by all of VALE’s member institutions, which includes almost all of New Jersey’s academic libraries. The most notable exception is Princeton University, a school that has not joined VALE, according to the consortium’s Web site. It is possible that public libraries in New Jersey could also adopt the software package that results from this program, Pavlovsky said.

The grant money will be spent, according to Pavlovsky, in three areas. The first of these is buying a server and testing and modifying Evergreen, an open source ILS developed by the George Public Library Service. According to the grant’s proposal, Evergreen was tailored for Georgia’s public library system, and therefore requires a good deal of modification to suit the needs of the College and VALE as a whole. The College is also hoping to host a symposium of leading open source ILS experts.

Finally, a small portion of the funding will be spent on sending some officials of the College’s library to Access 2007, an annual conference held in Canada about library technology.

The project was originally expected to last through December, in order to be able to submit a full proposal with the project’s findings for widespread implementation and development. However, according to Pavlovsky, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has recently expressed interest in the study, and so the project’s timeline has been extended to March or April, with the hopes of being able to secure additional funding from the foundation.