October 29, 2014

Ebook/ILS Harmony, Resource Integration Top Customer Interests at Polaris Users Meeting

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Attendees of the annual Polaris Users Group (PUG) conference last week were given an in-depth look at the results of the ILS provider’s integration efforts with the 3M Cloud Library, as well as other new features in the system’s latest version, Polaris 4.1.

The vision for the integration effort, Polaris President and CEO Bill Schickling explained during his opening presentation, was simply to create a system that would allow patrons to check out ebooks directly from a library’s OPAC, using library authentication information and nothing more. The company talked with every major ebook aggregator to gauge interest, and ultimately began working closely with 3M on its Cloud Library application programming interface (API).

“Lucky for us, they weren’t quite all the way through their product design, and they listened to our dream and started to work with us on it,” Schickling said. “I think if you’ve seen the integration of Polaris and 3M, it is as close to our dream that we could get right now.”

The result is a system where users download an app, find their library by state, input their library card number once, and can then check out available ebook titles directly from their library’s OPAC with one click.

A few proposals for additional functionality are still being worked out, Schickling noted. For example, Polaris ultimately would like patrons to be able to look at ebook content on a public access terminal without downloading it to an ereader device. But, the partnership has been working well, and Schickling described integration as “a top priority for both businesses.”

Thanks in part to their work with Polaris, 3M earlier this week released the new open API, which will now offer similar ebook integration to all interested ILS vendors who partner with the 3M Cloud Library.

Community Resource

Polaris is has also responded to other trends within the library field. The nature of what libraries provide to their communities is evolving, noted Bob Schrier, a product analyst for Polaris. “Libraries…are doing so much more than books now. So, what we wanted to do was develop a tool that was flexible enough to be leveraged in all of these different environments.”

That tool is Community Profiles, a suite of features released last year that enable libraries to make upcoming library or community events, local organizations, and even individual people discoverable as part of a regular OPAC search.

To explain the utility of the last function, Schrier mentioned projects like humanlibrary.org, a program that encourages dialogue and improved understanding of other people and cultures by offering users the opportunity to talk informally with an actual person “on loan.” The system can also be used to personalize a library, highlighting, for example, a reference librarian with expertise in a field whenever a patron does a related search.

These community organizations and individual experts can be given permission by the library to enter and maintain their own, simple reference page and event calendar within the system. “It saves librarians a lot of time, moving from…being data entry people to taking on a more facilitative role,” Schrier explained.

Other new features include “spruced up and modernized” out- of- the- box themes with lots of administrative options for customizing the PAC’s appearance, said Product Analyst Jeanne Otten. Scrolling content carousels can also be created to showcase multiple book covers drawn from system-supplied dashboards offered in Polaris’ Power PAC, such as on-order titles, new titles, most- circulated titles by branch, best seller lists, or picks by staff.

A new “featured” function also allows librarians to highlight specific content in different contexts. Books with one word titles, like Twilight, Beloved, It, or 1984 can be pushed to the top of a search list, or the featured function can tie in with the Community Profiles function to highlight an upcoming talk by a local chef whenever patrons make searches related to cookbooks or cooking, for example.

And, the system’s Mobile PAC now has a mapping feature to help patrons find a local library branch, and a function that allows patrons to make secure payments to the library using their mobile device.

Columbus Selects Polaris

Two weeks ago, Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) became the most recent major metropolitan systems to select the Polaris ILS. CML is one of the few remaining major systems still using a proprietary, COBOL-based ILS that it had designed in-house during the late 1980s. The system is also used by Worthington Libraries and Southwest Public Libraries, both in the Columbus area.

Collection Management Director Robin Nesbitt, who is overseeing the transition from CML’s Discovery Place ILS to Polaris, told LJ that the library’s IT staff and developers had been able to keep Discovery Place up-to-date with current trends since its launch in 1988. But ever since CML’s planned move to Horizon was scuttled during the SirsiDynix merger in 2005, development of their homegrown ILS had slowed.

“Functionality has decreased, especially in the past five years, because of that,” she said.

Olympia, WA-based consultant Joseph Ford led the library through a matrix-based analysis of several ILS systems, comparing functionality, company finances, and the strategic direction of the provider. In addition, the library had several specific goals in mind, wanting a system that could offer better business intelligence, more efficiencies to its technical services department, better resource sharing, and better flexibility for its patrons.

Adopting the Polaris ILS will also allow CML, as well as Worthington and Southwest, to join Ohio’s Central Library Consortium, a 25-year old partnership that will now include 11 library systems serving 1.4 million residents across six counties with nearly 1.2 million titles, according to a recent announcement by CML.

“This ILS will give us more mobile options to interact with customers, multilingual preferences, improved catalog search capabilities and the ability to highlight community organization profiles,” CML Chief Executive Officer Patrick Losinski said in the announcement. “We are meeting our customers where they need us and aligning our technology with industry standards.”

The other eight consortium libraries have been using Polaris for three years, Nesbitt said, which will be helpful as CML transitions to the new system over the course of the next few months. For now, she’s preparing for data migration and readying staff training programs to get everything ready to go live with the new ILS by May, 2013.

“I’ve worked in this city for a long time, and it’s great to be able to open up access to all of our residents and really start broadening the reach of what people can get,” Nesbitt said. “It’s really using public dollars well, and letting customers have good access to lots of materials.”

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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