The Inside Guide to the Cornell Library Continues…

Today, we continue the series the Inside Guide to the Cornell Library with former expressive arts therapist turned ILS administrator, Lisa Donadio.

Read on to learn more about the complex behind the scenes work that happens every day to make the library function, as well as some of the exciting technological advances coming to library cataloging and library systems. Can you imagine library catalogs being social—like the experience of Amazon—with reviews, comments, tagging and more? Lisa thinks this experience is not too far away!

Lisa, for those outside the library bubble, your title may seem a bit mysterious. What do you do exactly in Collections Management as the ILS administrator?                                                                                                      First of all, it would help to know what ILS stands for because that is cryptic. ILS is an Integrated Library System. This system is the back end and the front end of a database of library information and manages how users interact with the database.

For students and other patrons, the front of the ILS is the OPAC—JULIEN, the library’s online catalog—where people can search for materials. The back end of the database is the part the staff uses and there are all sorts of what we call “modules” in the ILS. The Circulation module, the acquisitions module, the serials module and the cataloging module,all access the same database in a specialized way. I am the administrator of this system.

That means I install software updates, and trouble-shoot all sorts of wacky things that go on with the software. I am the liaison with the vendor of the software, which is Integrated Interfaces Incorporated (III). I help train the staff to use the modules, and, if we get new software components, I install them and teach people how to use them.

This system is crucial to the library operation; so you have a very important job with a lot of responsibility.                                                          Yes, and in addition to what I just described, I also order, receive, claim, prepare invoices for, and catalog monographs. Monographs are books which you receive one time, as opposed to the things the library receives on a recurring basis like magazines and law reviews. Beth Sullivan and Jane Howe deal with that fun stuff!

Out of curiosity, did you come to this position with a technical sort of background? What were you doing before?                                         I did not come with any kind of library background whatsoever, except I did do some volunteer work at my public library as a teenager, and was a heavy user of the library when I did my graduate work—so no. Prior to this, I was an expressive arts therapist.

So this job was definitely a huge change!                                                            Yes, it was a very large career change. I did not start out doing all things that I listed for you. I started off as a Technical Services Assistant. At that time I helped check in serials and open the mail, and I did some processing of government documents. Things have evolved over time—people left, positions got consolidated—and I’ve just been adding responsibility over the years.

That is very impressive!                                                                                                    I’ve had a lot of training, learning on the go, and teaching myself whatever I could.

Why does a library need an Integrated Library System?                   That is a good questions, because people might think, “Ha, everything is on Google, what do you need that for?!” There really are a number of reasons.

An ILS takes all of the information stored in a database and presents in a way that assists the user with their task. For instance, the people in circulation are really interested in the patron information and who has what checked out, and how many renewals, and that kind of information. So the circulation module presents them with that part of the information from the database. Whereas in acquisitions, we are interested in how much we paid for a book, how many of our funds have been expended, or which vendor we used to purchase a particular title.  The acquisitions module tracks the financial portions of database. The cataloging portion of the ILS is more about metadata, which is data about data. Cataloging is taking a book and describing it in a way that people can find it in the catalog instead of just slapping it on the shelf and saying, “good luck, hope you can find that green book.” So overall, the system collates all the information necessary for the library to function and presents it to different kinds of users in a way most relevant to their needs.

What are the trends in cataloging?                                                                                A trend going forward in libraries is to allow user tagging, the way you do in Amazon, or social networking sites, for example. In libraries this information would be indexed, along with the Library of Congress Headings. I think the trend will be to partially open cataloging to more to users, instead of the task being strictly controlled by cataloging staff. The Cornell Library is not doing this just yet because our ILS system is not in a position to take that information and store it to be retrievable, but such updates are on the horizon. In the future, you will likely see controlled subject headings, which are useful, as well as the tags which are created by regular people.

How do you keep up with what goes on in the cataloging world?             I read a lot of library and technology blogs to keep up with what is going on, as well as more formal library technology reports. I’ve also recently been participating in Webinars—which are generally an hour in length, and are recorded, so you can go back and listen to them again. Webinars—which don’t require travel time—have really helped me keep up with everything because things are really changing fast.

(One blog Lisa follows is rural Vermont Librarian Jessamyn West )

What are some of the changes and advances with ILS and cataloging you foresee being implemented in libraries within the next 2-3 years?                                                                                                                                                    It is hard to predict what will happen, but the big buzzword right now is “open source software.”

Our ILS software is what is called a proprietary system, which means that the vendor has control over the code which we do not see and they maintain the server. There are pros and cons to this model. It means that we are paying the vendor to do all the work for us. I load software releases, and I troubleshoot minor problems, but largely, they are the ones doing the work to create the code and solve the large programming problems. The downside to this model is that we cannot make structural changes to the software, but must rely on the vendor to do so.

Opensource software, on the other hand, is software that is created by   everyone—everyone can contribute to the code, and everyone can change the code —which is great. Opensource library software is currently very bare bones compared to proprietary systems, but with lots of people adding to the code all around the world, the good news is that it is growing in functionality all the time, and is based on information standards which makes them very interoperable with other systems. The downside is that you have to have a lot of high-level tech skills to know how to manipulate the code and operate both the back end and the front end of the software.  Opensource can also be very buggy, with so many people working on it at one time.

I am keeping my eye on those systems because they may stabilize and get to a point where we would gain functionality by switching from proprietary software to opensource software. If we switched now, we would lose a lot of our current functionality, so it is our best interest to stay with the robust system that we have.

 In the future, opensource catalogs, which allow for social interaction amongst users, are going to make a big difference for library users. Users will be able to tag information, create reviews, create lists of things which they are interested in, and share those with others users. Also, with the development of standards, software is going to allow all sorts of information to stream in from other sources and make it a more social experience. I think this is the future of the library, geared more toward the users. I am really excited.

What are some of the challenges you face in your position?              One of the main challenges is making incompatible systems and technology work and talk with one another. Data is stored in many different formats and one of my jobs is to try to make them work together.  The good news is that in the future, since people are more focused on standards, data will be able to move from one platform to another with much greater ease.

What book are you reading now?  I know you are a huge reader!I can’t give you one answer because I am always reading more than one book at a time. I am reading a biography of Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee. Edith Wharton is one of my favorite authors and she had a very interesting life, so I am enjoying that book.  I also am also reading  Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. And since I just returned from vacation in Key West, where we visited Ernest Hemingway’s house, I am looking forward to re-reading some Hemingway.

Lisa’s final words of wisdom…                                                                                             I encourage people to spend a lot of time in the library! We’ve got a lot of resources and we’ve worked hard to make it available to the community. The librarians are unbelievably helpful and friendly. We like to see people here! And although I rarely get to see anyone because I am mostly behind the scenes, I still think it is great when I walk through the library and there are a lot of people engaged with what they are doing!