Preparing for the Future: Learning from Your ILS Transition

By John Connolly

You might be thinking of transitioning to a new Integrated Library System (ILS)… or maybe you don’t have a choice due to a contract expiration or other reason outside your control. It’s a big project, getting a library moved from one database and set of features to a completely new system.

It’s tempting to dive into the project: planning, building out requirements, or even working with finance to start working through the RFP process. This common mistake neglects a major resource for the project that should be taken into consideration early in the process: looking at the last ILS implementation that the library went through.

Every project produces what project managers call “artifacts:” documentation for project deliverables, key communications, status reports, challenges that were encountered and successfully navigated. These artifacts make up a body of knowledge and experience about the last time the organization went through such a massive project and can lend helpful insights into the process.

One of the biggest reasons to consult your project artifacts is that it’s a major difference-maker for project efficiency. Easy mistakes can be watched for and handled swiftly. Risks that could derail the project can be identified more thoroughly. The artifacts could also expose gaps in the stated needs of the project deliverable: your choice of a new system could hinge on knowing which features got missed the first time around.

Project managers will often maintain a spreadsheet or other document throughout the life of a project to gather a summary of all the snags, victories, setbacks, and successes for a project. This is usually called a “lessons learned register” and is retained with the other project documentation at the close of the project. It’s a key component of project knowledge management and is a vehicle for communicating implicit knowledge from one project manager to the next.

If you don’t have a lessons learned register from your last ILS implementation (or if you don’t have good records of the last implementation project at all), you should start one and retain it. Key project documents should be stored together, if possible, and arranged for easy access by future library project managers.

A great way to do this is through the ILS itself. You have a database, a catalog, and a way to keep records viewable and findable by staff only. The ability to attach files to the record is a plus. Many ILS products like Soutron double as a knowledge repository for the library organization itself.

As librarians, we’re all about the strategic retention and communication of information to serve the needs of library users. It’s critical that the same principles apply to the operations and projects of the library itself. By embracing good record retention and documenting the lessons of your implementation project, you will be setting the stage for a smoother and more efficient project next time.

John Connolly, PMP is a project manager, librarian, and 16-year veteran of special and public libraries. He has worked in the library software industry and in libraries as a cataloger, reference librarian, and manager. He currently manages projects for a global software company and provides consulting services on project management topics. He spent six years as the Head Librarian at a special research and museum library, and hosts our Vertical Files podcast.

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