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The Future of the Library Management System

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The Library Management System (LMS), also referred to as Integrated Library System (ILS), is the lynchpin of library automation. Yet Marshall Breeding, library technology guru and one of the main writers on the subject, forecast its demise at the American Library Association's Midwinter 2012 meeting (Rapp, 2012).

This article looks at trends in LMS, and examines whether the above claim has any truth in it.

LMS – Definitions and background

The LMS, or ILS as he refers to it, is succinctly defined by Müller (2011: p.57) as "multifunction, adaptable software applications that allow libraries to manage, catalog and circulate their materials to patrons".

This definition neatly encapsulates the twin functions of the LMS: backend, automating the library's management of its collection, and front end, discovery focused, enabling patrons to browse and use its collection.

LMS software therefore has complex requirements, and must be flexible.  Its heyday was in the early 2000s, when many libraries migrated from their legacy software.

As libraries evolved to the demands of the 21st century however, requirements became ever more complex. All libraries have to deliver to the patron whenever, wherever, and increasingly on whatever platform he or she chooses, including mobile devices.

Public libraries need to offer self-service, and services need to be shared over a complex system of branches and sub branches. Academic libraries need to showcase, and provide easy access to, their expensive range of electronic products, which are frequently deployed over large consortia. In many cases they also need to store their patrons' work in institutional repositories.

No wonder then that Müller qualified his definition by urging users to look not only at performance and efficacy, but also at their flexibility and ability to adapt to current and future demands of patrons (Müller, 2011: p.57).

Breeding would agree with this, but doubts whether conventional LMS systems are up to the job.  They are, he maintained at Midwinter ALA, neither integrated nor comprehensive enough to deliver the services that the modern academic library needs to provide - "it takes maybe eight or nine or ten different application … to do the things that academic libraries do." (Rapp, 2012).

Are we seeing the demise of the LMS as we know it, and the disintegration into a number of different systems?