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Illinois Heartland Library System, Largest Library Consortium in the US, Opts for Polaris for Shared Automation

Smart Libraries Newsletter [September 2012]

Breeding, Marshall.

Copyright (c) 2012 ALA TechSource

Abstract: The Illinois Heartland Library System, recently formed out of the merger of four antecedent consortia, has selected Polaris to provide its shared automation system. With a total 588 members, 450 of which will initially participate in the implementation of Polaris, aptly named SHARE (Sharing Heartland's Available Resources Equally), this consortia stands as the largest consortium in the United States in terms of libraries served.


The Illinois Heartland Library System, recently formed out of the merger of four antecedent consortia, has selected Polaris to provide its shared automation system. With a total 588 members, 450 of which will initially participate in the implementation of Polaris, aptly named SHARE (Sharing Heartland's Available Resources Equally), this consortia stands as the largest consortium in the United States in terms of libraries served.

The state of Illinois helps support regional library systems that provide services to their membership that include shared automation systems. Organizations called Local Library System Automation Programs, or LLSAPs operate these shared ILS implementations. The amount of annual funding distributed by the state to each organization is appropriated according to area and population served. This funding supports not only automation, but other services such as delivery of materials among libraries and programs such as talking books. In addition to the support received by the state, libraries also pay annual fees to the LLSAPs.

Leslie M. Bednar, Executive Director of the Illinois Hartland Library System, described a process that began in the spring of 2010 with considerations of merging the four LLSAPs in the region into a single shared automation system. As the conversations progressed, it became apparent that there would be many complications in having an automation environment shared among four different regional libraries, with the need to respond to four separate organizations each with their own governing boards, policies, and priorities. The Illinois State Library gave a directive in 2010 for the regional library systems to merge. It was determined that consolidating the four regional library systems would be an effective way to share resources, including technical expertise. None of the four LLSAPs was able to offer all of the services it desired. Each had differing levels of resources, and merging was seen as a way for the broader group to improve services with the same, or even lesser, funding levels. The four regional library systems and their corresponding LLSAP implementations included:

  • Rolling Prairie Library System, based in Decatur serving 122 member libraries spanning 264 facilities (9 academic, 46 public, 46 school districts across 151 buildings, 21 special). 83 of the libraries share a LLSAP based SirsiDynix Horizon ILS called elCAT.
  • Lewis & Clark Library System, based in Edwardsville, serving 132 members, with 61 libraries participating in a LLSAP called GateNet based on Innovative's Millennium ILS.
  • Lincoln Trails Library System, based in Champaign, serves its 117 members in east central Illinois in a LLSAP called LINC (Libraries in Cooperation) with 78 based on SirsiDynix Horizon.
  • Shawnee Library System, based in Carterville serving 219 members, operated a LLSAP called SILNET (Southern Illinois Library Network) based on Dynix Classic serving 80 libraries.

The merger of the four regional library systems into the Illinois Heartland Library System, governed by a single board and executive director, was completed on July 1, 2011. The personnel of the four organizations were combined, with operations continuing at the office locations of the antecedent organizations. The organization serves 58 counties in central and southern Illinois with a combined population of 2,248,634.

ILS Selection

The process of selecting a new automation environment for the newly consolidated Illinois Heartland Library system began after the merger, with a Request for Information issued on August 2, 2011. Following the receipt of the responses on September 2, 2011, a short list of qualified vendors, including SirsiDynix and Polaris were identified. These two vendors gave in-depth presentations of their products and on-site evaluations were conducted.

Polaris emerged as the preferred vendor, with a contract executed on July 26, 2012. Bednar noted that the products of both systems were very competitive within their process. SirsiDynix had a positive track record of service in three of the four systems. Polaris, however, ultimately emerged as more agile and able to respond to the organization's strategic priorities, such as the need to more efficiently support the delivery of materials.

SirsiDynix supports a number of very large shared automation implementations in many regions of the world. South Australia, for example, recently selected SirsiDynix Symphony for its state-wide automation project, spanning 135 public libraries serving a total population of 1,664,642 (2010). The Toronto Public Library system spans 100 facilities. The National Library of New Zealand selected SirsiDynix Symphony for the ILS component of its Kotui project to provide a shared automation environment for public libraries interested in participating. Polaris has won a number of contracts for large installations in recent years including major municipal systems such as the Boston Public Library in 2012, Denver Public Library, Phoenix Public Library, and many other smaller consortia and individual public library systems. Polaris has been one of the more successful companies in recent years in gaining new public library customers in the United States.

The consortium plans to complete the migration of the four previous systems to Polaris in the first quarter of 2013. Organizational Consolidation, Separate Automation Projects in Northern Illinois Another group of regional library systems has also recently consolidated. Reaching Across Illinois Library System, or RAILS, brought together five of the regional library systems that serve the northern section of the state in a merger that finalized in July 1, 2011. The regional library systems involved included:

  • Alliance Library System which operated an LLSAP called Resource Sharing Alliance (RSA) based on SirsiDynix Symphony.
  • DuPage Library System which managed the MAGIC (Multi-type Automation Group in Cooperation) LLSAP that uses the SirsiDynix Symphony ILS.
  • Prairie Area Library System (PALS) was formed out of a merger between Northern Illinois Library System (running Millennium), Heritage Trail (Symphony) and River Bend (Symphony) library systems in 2007. It operates a shared library system, called PrairieCat that automates 90 libraries and represents the holdings of another 110. In 2012 PrairieCat migrated from Symphony to Innovative's Sierra. Eight libraries broke away from the merger to continue with Millennium, under the name Northern Illinois Cooperative, which continues to operate Millennium.
  • Metropolitan Library System which operated the SWAN (System Wide Automated Network) LLSAP using the Millennium ILS.

This merger created a large multi-type regional library system out of several antecedent organizations, but did not result in the consolidation of the automation systems. RAILS continues to manage the four automation systems, including RSA, SWAN, PrairieCat, and MAGIC. Each of these LLSAPs are separate organizations governed by their own boards that according to Judy Hutchinson, PrairieCat LLSAP Service Manager, regularly meet to investigate options for future collaboration RAILS serves an aggregate population of 7,866,400, considerably larger than the 2,248,634 within the service area of the Illinois Heartland Library System. The Chicago Public Library, with a population of 2,695,598 falls with the geographical area served by RAILS but is a separate system.

The Largest Consortia in the US

When counting the number of libraries involved, Illinois Heartland Library System stands as the largest in the country, with 588 members. Those participating in the shared Polaris implementation include 302 library organizations spanning 450 facilities across 58 counties. The combined number of volumes to be migrated into the new Polaris system totals 9,684,487. PINES, the shared automation system in Georgia based on the open source Evergreen ILS, ranks below Illinois Heartland's SHARE in terms of number of libraries involved, but is larger in collection size and population served. Georgia Public Library System reports 10,600,000 volumes currently available in PINES libraries. All residents in Georgia are eligible for a PINES borrowing card, meaning that it theoretically serves the entire population of the state, currently 9,687,653. The urban areas of Georgia, however, operate their own library automation systems, including Atlanta—Fulton County, Cobb County, DeKalb County and several others. Subtracting the population of the counties that operate their own automation systems (4,280,907), PINES primarily serves 5,406,745—still more than double that of SHARE.

Massachusetts saw an even more aggressive consolidation of its regional library systems. In 2010, the six regional library systems, transitioned into a single organization, the Massachusetts Library System. The consortial automation systems of the regional libraries continue to operate as is. Massachusetts has also embraced open source automation on a large scale. Two of the regional systems, NOBLE (North of Boston Library Exchange) and CW/MARS (Central and Western Automated Resource Sharing) recently migrated from Millennium to Evergreen, and the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium migrated from SirsiDynix Horizon to Evergreen. The state also supports MassCat, a shared ILS based on Koha that serves smaller libraries throughout the state, with more than 70 members.

Other large implementations of shared automation systems include:

  • Hawaii, where all of the public libraries in the state share a single SirsiDynix Horizon. The Hawaii Public Library System includes 50 facilities and serves a population of about 1.3 million.
  • In Saskatchewan, the 10 regional libraries spanning over 320 facilities in the province are automated through a shared Millennium ILS. In 2011 the Saskatchewan Information & Library Services Consortium signed with Innovative to migrate to Sierra. Serving an area of about 250,000 square miles, makes it one of the largest in terms of geographic coverage. The state of Georgia covers about 60,000 square miles.
  • The Queens Borough Library System stands as the library system in the US with the highest numbers of circulation transaction with over 23 million in 2011 serving the 2.3 million residents of this borough of New York City. This municipal system supports 23 facilities and a collection of over 7 million volumes using Virtua from VTLS implemented in 2008.

In Iceland almost all of the libraries in the country participate in a shared implementation of Ex Libris Aleph in a system called Genir operated by Landskerfi bókasafna, or the Consortium of Icelandic Libraries. About 300 libraries participate in Genir.

In Chile, the public libraries throughout the country participate in a shared implementation of Aleph called BiblioRedes. The program of library automation in Chile is working toward bringing all 420 public libraries in the country on to BiblioRedes. The network recently layered a new catalog on top of the Aleph system based on VuFind.

The consolidation of the Illinois Heartland Library System and its decision to merge its members on to a single automation system contributes to a growing trend toward ever larger numbers of libraries cooperating to share strategic technology infrastructure. Polaris has built a track record to demonstrate its ability to handle ever larger automation scenarios and has reaped rewards as it steadily wins competitive procurements of increasing size. As we review other large-scale implementations, we see several other capable products, including Aleph from Ex Libris, Millennium from Innovative Interfaces, SirsiDynix Symphony, and Virtua from VTLS. This list isn't comprehensive.

Publication Year:2012
Type of Material:Article
LanguageEnglish
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 32 Number 9
Issue:September 2012
Page(s):3-5
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: Polaris Library Systems
Products: Polaris
Libraries: Illinois Heartland Library System
ISSN:1541-8820
Permalink: http://librarytechnology.org/ltg-displaytext.pl?RC=17165
Record Number:17165
Last Update:2013-12-03 18:07:10
Date Created:2012-08-28 11:59:34