NoW That’s What I Call a Library Management System. . . .

NHS libraries join together to bring a larger pool of resources to patrons and hospital staff.

When libraries join together, patrons gain access to more resources.

If there’s one thing I think every library service in the world would agree on, it’s that we all have to stretch our resources to within an inch of their natural lives. Even with the most careful management, it’s a rare service that has enough budget to purchase all the resources required.

Why Ten Years?

For those who work in a health or science-related service in particular, we also have to take into account the speed at which new research is published. Often, in a medical library, the guidance is to have only books and research on the shelves published within the last ten years. This varies by discipline, and there are some notable exceptions (like Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, say), but that’s the general rule of thumb. New editions of classics like Gray’s Anatomy are regularly released, and we need to make sure we’re as up to date as we can be.

I mentioned that every library has to be very careful with its budget, and in the north of England, as in many other parts of the world, different hospitals specialize in different disciplines. The Christie in Manchester, for instance, is a world-leading cancer hospital, while St James’s University Hospital in Leeds (affectionately known as “Jimmy’s”) specializes in every aspect of pediatrics.

My current employer, Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, includes a District General Hospital with many satellite sites in the community. As a general service, the Trust covers a wide range of medical specialties, with some patients being sent to more specialized hospitals if necessary (like the Christie).

Our work cycle more or less follows the academic year, from September through to June/July, although there is a particularly large changeover of physicians on rotation every August and a new intake of nurses in September. This autumn, as well as welcoming the new clinicians to the library service, we also have a new offer which is very exciting, in a librarian sort of way.


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NoW :  Nineteen NHS Libraries in the North West of England

To begin with, nineteen NHS libraries in the North West of England are joining forces to make it easier for library patrons to join their local healthcare library, transfer from one service to another, and borrow and return books. As several of the libraries are some distance apart, and opening hours vary due to staffing levels and local regulations, this should mean a better overall experience for the user. Instead of the few thousand books we have in our own collection, users will now have access to many thousands of titles. This is in addition to all the work that has been going on nationally within England to help users access online journal articles, e-books, and tool kits to help them make sure their practice is evidence-based. It should also make it easier for us to keep track of stock.

It’s Scary Being in the Pilot. . . .

As a library in the first group to migrate (we think it was alphabetical, though we’re not entirely sure. . . .), we’re in the “pilot” group. We’ve undergone training in interlibrary loans, cataloguing, recording, and updating user information and the daily reports we need to run to make sure the service runs smoothly at a daily operational level. We’ve also used it as something of a stocktaking exercise, and I can truthfully say I now know our own stock back to front, including where the gaps in coverage are. This is all the fun we get up to when colleagues from other departments think we have nothing to do as the library is quiet in terms of physical visitors. . . .

The service lead has also been involved in LMS board and steering group sessions from the start, another “behind the scenes” programme of work that isn’t always apparent to anyone who isn’t a member of library staff. Other tasks have included liaising with both IT and Information Governance to ensure compliance with data protection and other regulations.

Koha : First of Its Kind

The company chosen for the new library management system is PTFS Europe, and the system is known as Koha. It was the world’s first open-source library automation system, and I remember hearing about Koha right back in 1999/2000 when it was still very much the “new kid on the block.” I’d heard very good things about it right from the start. In Māori, the word, which is pronounced “Koh-haa,” means “gift.”

Many public library services in the UK have had combined library management systems and catalogues for over two decades, but some other sectors haven’t always moved quite as quickly in this regard. Having moved last summer from a part of England where our regional shared NHS library management system had been in place for over a decade, it was a little strange to arrive at a new service where that wasn’t the case, but so far, it’s looking good.


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Hosted in the Cloud, Access by Browsing

As it’s hosted in the cloud, it also means we can access the back-office functions from anywhere, on just about any browser, and not lose any functionality. There’s an added bonus, which is that the new LMS will be integrated with the Knowledge and Library Hub, so our users will be able to search that very user-friendly interface for books, journal articles, and full-text periodicals all at once. The Knowledge and Library Hub, which looks the same throughout England, usually goes down very well at demonstration sessions and is well-used, judging by the sets of statistics we’ve seen so far.

Of course, something that has been highlighted by the new North West library management system is just how many different cataloguing and classification practices there are. This isn’t the case only in our library; it’s across the board.

It’ll be interesting to see how that goes — is now the time to confess that “cat and class” was not my best module at library school? (At least, not the “class” part.) I’m therefore thrilled by the fact that our new shared system will make cataloguing so much more streamlined and quick. This means we’ll be able to get our lovely, shiny new stock out into circulation much faster, helping our clinical colleagues access evidence-based practice to support our patients.

So far, Koha seems easy to use, responsive, and clearly laid out (touch wood — who said librarians can be a little superstitious. . . ?). All in all, it looks like a win-win experience, and with any luck, more regional libraries will join in before too long.



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