A Library Management System (LMS) gives access to and manages the resources in your library.​ A well-chosen system will increase your library’s efficiency, save valuable administration time, lead to a better educational experience for pupils and help develop independent learning.

A typical computerised LMS has the following functions/modules as standard:

  • cataloging
  • circulation – this not only deals with the borrowing and returning of materials but also renewals, the management of overdues and user records
  • report and statistic generation of various library activities
  • administration – so you can configure the system to your school’s own needs e.g. create IDs and passwords, establish user classes and set loan periods etc
  • OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue) –  this is an online database of all materials held in the library which is made public so users can search and locate books for reading teaching and learning purposes The OPAC also lists the number of items available, whether they are in the library or out on loan, and their call number. 

Choosing a new LMS is probably one of the biggest and most expensive projects you will ever have to undertake but thankfully you will probably only have to do it once or twice in your whole career! Rarely these days is one starting from scratch and automating for the first time. Usually it is done to upgrade an existing system, or to switch to another because you are dissatisfied with what you are presently using. If your reason is the latter do take care to read the small print in your contract to find out how much notice you are required to give the company. For example MLS ask for 90 days notice. Failure to do this properly could result in loosing a whole year’s subscription. Make sure the new system you select, meets your users’ needs and provides fast, efficient and user- friendly access to resources both physical and digital.

Choosing a new LMS is a complex process requiring careful planning and specialist knowledge so it is a good idea to involve your school’s IT manager right from the very beginning so you are aware of what technology constraints there might be. Involving IT, however, is also a balancing act: sometimes IT managers want to steer the whole project and over-complicate things. The procurement process is at best a collaboration: when it comes to assessing the actual functionality, librarians are best qualified to make the final decision about a system, as long as it fits in with the organisation’s general IT strategy and is compatible with the school’s existing technology

Take time to list what you need a new system to do and what your present system doesn’t offer or doesn’t do well. Be clear about your objectives and functional requirements before you start searching the internet and visiting trade shows to get an idea of what is available. You also can’t beat “word-of mouth” recommendations, so ask around and visit other libraries to see products in action. But do remember – just because another organisation has chosen a system, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the right one for you.  Don’t be afraid to pioneer a new system if it seems right for you and it meets your objectives. But remember to ask for customer references & reviews!

Check-list for selecting a library management system

Most systems offer pretty much the same sort of thing things in terms of basic functionality – it is more the way they deploy that functionality that varies and that may be down to what you prefer or what suits your school’s needs. The rule of thumb usually is the less you pay the less functionality you will get!

Cost – you will be working to a strict budget so always ask the vendors for a rough price or ballpark figure, and make sure you know what is included in that price. There are often discounts to be had, although these are not necessarily advertised, so do ask! Don’t forget to consider the initial costs (set-up fee, installation, data conversion and training, bar code scanners etc.) as well as the on-going costs (annual subscription, support desk fee etc.).

If you are a multi-campus school – will the system cater for this?  Can you treat each campus as a separate entity but still search across the sites and be able to return items at any of the sites

User-friendly- it is important to consider who will be using the system and what they will be using it for.  A safe, user-friendly and logical management system enables it to be used by children as well as non-library staff. This is particularly important if  you rely on periods of self-issue when the library is unmanned. Most of us also do not have enough spare time to learn how to use some complicated system!

Sales dept – are the sales associates friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and willing to respond to your calls and emails in a timely manner? Are they willing to go the extra mile and provide you with the resources to help you fully investigate their system? Do they encourage their potential customers to speak to existing users, not only to endorse the product, but to provide an insight into the company itself. Is it reputable?

Technical support – is the technical support team available when you need them or will you have to wait a long time for a response? Can you reach them by phone, email and/or live chat? How easy will it be to install updates and upgrades? Or will the system be hosted outside the school thereby reducing reliance on the school’s IT Dept?

Start- up services – do they provide support in getting your library data and user information converted to a format compatible with their system? Is this remote and /or on-site? How quickly can it be done? How much disruption will it cause?

Trial demo – can they offer you a fully functional trial version of their software to test drive and/or offer a live demonstration?

Training – what are the options for training? How many people can be involved? How much will it cost? It may be worth remembering that, depending on the product you choose, your local Schools Library Service can offer training at a very competitive rate!

Customizable – will you have the capability to customize the look and functionality of reports, templates, and the catalogue, or are you stuck with pre-set formats?

Flexibility – can you buy a basic package and then add extra components or enhancements as and when required or when more funding becomes available? Are there ‘extras’ that are desirable that you might want to purchase later after you are completely set-up? Or do you have to buy everything at once? Does the system support expansions/ upgrades? Is there an option to be cloud based?

Compatibility and digital integration –  is it compatible with the school’s existing operation systems e.g. learning platform/ VLE and management information system (MIS) so you can transfer pupil data easily, email overdues? Can you link it to the school’s website? If you use Accelerated Reader does it include this information? Does it let you access the major e-book platforms e.g. Overdrive and primary school curriculum approved websites. Does it have its own app? How easy is it to catalogue – where does it draw automated cataloguing records from and what quality do you get i.e. how much time is spent editing.

Exciting additional features – these may include: book covers,  reviews, author videos, barcode and label printing facilities, features to support reading activities etc

In addition to this general list of suggestions, you may have unique questions and concerns specific to your particular library.

Don’t forget too that for a small fee your local Schools Libary Services can also help you choose a LMS that best suits the needs of your school and your budget

Some Library Management Systems available: 

There are a number of library management systems on the market and this is by no means a comprehensive list, but many of the systems listed below are presently used by LIPSSEE members who could be contacted for feedback.


(Posted by Denise Reed on 13 November 2017)



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