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Purchasing an ILS (Parts 5 & 6): Request demos and test systems

Most vendors want to demo their product with you. After you’ve developed your shortlist, get in touch with each vendor and set up a demo time. During the demo, the vendor will take you through a “mock” library collection automated with the system, and highlight the systems’ major features and capabilities. Please be aware: they will not show you any system glitches, and you can be guaranteed that they exist! So, definitely don’t make your decision based on the demo alone…ask to test the system.

Most, if not all vendors, will provide you with an opportunity to test their system. If they’re not open to this, I would recommend dropping them from the shortlist. Why pay 10K+ for a system that you can’t test?

The test environment will likely mimic the demo environment. The vendor will provide you with a login and password for a “mock” automated library. You may even get the login and password for the demo. The vendor may also provide you with a manual that explains how to do some basic test tasks. This support is particularly useful, however, only one vendor provided this to me. With the others, I was “left to my own devices”, which wasn’t a huge problem, but it meant that I couldn’t go off on my own, test, test, test, and then get back to them. I had to communicate with them throughout the testing process, which consumed much more time, and I had to wait for them to respond to my questions. 

Take your time testing the system aspects that will be particularly important to your library context. How do you do this?

  • Develop a list of activities that you commonly conduct or plan to conduct if you are automating your system for the first time (e.g., add a new bibliographic record, search the catalogue from the OPAC and administrative sides, add a new library patron, etc.)
  • Develop an ILS Matrix listing each activity and the systems being tested
  • Develop a scale to represent the usability of the system as it relates to each activity (e.g., 1 = very usable, 4 = not usable)
  • Conduct each activity
  • Plot your perceptions of the system in the matrix

After you review each system, you’ll have a completed matrix where you can conduct a comparative analysis of the systems. This “big picture” view will be very useful when making your decision.

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