Orbis-Cascade Summit

By Jennifer Gonzalez

This program at the 2014 AALL Annual Conference was an open and honest discussion on the challenges of creating a shared catalog among many libraries.  Three speakers from the University of Washington Gallagher Law Library shared their view of the Alliance, specifically illuminating their struggles and how reality was different from what they expected.

The Orbis-Cascade Alliance is a partnership between 37 academic libraries (both public and private) in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington that will share an Integrated Library System —both the front end and back end.  The goal is to seek efficiency and productivity, or to “do more with less.” In fact, they found it to be a “moral obligation” to save the library money in participating in this alliance.

The entire migration will take quite some time to complete. The University of Washington was in the first of four cohorts, or divisions, of the 37 libraries. It is the largest university in the alliance and wields great influence in creating the shared ILS, particularly by being one of the first libraries to migrate. 

Richard Jost spoke first, offering the systems librarian or technical aspect. He was involved in the early stages of planning and leading the change in the law library. He spoke about the choice of Ex Libris as the ILS for this partnership. While Ex Libris was more expensive than other options, it was willing to be a development partner and had a greater understanding of the consortial concept.

Richard then explained some of the challenges he faces as the technologist in charge of the project. Among those were the fact that this was an “untested, untried product,” poor training from Ex Libris for the staff, a lack of flexibility in handling data migration issues, a mental adjustment from a bibliographic-centered ILS to a network-centered system. The UW Law Library also had to do a double migration, moving its records first from an independent law library system into the UW system, then into the new Ex Libris system. He then shared some of the rewards they would receive when the kinks were worked out of the system: shared cataloguing, shared collection development, potential staff savings, potential cost savings, and potential sharing of electronic resources.

Next, Alena Wolotira spoke from a public services perspective. Her job was to serve as the representative of law library staff and users at meetings. From her perspective, the main challenge was the lack of flexibility of the new system. Specifically, she believes that this system is created more for the general undergraduate user and therefore may not meet the needs of a typical law library user.  She also noted the poor training for staff, but spoke about the closer sense of community among the Pacific Northwest universities that will occur as a result of sharing an ILS.

Finally, Penny Hazelton spoke of the Alliance from a director's point of view. She said one of her biggest challenges was to find a way to explain to faculty and law school administration why this was a difficult time for the law library. She was especially concerned with staffing resources being diverted to create this product and the stress that the migration brings to the law library staff. Her bottom line was that technology systems will likely never be stable because customers constantly build and improve the systems. This is an opportunity to learn new skills and create a project that will bring the Northwest community together and increase potential staff savings.

Despite the challenges that each presenter discussed, the overall sentiment was one of great optimism with a sense that this type of collaboration is the future of libraries and that all challenges will eventually be worked out in the end.


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