Out-of-Date Systems Are Holding Libraries Back | NISO
flavoursofopenscience's bookmarks 2021-06-03
Letter from the Executive Director, June 2021
Last month, I had the honor of being one of the keynote presenters at the FEDLINK Spring Expo hosted by the Library of Congress. Normally an in-person event, like so many others this year, the session was hosted virtually. My talk focused on the future of standards for library systems, but there was also an important underlying theme: the lack of investment in libraries and in library systems, in particular.
My attention had been drawn to this topic by an article in LISTedTech, which highlighted the average various ages of information systems in higher education. At the top of that list, indicating they were the oldest systems on most campuses, were library information systems. The average age of these systems is 22 years, which is nearly double the average lifespan of an IT system in higher ed. This is hardly surprising, given that I know of many libraries still running legacy systems that are one or two generations behind the current versions. Particularly as library budgets have been squeezed over the past decade or more, investing in infrastructure systems is not normally the highest priority.
This is not to single out libraries as the only institutions that hold onto legacy systems, resisting the need to upgrade them. This practice is pervasive in the business world and in our personal lives, as well. There is a constant chorus of update notifications from all the software and devices we use on a daily basis. But not upgrading software, just like not upgrading one's plumbing or electrical systems, has costs. The costs may be hidden, existing as lost productivity, having to find workarounds for systemic problems, or limited ability to try new approaches to solving problems. Then there are significant potential costs related to security, data preservation, and unexpected service interruptions. Often, people ignore or put off investments in infrastructure, quietly accepting the risks of catastrophe because we underestimate their likelihood or their costs. We need only look to recent headlines to see how impactful and costly it can be when these problems become a crisis. NISO, too, is in this position, with our back-end balloting and groups management software. We need to undertake a project to upgrade that system this year, because the version we are running is out of date and showing signs of breaking.