A 360 View: Essential Steps for a Successful Next-Gen Online Catalog Upgrade (Part 1 – System Selection)

A mere thirty to forty years ago, albeit light years ago in terms of technology, most law firm libraries were converting from card catalogs to online catalogs. The records contained in those old online catalogs were largely bibliographic records for print titles. However, the balance of records in today’s online catalogs has shifted to primarily records for electronic titles. Due to this change, many law libraries may be contemplating upgrading to next-generation online catalog systems. Doing so entails several considerations and steps.

Initial questions to consider:

  • Does it offer an easy conversion process for getting the records in the old system exported to the new catalog?
  • Will it help speed up and simplify essential albeit mundane tasks such as serials check-in, managing routing lists, etc.?
  • Does it allow for unstructured (i.e. non-MARC) records in digitized document collections?
  • Does the OPAC offer the ability for attorneys to add and remove themselves to routing lists for current awareness titles?Can the
  • Do you have sufficient staff to catalog and add records for online titles in Westlaw, LexisNexis, BloombergLaw, etc.?
  • If not, can the budget handle buying MARC records from a catalog record provider such as Cassidy Cataloging?
  • Alternatively, does the legal publisher/vendor supply MARC records for free or a nominal cost?
  • How much are you able to pay for a new platform?

Once you’ve made the decision to upgrade, what’s next? First and foremost, survey the landscape of online catalog vendors and what their systems offer. Vendor exhibit halls at professional association meetings are great places to meet a large number of providers in a short period of time. While there it’s also an excellent time to talk to your professional peers about what online systems their firm libraries use. If you can’t attend an association meeting, consider surveying colleagues on professional listservs regarding what system they use and then peruse those vendors websites and call them directly.

An important concern in any new purchase is the cost of the product. If you are looking to upgrade from a car like a Ford Pinto, you don’t have to buy a Rolls Royce. The same holds true for online catalogs! There are some great next-generation products out there that might seem less flashy than their more expensive counterparts, but nonetheless will likely be a big improvement over your current system. However, if you are looking at less expensive platforms, you may have to compromise when it comes to features and quality. In library catalog systems, examples of this trade-off might be:

  • Help and support are limited.
  • Product changes and upgrades may be introduced at an exceedingly slow pace.
  • Search functionality, while decent, may not be as efficient as that of more expensive products.

Once you’ve surveyed the landscape, narrow your choices to two or three systems and schedule demonstrations with the sales representative. Be sure to include appropriate staff members in the presentations and ask questions of the representative, and definitely get feedback from your staff on their thoughts regarding the choices. Examples of important questions to ask during the demonstrations include the following:

  • How is migration of old records to the new system accomplished? Are you definitely able to bulk import records from your current catalog system?
  • What kind of support do you have? Help guides? Videos? Live Chat? Phone support?
  • Can OPAC interface be customized? What level of expertise is needed to design and implement it?
  • What level of interaction can our patrons have with the OPAC?
  • Can you show an example of the exact process for adding a new record? How efficient is the cataloging process?
  • Can you show an example of how the system handles serials routing?

Finally, request references from the vendor and  be sure to call or email those references for their feedback on their experience with the product including prepared pertinent questions that may have arisen in the demonstration sessions and the follow-up discussions with staff. Also consider surveying colleagues on professional listservs regarding their specific experiences with your potential systems and vendors.

Next up? Be on the lookout for part 2 of this post which will focus on the essential steps in the implementation process.

Editor’s Note – The author granted permission to republish this article, first published on the blog On Firmer Ground.

Posted in: Cataloging, Law Librarians, Library Software & Technology