A lot of exciting things happened in 1997. The first Harry Potter book was released. The launch of a fifth terrestrial TV channel. The UK won at Eurovision – possibly for the last time. We introduced our library management system.

Plenty has changed in the last 22 years – including the way we use libraries. We want to make sure we’re working to deliver the best experience to our users, so we explored the marketplace to find out what else was out there.

In the run up to the new system going live on 15 July, this series of posts will explore behind-the-scenes of the systems change – what we have done to try to make it a seamless transition.

To start with, we spoke to the Library management system project lead, Head of Collection Services, Jane Saunders:

What was the driving factor behind updating the library management system?

We’ve had our current system for over two decades, in which time the world of information provision has changed, it seemed right to go out and test the market. It became evident while we were testing the market that Alma is a better option for us.

It’s and integrated and much more powerful system, so we shall be able to handle our data and processes in more efficient and streamlined way.

What were some of the features that you’re excited to see people using?

Automatic renewals. Customers will no longer have to manually renew items – the system will continue to update the due date on an item until someone requests it. Of course, this means that if you want something that is out on loan, you will have to make sure you request it – otherwise you might never see it!

It will handle our eresources much more effectively too. Our library users are making more and more use of our e-resources, and over recent years we have invested heavily in e-books, e-journals and other kinds of online content.

We’re all very excited to be able to run unlimited reporting. Our current system has a limit on the number of review files, which means Library teams have to battle for reporting data. In Alma, there’s no restrictions on reporting – so we’ll be able to handle our data more efficiently which will ultimately result in a better experience using the Library, in person and online.

Tell us about what is needed to make a system like this work for us

We had to start by understanding Alma – the database is very different to the one that we’re used to. That meant we needed to understand how and why we do things through process mapping. There was a lot of figuring out if the current processes were the best they could be or whether we did it that way because it was the only way to make it work with what we had.

We extracted our bibliographic data in March so when we received the test environment in April, we did a test load using our own data. A few things happened that we weren’t expecting so we’ve worked with the data and the configuration to understand what needs to improve ahead of the final data extraction on 28 June. Given the lessons learned from the previous extract, everything should run smoothly when it is loaded into the new system ready for 15 July.

What did we have to do with our current systems and processes to prepare for the change?

Oh crikey – there’s been a lot!

We’ve had to rebuild all of our reading lists – we’ve been working across the year to prepare all of the links so they point to the new records.

We’ve worked with our suppliers to make our authentications and login systems work with Alma so that users can access our eresources and ebooks. Hence we’re having some disruption to services with ebooks early this week.

Then there were third party integrations to consider – that is where the system has to talk to another bit of kit such as the book sorters or the self-issue machines or the room booking systems. It’s been a big job to make sure that they all talk to the central system and we’re almost there. We’re just testing the last few things at the moment.

We had the previous system for 22 years, will the new system see us through the next two decades?

Well, the system is in the cloud and updates monthly – so we’ll always have the most recent version. We’re part of a regular upgrade programme and they also have something called The Ideas Exchange where libraries who use Alma share developmental requests which are voted on. They aim to include popular requested improvements in their regular update cycle.

We’re excited by the prospect of being part of something where we can have a clear influence over our own future.

You can explore what’s next on the Library website.