This week we learn about ERM and ILS software. What are these?

ILS, the Integrated Library System

ILS is an acronym for an integrated library system. We were introduced to the newer term library services platform (LSP) in the previous section. Although different in many ways (Breeding, 2015; Breeding, 2020), our discussions of the ILS and LSP this week are relevant to those types of integrated library systems that may also be library service platforms, the latter which are becoming more common these days.

The differences between ISP and LSP are both large and small. The main idea between them is the same in the sense that they are both "used by librarians to manage their internal work and external services," such as "acquiring and describing collection resources, making those resources available to their users through appropriate channels, and other areas of their [resource management] operations" (Breeding, 2020, para. 1).


In order to provide the above services, the ILS/LSP has an administrative interface that librarians use to manage their resources. The interface contains a set of modules that are common among most software solutions, although they may be named variously.

In the above list, I've linked to documentation on modules provided by the Evergreen open source ILS system. LibLime's Bibliovation LSP offers comparably named modules for discovery, circulation, cataloging, serials, acquisitions, and systems administration. Other ILS/LSP solutions may offer specific modules dedicated to other items in the list, or those functions might be integrated into one of the above modules. Alternatively, new modules appear in LSPs that that take advantage of special LSP abilities and digital assets. For example, the Alma LSP provides modules dedicated to acquisitions, resources, discovery (via Primo), fulfillment, administration, and analytics. Please take a moment and read about these modules in Evergreen's documentation and visit the Alma and LibLime links to learn more about their specifically LSP products.

User Interface

Each of you are familiar with an ILS/LSP from a user perspective and some of you are familiar with these systems from a librarian perspective. In your lifetimes, you have used OPACs (online public access catalogs) or discovery systems like InfoKat, which uses Alma's Primo discovery system, you have likely conducted a search for a serial, and you have most definitely borrowed a book from a library. The ILS/LSP makes these end user functions possible.

Until fairly recently, the OPAC was the primary way to locate and access items in library collections. However, in many ILS/LSPs the OPAC has evolved into a discovery system, depending on what and how it searches its records and other factors. The Encyclopedia of Knowledge Organization describes the differences as such:

OPACs replicated and extended the functionality of the card catalogues they largely replaced in providing a finding aid to the books, journals, audiovisual material and other holdings of a particular library. The term discovery system has come into use in the early Twenty-first century to describe public-facing electronic catalogues which use the technology of the Internet search engines to expand the scope of the OPAC to include not only library-held content, including entries for journal articles and book chapters that were not typically part of traditional library catalogues, but also material held elsewhere which may be of interest to clients (Wells, 2021).

In other words, OPACS generally searched against pre-defined fields that are recorded in MARC such as author, title, subject, etc. and searched collections, at first print but later electronic, held by the library. A discovery system can search additional text, if available, and can more easily link to items not in the library collection but which can be acquired through interlibrary loan. A discovery system can also integrate with bibliographic databases and return results indexed by those databases. This saves the user from having to know about specific topical databases. For example, UK Libraries provides access to over 700 databases, and thus having a discovery system that can access those is beneficial. However, none of the above mean that a discovery system, like InfoKat, is aware of the totality of a library's collections. (And it's not always clear what's left out.)

In Totality

These administrative and end user interfaces make up the totality of the ILS/LSP software. In short:

  • an administrative interface is used by librarians to manage tasks provided through modules.
  • a public interface, such as an OPAC or discovery system, is used by librarians and patrons to access the library's collections.

An ILS/LSP is therefore, as Stephen Salmon stated in 1975, a non-traditional way of doing traditional things, such as "acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation," but which is now fairly traditional!

Electronic resource librarians might work extensively with a resources or like module in order to administer the library's digital assets (e.g., contracts, etc.), but all librarians will use one or more of the ILS/LSP modules. For example, when I worked in reference at a small academic library, I used the Millennium ILS to check out books to users, to fix borrowing issues, and to search for works in the OPAC. Later I primarily used the cataloging module when I moved to technical services. What a librarian uses frequently depends on the organizational structure of a library. As our reading by Miller, Sharp, and Jones (2014) show, the rise in electronic resources has vastly influenced the ways librarians structure their organizations, whose structures were originally informed by the dictates of a "print-based world".

To learn more about the ILS and current iterations that we now call LSPs, see the links in the text above and visit the following:

ERM, the Electronic Resource Management System

ERM is an acronym for electronic resource management system. Its function is born from the need to manage a library's digital assets, for example, the licenses that a library has signed. In order to manage assets like licenses, the ERM can keep track of the signatories, the terms of the license/contracts, specific documents related to these processes, and more. An ERM may or may not be integrated with a library's ILS software. But it's most likely part of a LSP solution. The Alma LSP, for example, is a LSP that also provides electronic resource management.

Like the ILS/LSP, ERM software is generally divided into modules that focus the librarian's work on particular duties and allow librarians to create work flows and knowledge management systems. In an ERM like the open source CORAL system, the modules include:

  • Resources: a module "provides a robust database for tracking data related to your organization's resources ..." and "provides a customizable workflow tool that can be used to track, assign, and complete workflow tasks."
  • Licensing: a module for a "flexible document management system" that provides options to manage licensing agreements and to automate parts of the process.
  • Organizations: this module acts as a type of advanced directory to manage the various organizations that impact or are involved in the management of electronic resources, including "publishers, vendors, consortia, and more."
  • Usage Statistics: a module providing librarians with usage statistics of digital assets by platform and by publisher. Supports COUNTER and SUSHI. We'll cover COUNTER and SUSHI later in the semester, but as a preamble:
    • COUNTER "sets and maintains the standard known as the Code of Practice and ensures that publishers and vendors submit annually to a rigorous independent audit", and,
    • SUSHI is a type of protocol to automate collecting data on usage statistics.
  • Management: this module provides a document management system aimed at "storing documents, such as policies, processes, and procedures, related to the overall management of electronic resources".


In our readings this week, we have three articles that speak to ILS/LSP and ERM software solutions and the relationship between the two.

As Fournie (2020) notes, the electronic resource market is consolidating into a few heavyweights but that this trend does not have to force libraries into solutions that lead to vendor lock-in or acceptance of walled gardens. In the process, Fournie (2020) describes two ERM solutions: Coral and Folio. The author's descriptions are helpful in understanding what these two software solutions are capable of providing.

The readings by Miller, Sharp, and Jones (2014) and Bahnmaier, Sherfey, and Hatfield (2020) provides some context about how these technologies impact librarianship. Miller et al. (2014) describe a case study (the literature review is also helpful) that shows how electronic resources have impacted organizational structure, job titles, budgets, and more. Likewise Bahnmaier et al. (2020) discuss aspects of this as well as reflect on various changes in library staffing and how this raises the importance of the library-vendor relationship.


With that background in mind, in this week's forum, I'll introduce you to the following systems:

We will see what services and modules they provide, and how they function. Be sure to visit the links in this page, especially any documentation. I'll ask that you log into the relevant services, test the demos sites, or watch the demo videos. This will help get some hands-on experience with them and also demystify what each do.


In prior semesters, we read articles by Wang and Dawes (2012) and Wilson (2011). I replaced those readings for the Fall 2022 semester, but for those interested, I briefly describe them below.

In the article by Wang and Dawes (2012), the authors describe the "next generation integrated library system", which should meet a few criteria that include the ability to merge ILS software with ERM software. ERM software solutions exist because integrated library systems (ILS) failed to include functions to manage digital assets. Basically, the ILS was still behaving with a print-mindset, so to speak, and was growing stagnant. Around the time the article was published, more ILS and ERM software began moving to the cloud, as was common among many software markets. This changed the game because it placed a bigger burden on software companies to maintain their software. Based on demand and need, the LSP was created as a next-generation ILS that included ERM functionality. So it's likely that even though the LSP might replace the ILS/ERM combo someday, it could be that we'll live in a dual world where some libraries use a LSP and some use the LSP/ERM combo.

Despite the technical aspects of these solutions, at its basic, both ILS/LSP and ERM software solutions focus on managing assets (books, serials, realia, etc) so that librarians can organize and users and librarians can retrieve those assets. There's no requirement to use any solution offered by a library vendor, and that's the point of the Wilson (2011) article, which shows how regular software can be used to function as a homegrown solution for creating and implementing an ERM work flow.

Readings / References

Bahnmaier, S., Sherfey, W., & Hatfield, M. (2020). Getting more bang for your buck: Working with your vendor in the age of the shrinking staff. The Serials Librarian, 78(1–4), 228–233.

Fournie, J. (2020). Managing electronic resources without buying into the library vendor singularity. The Code4Lib Journal, 47.

Miller, L. N., Sharp, D., & Jones, W. (2014). 70% and climbing: E-resources, books, and library restructuring. Collection Management, 39(2–3), 110–126.

Optional Readings / Additional References

Anderson, E. K. (2014). Chapter 4: Electronic Resource Management Systems and Related Products. Library Technology Reports, 50(3), 30–42.

Breeding, M. (2015). Library Technology Reports, 51(4). Chapters 1-5.

Breeding, M. (2020). Smart libraries Q&A: Differences between ILS and LSP. Smart Libraries Newsletter, 40(10), 3–4. [][breeding2022]

Hosburgh, N. (2016). Approaching discovery as part of a library service platform. In K. Varnum (Ed.), Exploring Discovery: The Front Door to your Library’s Licensed and Digitized Content. (pp. 15-25). Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.

Salmon, S. R. (1975). Library automation systems. New York: Marcel Dekker.

Wang, Y., & Dawes, T. A. (2012). The Next generation integrated library system: A promise fulfilled? Information Technology and Libraries, 31(3), 76–84.

Wells, D. (2021). Online public access catalogues and library discovery systems. In B. Hjørland & C. Gnoli (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Knowledge Organization (Vol. 48, pp. 457–466).

Wilson, K. (2011). Beyond library software: New tools for electronic resources management. Serials Review, 37(4), 294–304.