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One Year of Working in a New ILS

October 21, 2021

We started looking for a new ILS before the world knew what COVID-19 was. In looking for a new product we had a few areas that we wanted to prioritize: a better patron experience, better customer service, lower cost, and the ability to retain EBSCO EDS as our discovery tool. We looked at a few ILS platforms and decided that the best fit for us was going to require us to go outside of our comfort zones and become early adopters of Folio, an open-source ILS. What really sold us on this option were the cost savings that came from bundling our contract for FOLIO with other EBSCO subscriptions and the ability to get customer support through Bywater. So, we signed on the dotted line and ended up being one of the first five libraries in the whole United States to go live with this software. 

Folio library system logo.

We expected pain points transitioning to any new ILS system, but this transition was complicated by COVID-19. All the library staff were working from home and receiving training on the new system over Zoom. I work with three other library staff to make up our Tech Services department and we really struggled to get things moving. We went live on Folio in July 2020 but we were not able to catalog a new book in the system until January 2021 because we were waiting for some of the modules to be further developed and with each of us primarily working from home, access to materials was limited. So, I count this January as the end of year one working with this system in Tech Services. Looking back, many positive changes have occurred because of moving to a new system and dealing with COVID.  

We had not been acquiring ebooks through direct purchase but that changed with COVID. In the past year, we developed an acquisitions process for our liaison librarians to select ebooks – indicating platform and user-model and then have our acquisitions assistant purchase them, import records for them, and add the access links to the record. For a time period we established a direct link between our system and Gobi to test if it would be a more efficient workflow for purchase information to be brought into our system from Gobi rather than manually added. That ended up not being a great fit for us, however, it was cool to have the flexibility of the system to try something like that.  

We also took this time to re-think how we manage print periodicals. This was another workflow helped by COVID. We knew when we signed the contract with Folio that they did not have a module for print periodical predictions & check-in. We had already made a decision to focus on transition from print to electronic periodical which was sped up during COVID. Luckily, with the money we saved by choosing Folio as our ILS we had money freed up for more electronic content. We are down to just 12 print periodical subscriptions and we’re able to manage that using a spreadsheet.  

While Folio does have modules that allow for the creation of PO’s and receiving items in the system as we implemented our workflows, we struggled to use these modules at first. This prompted us to have a discussion in-house as to whether these processes were doing anything for us or if they were just additional work. For us, a small library with a small staff who is purchasing even fewer print items, we were able to eliminate these steps and just import records to the system and then pay the invoices. This has streamlined how quickly items move through our system and out to the shelves.  

Is everything perfect after a year together? Not quite – we’re still waiting for spine label printing and the ability to generate reports. However, the reporting issue (and many others we’ve dealt with along the way) is offset by the amazing customer service we receive from Bywater. Our implementation team still has weekly meetings with Bywater to address issues we’re experiencing. With our past system, updates were infrequent and labor-intensive but with Folio and Bywater we get quarterly updates and Bywater helps prepare us for the changes that will be coming and pushes out the updates overnight, with very few interruptions to services. They also help us when it comes time for us to cast our votes for which areas should be prioritized to be developed in the Folio community. Since they’re familiar with our workload and the areas in which we have had trouble, they are able to guide us to the projects and proposals that have the most potential to help us.  

In my office right now is a book truck with two-shelves of “low priority” books waiting to be cataloged that were rolled into Folio from our old system. It is my goal to have these books out on the shelf by the time we hit our true one-year anniversary of using Folio in Tech Services. I’m finally ready to put thoughts of our old system out of my head and embrace our new ILS. If you’re considering Folio or want to hear more about our implementation experience, two of my coworkers will be presenting with EBSCO on Folio on November 10th at 10am.  

Being “back”: Reflecting on the return to in-person work

October 11, 2021

I had the privilege to spend most of the pandemic working remotely — something I know was not afforded to all of my LIS colleagues. At my institution, for more than a year, the majority of classes were online, and therefore, I had to adapt to teaching on Zoom, like many others. But now, that era has ended for me, and I’m in the middle of my first semester “back,” as many on my campus are saying, in the physical library, office, and classroom.

In some ways, it’s felt like when I started my first job — prior to July, it’s the longest stretch I’ve been “out” of the classroom since I became a professional librarian in 2014. In other ways, it’s seemed like nothing changed, and we never left — aside from the masking.

Students seem happy to be back, and I am too, though there are small things I miss, like being able to drop a link in chat so that I can quickly get everyone to the same starting point or resource. But when I remember the challenges of group activities and other active learning exercises in a remote environment, I’m glad to be a the front of the classroom.

I’ve also returned to an in-person reference desk shift. I did a lot of virtual reference before the pandemic, so that was not a big change for me. I was apprehensive about starting back on the desk, but students have been eager for in-person help and respectful of COVID safety guidelines. A few weeks ago, I accidentally scheduled myself for a chat reference AND in-person reference shift during the same hour. I ended up chatting with a student who was upstairs in my library and struggling to find books in the children’s section (boy, those tiny labels are hard for even the experts among us to read!). While I was happy to help her online, I knew this problem was going to be best solved by being in person. I convinced her to wait until my desk shift ended, and we searched for the books together on the third floor. Interactions like this make me glad I’m back, though I’m still wary sometimes of the health risks that we can’t mitigate.

I’ve spoken with others about things we will “keep” in our toolkits from the pandemic experience. At my library, we were already doing many things virtually because of Penn State’s World Campus and our model of one library, geographically dispersed. This made us better suited to pivot than others might have been, though it was still a huge adjustment. One of my “keeps” is Zoom reference — it can make it easier for students to accommodate hectic schedules and screen sharing makes it much easier to demonstrate than trying to work over someone’s shoulder. But it certainly can’t and shouldn’t replace in-person reference when needed.

We’ve also been running a virtual book club (we’re headed to week three of four!) which has been a great success so far. Virtual programming allows us to bring together from many different campuses which we obviously could not do in person. I want to keep virtual and hybrid programs going where I can, because I want to increase access for our students and resource share for our librarians and libraries.

So, how is your fall going? In August, I felt hopeful but skeptical that this would go well. I’m more optimistic now, though I am still being a realist as we head into the colder months. But no matter what, I know we can make it work!

File Cabinet or Laundry Basket?

October 5, 2021

An article came through my inbox last week that got me thinking about the major shifts between how our students conceptualize information and its organization and the way that people in their 30’s and older usually comprehend it.

I’ve encountered “information paradigm shifts” with students before, of course. I’ve had to give up explaining authorized subject headings as index terms like the ones you find in the back of a book. I switched years ago to calling them the “official hashtags” of a database collection. I’ve also learned that the whole volume/issue/article structure of periodicals — and even the very concept of a periodical itself — is foreign in a world where newspapers and magazines have always been an amorphous collection of blog posts under a unifying letterhead.

But the idea of most students not understanding what a computer “file” is, or that it has a location on the computer, or that it is perhaps to your advantage to organize these digital files and folders, is a bit new. I’ve run into the issue before, but mostly with our adult-learner populations who struggle with other computer tasks, such as turning the machine on or off or navigating to their email. Our traditional-aged students grasped at least the basics of this “the file is somewhere” concept.

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

But according to ​“FILE NOT FOUND: A generation that grew up with Google is forcing professors to rethink their lesson plans” by Monica Chin, this is no longer the case.

Millennials and the generations before them think of computer organization in terms of hard drives, files, and nested folders. To our current students, Chin says, that’s a foreign paradigm. They’ve been keyword searching the cloud for documents throughout their educations. How do we explain that a digital file has a digital location, just as a physical book has a physical spot on a shelf? Or does the “one massive bucket with a really good search and retrieval system” idea make more sense in the long run?

As a librarian (albeit one who wept my way through Cataloging & Classification in grad school), I think there is significant value in file organization. Are we moving into a future where all that matters is well-applied descriptor terms and an algorithm that can crawl them at lightning speeds? Can a computer user even know what they have in their digital possession under this model? Will we lose the benefit of serendipity?

​I’ve stumbled across long-forgotten documents that ended up being very helpful to a current project, thanks to my practice of hoarding documents and organizing them in nested folders. I’m very reluctant to relinquish that. But is it worth trying to convince our students of the value of such a system? I still think yes, but my gut feeling is that it’s going to go the other way in the long run.

Apply for CRD Professional Development Funding

October 4, 2021

Are you planning spring and summer workshops? 

The Pennsylvania Library Association College and Research Division (CRD) is able to provide financial support to organizations within the Commonwealth that offer professional development programming of interest to Pennsylvania academic librarians through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 

If your group is planning a meeting or workshop in Pennsylvania, you may submit an application to the College and Research Division for consideration.

The primary requirement for funding is that the event includes educational or professional development for academic librarians, and that organizers collect assessment information about the program to be provided to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries in quarterly grant reports. Amounts requested generally should not exceed $2000.

Please visit the CRD website for more information and to apply:

Questions may be sent to

Kind regards,

Carrie Bishop

CRD Professional Development Funds Manager


September 30, 2021

Banned Books Week this year is from September 26 to October 2. Some of the books banned in the 21st century may surprise you. See the “Top 10 Most Challenged Books Lists” from 2001-2020. Locally, it strikes a chord because after nearly a year-long “review process” a ban on several books by a school district in York, PA has been rescinded.

The Central York School District’s imposed ban was focused on antiracist works and those written by people of color, including the story of the life of Pakistani activist for female education, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, and children’s books about luminaries of the Civil Rights movement, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The ban extended to a documentary about renowned 20th-century man of letters, public intellectual and activist, James Baldwin, and even an episode of Sesame Street.

In the last week both demonstrations and the final lifting of the ban made the national news. Many high school students and parents in the district opposed the ban, but it was the actions of one concerned citizen using social media which spurred the donation from across the country of copies of the books which were distributed publicly in celebration of them no longer being banned. To its credit the York County Libraries also contributed to the protest in the form of an official letter from their president denouncing the banning of books and audio-visual materials because they are on diversity, race, and racism.

The American Library Association provides varied resources and avenues for action for Banned Books Week. According to “The event is sponsored by a coalition of organizations dedicated to free expression, including American Booksellers Association; American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of University Presses; Authors Guild; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE); Freedom to Read Foundation; Index on Censorship; National Coalition Against Censorship; National Council of Teachers of English; PEN America; People For the American Way Foundation; and Project Censored. It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.”