In 2015 the NSW Government announced that they would be merging a number of local government councils across the state. Among the many mergers, the councils of Great Lakes, Greater Taree and Gloucester Shire would become the MidCoast Council.
For the Library services in these areas, this meant things were about to get busy. The three Library services needed to merge their three separate databases into one cohesive unit. In preparation for this, they opted to move to a SaaS solution.
Knowing this was going to be a massive undertaking they created an LMS team, which began meeting on a regular basis. The team consisted of four staff, with others as needed, and had expertise in collections and database management.
Phase 1 – Consolidating LMSs
Two of the Library services, Manning Valley Libraries and Great Lakes Library Service were already on the dedicated LMS, LIBERO. This meant the first phase of the project was to bring the Gloucester Council database into LIBERO.
“Initially we hoped to be able to migrate all the data across,” explains Chris Jones, Manager Libraries at MidCoast Libraries. However, things didn’t go to plan.
“Early on we encountered a number of significant issues relating to data quality and integrity.”
This led them to make the difficult decision of entering every single item from the Gloucester collection into the Great Lakes database. A number of staff spent several months on site to accomplish this.
“Whilst this was incredibly labour-intensive it delivered the result we were after,” Chris says. The three Library services were now on the same LMS.
Phase 2 – Integrating Databases
You couldn’t be faulted for thinking that the hardest part was over, but that wasn’t the case.
Phase two involved integrating the Manning Valley database and the Great Lakes database, which now included the Gloucester data. Even though they were merging in the same LMS there were issues around the differences in database practices. Chris goes into detail.
“Major issues related to aligning collections, members and exception codes. Coming to a consensus involved plenty of healthy debate.”
Phase two took over 12 months and led to a number of procedural and operational changes.
“The work done prior to the integration meant many aspects went very smoothly and the Insight Informatics staff did an amazing job as well,” praises Chris.
The Final Push
After all this preparation the final task was the actual integration. Though LIBERO customers can be upgraded to LIBERO Cloud, with minimal operational downtime, the new MidCoast Libraries decided to close their libraries for a week. This turned out well for them, as Chris explains.
“Trying to provide any level of service during this timeframe would have been crazy. Though moving to a SaaS solution made the whole process much more efficient and effective.”
A major challenge during the integration week was that a key member of the team was gravely ill. Sadly, his condition deteriorated significantly in the weeks leading up to and during the integration.
“It’s a testament to the whole team and thanks to the marvellous and compassionate support of the Insight crew, that the integration was a success. Sadly, we lost him only a month later and he never got to truly appreciate the remarkable achievement he was pivotal in accomplishing.”
Integrating data is one thing, the flow-on effects of merging three Library services are another matter entirely. Procedural and operational changes will still be unfolding for some time to come, particularly considering the ongoing complexity of council amalgamation.
And the Library members? They embraced the new, unified database from day one. So much so that they have created a new challenge, as Chris explains.
“We totally underestimated how much patrons would to take advantage of the reservations systems and now we are having ongoing discussions on how to manage the weekly flow of many hundreds of items of stock across a network of 11 branches spread over 10,000 km2, with limited access to couriers.”
Considering where they’ve come from, after three years of planning, too many reservations doesn’t seem like a bad problem to have.