What do we need from an LMS? (Part 2)

The following session was based on the previous discussion and draft list of core LMS functionality. Participants were not required to keep strictly to the list, but to use it as a guide. Three questions were also used as a starting point for discussion by the groups:

  1. In light of the previous discussion, what is your perfect LMS (or way of managing the workflows conventionally handled by the LMS)?
  2. Consider both the front and back ends of any system. Do you want changes to the front end, aimed more at users? To the back end, which would probably be ‘invisible’ to users? Or to both?
  3. What might a Digital University Library of Scotland offer us?

The four groups had lively discussions. In fact, a quickly established theme of the day was needing to gently but firmly stop the group discussions so that we could get everyone back together to share their findings.

There was considerable overlap among the groups. Although we had reporters from each group and general discussion, for brevity this post covers all the main points raised among the groups without an individual group breakdown. The discussions also raised questions that we didn’t always answer on the day. With discussion brief including such a large topic, we didn’t expect to answer all questions, but rather to frame the bigger questions for further consideration at a later date.

1)    In light of the previous discussion, what is your perfect LMS (or way of managing the workflows conventionally handled by the LMS)?

  • Is the service in fact an LMS (i.e. for the library) or is it, in fact, a system for the whole institution that includes the library?
  • It’s not about the system – it’s about the services and the policies. Once these are in place, the system or systems is designed to support them.
  • The dream system would be flexible and adaptable – we don’t know what we will need in the future, just that it will change and we will need to respond.
  • A good LMS is not a box but a collection of services,  imagine it not as a single system itself, but as the glue between the systems – like a post-it note, you would stick it where you needed it!
  • Take the workflows of the LMS out of the library and deliver these services all over the institution.
  • Flexibility is key – whether a system is a monolith or made up many parts is not as important as it being flexible.
  • Configuration is key – for example a shared back end that could support the configuration to many local variations would be needed.
  • Delivery is as important as discovery.

2)    Consider both the front and back ends of any system. Do you want changes to the front end, aimed more at users? To the back end, which would probably be ‘invisible’ to users? Or to both?

  • Library staff are users too. They need to have easy workflows they can share, but this is not about a one-size fits all solution. We need to support local customisation.
  • Both front and back ends need to be flexible to allow for future developments.
  • Seamless integration of the LMS/services for users is needed.
  • Easy integration with other systems, such as VLEs, Finance and other institutional-level systems would be needed. The variety of specific systems used with HE institutions in Scotland is actually quite small, so this should be a do-able.
  • Delivery to multiple devices needs to be supported. Users increasingly use many types of devices, they need to be able to access library services through them.
  • The current back ends are too limited, not customisable enough and don’t support a modular approach to creating and re-creating a flexible system over time.
  • Do we over specify our current systems? I.e. should we be aiming for less specific definition and more general flexibility, with the option to change and update easily over time?

3)    What might a Digital University Library of Scotland offer us?

  • A Digital University Library of Scotland would offer seamless access to everything for everyone.
  • Working on a shared LMS would present the perfect opportunity for introducing cultural change and rethinking the way we all do things, but the ease of transition would need careful and effective management to work.
  • Policies are very important to making a shared LMS work. Senior management support is essential in making this happen in a workable, practical way.
  • A ‘blank sheet of paper’ approach is needed – we need to clear away the historical ideas, ways and reasons for how we do things and start afresh.
  • Would a shared LMS raise issues between institutions that are actually in competition with each other? How would they manage to co-operate in this area? (Glasgow Colleges have resolved this issue by gaining agreements on a shared system between 9 potentially competing libraries/librarians.)
  • Potential historical conflicts could be brought into a shared LMS – e.g. rivalry between the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
  • Shared data so that institutions could use the same data and create a knowledgebase for describing and discovering would be useful.
  • Sharing expertise could be more efficient and could also lessen costs.
  • Authentication would be crucial – users would need to be taken to relevant and accessible-by-them resources.
  • Interlibrary Loans – would this be a shared service within Scotland, between institutions? Might be possible with a shared LMS? Would it save time and/or money? Would it give a better service?
  • Scotland shouldn’t offer a specifically digital library, but should consider aiming for a library taking in all aspects of the services offered by libraries.
  • We would need to make sure that a ‘Digital Library’ was integrated and did not become a separate thing in itself.
  • Take out the ‘university’ and instead have a ‘Digital Education Library of Scotland’, so over time libraries in other sectors could be included (examples were given of FE libraries, National Library, NHS, councils and public libraries).
  • We would benefit a single classification system within a shared LMS – could we agree on this? Would it be possible?
  • The SHEDL approach was given as an example of how co-operation and shared services/purchasing can work.
  • The main benefits of a shared system for Scotland would be license negotiations being made easier because of combined purchasing powers and sharing of resources, the potential to develop a central ‘hit squad’ to deal with the system, taking experts from each institution, the potential to develop the services and the system(s) supporting them in a flexible, innovated and efficient way.

The four separate groups actually covered many of the same points, probably not such an unusual situation given the circumstances. However, it was also interesting to note that all four groups were very positive about the idea of a shared LMS. When barriers were identified, these were described in terms of obstacles to be overcome, often accompanied by some detail on how to start to tackle them. No barrier was seen as so large that it could not be dealt with. This enthusiasm for a shared LMS also led to a great deal of discussion around practical issues in general. For example, how would we handle the potentially thorny question of how natural competition between HEIs in Scotland might affect a desire to co-operate and weight against the benefits of sharing.

>> Next section: What could be shared?

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