Would a shared LMS work for Scotland?

In the third session, the focus was on whether a shared LMS—however defined—would work in Scotland, taking account of the local context and environment.     Three questions were set for the groups.  The group discussions on the questions were very rich, yielding much information.

The first question asked the groups to think forward to 2018, with a successful shared LMS in place.  The four groups were asked to think as four different persona—users, universities (defined as the University Principal), librarians and policy makers (defined as the Scottish government).    In summary, the groups identified that a shared LMS would provide better service to users at lower cost, and considerable political benefit would accrue in achieving a shared LMS in Scotland.

The second question asked the groups to consider what needs to be done NOW in order to achieve the aim.  The outcomes of this group discussion provide an initial roadmap for a shared LMS,   identifying the need for more exploration, particularly of technical solutions and of other similar initiatives elsewhere, the establishment of baseline data about existing systems and policies, the establishment of a robust business case,  early discussion on governance, and above all advocacy to the many stakeholders who will be involved in such a project.

The third question was designed—as the last group discussion of the day—to elicit a discussion of the barriers to a shared LMS, to ensure that these were identified at an early stage.  The groups identified many barriers, and reasons why there had been no shared LMS to date—these are listed below.  However, the overarching theme was that these barriers and concerns could be addressed and overcome, and that there were many reasons—technical, political, economic and to do with collaboration and governance—why this was a good time for further discussion of a large joint library project in Scotland.  Citation was made several times to existing partial shared services, including the Rowan Partnership and the Scottish Digital Library Consortium, which provide examples of the shared LMS in practice amongst groups of Scottish libraries.

Question 1:  It’s 2018, and universities in Scotland have a shared LMS.  How will this feel?

For users

  • Students will have seamless access to e-resources on any device, the stuff they want will just be there.
  • Students will feel able to use any Scottish HEI library, raising the question of whether they will identify with a Scottish education or with the institution.
  • Researchers and academic users can seamlessly move between institutions and get the same fantastic service.

For Universities (personified as the Principal of Universities)

  • “I don’t care about the system details as long as academic staff are happy and student satisfaction has improved”
  • Relieved at ticking shared service box
  • Happy to have saved money
  • Concerned about business continuity

For Librarians

  • The system is working well:
    • The system is reliable, never down
    • The system interoperates seamlessly with finance/student records/learning environments.
    • There is single sign on authentication.
    • Users have an easy to use discovery tool app.
    • Standards and policies have been agreed across sector.  There is a common knowledge set and catalogue.  Queries are dealt with quickly.
    • The system is supported and developed by a team drawn from across the sector
    • NSS and other league table scores across Scotland are rising
    • The annual budget is 50% of 2012 costs
    • We have close and productive working relationship with library staff across the sector and the agile and collaborative environment attracts staff from across the globe
    • The system is extending to other sectors including NLS and FE, and more members of the public are using HE libraries

For Scottish policy makers (thinking as the Scottish government)

  • The system feels good as a successful Scottish shared service project
  • There have been cost savings—but can there be more savings?
  • It is now being transferred to other sectors
  • The system promotes research and education in Scotland and attracts global learners and researchers.  League table results are improving.
  • The system supports wider access and lifelong learning

Question 2:  What preparation does the Scottish HE library community need to start making NOW to make a shared LMS succeed?

Exploratory work

  • Explore in more detail what the users want
  • Explore in more detail what the paymasters want
  • Establish baseline—understand where we are now
  • Collate existing landscape information:  institutional systems and end dates, institutional policies, systems to interoperate with.
  • Initial technical assessment—could this be achieved and in what timescale?
  • Gather evidence of benefits
  • Contact other similar projects around the world

Decide whether to proceed/developing a vision

  • Discuss and reach consensus on preferred model and scope, eg  is it a union catalogue or a wider vision, as discussed at workshop
  • Develop vision
  • Develop roadmap, plan initial priorities, initial cost scoping
  • Agree which local policies will need to be integrated to make vision work

Business case

  • Develop outline business case, based on vision
  • Establish funding required and begin to scope how much is local, and how much will need to be raised.


  • Gather support and approval at different levels
  • SCURL Directors must be on side
  • Get Principals/institutions to agree to support project
  • Get outline approval/support  from funding bodies, and other influential groups (eg SFC, USS, APUC, JISC)


  • Establish steering group through SCURL
  • Start to develop governance structures
  • Decide if a legal entity is required
  • Look at governance in other similar projects

Technical work

  • Engage with vendors
  • Think about Open Source and cloud based solutions
  • Look at technical solutions in other similar projects

Question 3What are the barriers to a shared LMS in Scotland, and why hasn’t it happened already

These issues need to be acknowledged and addressed.


  • There have been sufficient resources to do it on your own
  • Technical environment has offered nothing new
  • Does the system we want exist?
  • There are different “dreams”, can we decide which is the right one?
  • Individual institutional relationships with vendors would be lost
  • Fear of loss of technical skills in libraries
  • Fear of insufficient capacity to address such a project
  • All libraries are at different stages
  • There is no strong incentive:  we are not being told to do this
  • This may not be the highest priority for all Scottish institutions
  • Will there be benefits to each and every institution?
  • We don’t share much
  • Will the business case stack up?
  • Will there be cost savings?
  • There is rivalry, competition between institutions
  • There are vested interests
  • We are risk averse:  this is a big and hard project, “too big for a wee country”
  • Institutional culture is slow moving and risk averse
  • Uncertainty if everyone will come on board; some might want to wait to see if it works before joining in
  • There is fear of change
  • There is fear of where this might end (the thin end of the wedge)
  • Fear of loss of autonomy, loss of control over local strategy and development
  • Fear of being swallowed by larger institutions
  • Who will be in control, who will own the system?
  • With regard to the independence debate, will the country be too poor to do such projects?

Why is now a good time to think about this?

  • Independence debate:  this is a grand Scottish project
  • The political environment is supportive of shared services
  • There is less funding now to go it alone
  • SHEDL has shown that collaborative work brings benefits
  • There are technical solutions emerging
  • Open Source is now an option
  • The LMS is more of a commodity, therefore easier to migrate
  • There are more technical skills in libraries

>> Next section: The final vote

1 thought on “Would a shared LMS work for Scotland?

  1. “With regard to the independence debate, will the country be too poor to do such projects?” – Whilst not advocating independence I would say that in my opinion there is little reliable evidence to suggest that an independent Scotland would be poorer and therefore incapable of undertaking such projects.

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