The education sector has been undergoing tumultuous changes in recent years in terms of technology adoption. The COVID-19 pandemic can take credit for much of it, to confirm the adage about necessity and invention, though much of the technology involved has been around for some time.
In the area of library management—that specialized function offered by the best reference management software solutions—venerable institutions are addressing the needs for remote access, improved security measures, and financial and user behavior analysis integration (Mageto, 2021). This is, of course, on top of improving the management of library transactions such as lending and reservations.
Many libraries—from public to corporate—have migrated to ready-made, tested-and-proven platforms for their operations. These platforms allow for advanced library management features like discovery, along with extended capabilities through integrations, providing users with many areas for customization.
In this article, we will list the best library management software tools that institutions should consider using. We include their main features and what makes them unique and how much they will cost users. You will also find payment options for the base software and its support costs.
Library management software solutions have evolved throughout the years. This is not only because of the need for software innovation but also due to the general change in consumer behavior. Our on-demand culture has affected how library management software systems should be deployed. In fact, the recent upward trend of adoption is primarily driven by demands for online subscriptions and SMS alerts (Adroit Market Research, 2021). To keep up with these demands, librarians need more from their platforms. They need to have automation capabilities that can take over more menial tasks such as calculating fines and sending out overdue notices.
To address this, educational institutions and other organizations with library facilities typically commission their custom platforms. This may provide them with solutions tailored to their needs, but sourcing the job to non-specialists—whether in-house or outside talents—entail tremendous costs down the road. Several potential pitfalls include having no access to updates, not getting dedicated support at the right time, and being stuck with a rigid maladaptive platform. Also, as Kishore (2021) noted, the cost of development alone can range from $25,000 to $30,000. This remains a conservative estimate as integration with other platforms will cost extra.
Many organizations have already realized this strategy to be unsustainable in the long run. This is why many of them have migrated to ready-made products that offer high levels of customizability. In the age of SaaS, we are fortunate to have many quality products of this sort. There are, however, quintessential features that a good library management software solution should have in relation to key performance areas.
Library management software has been around for many decades. Since originally deployed as on-premise discovery or search tools, their uses have expanded. Modern electronic library system (ELS) now help organizations manage important tasks such as “appointments, lending, reserving, returning, processing payments, storage of book records, provide information, and processing invoices for orders.” (Mageto, 2021) They, too, have expanded to offer on-demand access to print and electronic materials. Some platforms integrate with learning management systems to round out the provision of personalized learning pathways to students. Now, libraries provide patrons a wide variety of services. Some of which can be considered quite out of bounds of traditional library management practices.
In short, library management today is quite complex. Given this, librarians need to keep track of the complexity in order to make data-driven decisions to optimize their operations and better serve their patrons. But, to do this, they need to have access to key library management statistics in real-time. However, without the right tools, librarians will not be able to deal with the current toughest barriers to data analysis properly. These are lack of time (61%), lack of expertise (54%), and the lack of personnel (52%).
Source: EBSCO, 2021
It is fortunate that these can altogether be circumvented by having a digital reporting tool inside your library management software. Marshall Breeding (2002), a long-time authority on library management systems and advocate for data-driven practices, has long implored library professionals to require their electronic library systems to measure key library management statistics to help them make fact-based decisions in real-time. According to Breeding, the ideal reporting module should be able to document shifting usage patterns, measure remote use, and measure access to electronic materials.
One very important library system usage statistic to be measured is search data. This provides an institution with the chance to cater to the actual educational and research needs of its stakeholders. Breeding (2002) added that other typical information that should be monitored include the number of web visits, searches attempted, counts of searches by fields specified, search items entered, number of searches with no results, number of searches with unmanageable results (return huge numbers),, and transaction or user behavior on the system. Other specific metrics are (Breeding, 2002):
Online catalog statistics. This metric measures the total amount of searching done within the system to find items.
Searches by category. This metric helps institutions understand how end-users approach their catalogs. Search metrics will help identify whether improvements are needed for cataloging practices and on the search interface.
Online catalog searches. Librarians usually separate in-library and remote searching activities.
Items checked out. With this, librarians could compare desk requests against requests made through book delivery services. This metric measures how users obtain books and other materials such as videos and journals. This helps librarians find ways to provide end-users with materials without requiring physical visits.
Books checked out vs. ebooks read. This allows librarians to determine the level of demand for which type of media (physical vs. electronic) and react proactively to user behavior.
Items renewed. While most libraries require physical checkout, librarians may want to offer the ability to renew items using web-based portals.
Holds placed. This allows librarians to measure the popularity of books and also lets them decide whether holds can be done using remote access.
Payment for fines and fees. This measures the degree to which libraries can conduct financial transactions in-person and electronically.
Interlibrary loan requests. This measures the volume and the specific items available for interlibrary loan requests. In this way, librarians will know whether to provide these resources in-house or continue to do so via interlibrary loans.
ILS collection report. Comparative statistics can help librarians decide on how they can best serve the public and optimize internal management.
Acquisitions reports. Many platforms allow for resource acquisition. This metric enables librarians to monitor in-demand items, the type of media, and expenditures.
As touched on by the above metrics, library management software solutions now have to cater to both print and electronic resources lending needs. Hence, it is good to survey which ones have great features for managing both types of resources in an integrated manner. As you can see from the figures below, the collective effectiveness of platforms in this regard seems to be lacking, especially with electronic resources management. Thus, finding the right fit can be quite difficult.
As previously pointed out, library management today is a far cry from its early iterations. As noted by Ogunsola (2011), a “great metamorphosis” was witnessed among libraries both “in their collection development and in their service structure.” Libraries have expanded their roles from being mere repositories of resource materials to active partners in learning and discovery. This is not only to cater to the popular on-demand culture but also to reflect the efforts of librarians “to be more” for their respective communities.
With that, many enjoy a degree of determination when it comes to digital spending. In fact, 80.3% of city libraries have full or some control over their technology expenditures, with around 45% having full control. These efforts are evident in the novel services offered by public libraries in the United States just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Notable services include (Public Library Association, 2020):
Thus, in order to satisfy these new demands and goals, librarians need better tools to be greater than they already are. Meeting these needs, many times, require the help of powerful digital tools to help free librarians of their precious time so they can concentrate on mission-critical aspects of the service provision and strategic management. These digital tools can help manage menial processes, store and analyze key data, automate tasks, generate reports, and perform other clerical and critical functions using less manpower and time. This is basically why a good library management software solution is important. But, if we look at historical performance data, having a good software platform may not be enough.
This is because new needs, wants, preferences, knowledge, technology, and culture emerge. A good software solution now can be not-so-good anymore when these changes happen. In Breeding’s (2020) survey, successful products around 15 years ago have been consistently losing favor among their users. It was found that today, a good percentage of users of established platforms—Voyager (82.4%), Millennium (82.1%), and ALEPH (78.3%)—want to switch to other products. Back in 2007, the numbers are not so concerning with only 6.4% for Millennium, 9.% for ALEPH, and 21.6% for Voyager. This shows that software providers can fall into a rut, bringing the quality of their software down.
Source: Breeding, 2020
Thus, it is not only best to find a good software product that fits your current needs. But, it is also crucial to choose a good software provider with a good working ethos that is also future-forward. In this way, you can rest assured that your digital architecture evolves with your vision and with the preferences of your patrons. Fortunately, there are software providers that continuously improve over time on this front. Software providers such as Horizon, Symphony, and WorldShare Management Services have managed to decrease the share of users that want to switch by -10%, -2%, and -4.1% in 2019 from the previous year. Also, these platforms have witnessed their satisfaction scores increasing every year as well. There are many library management software products like them that we have included on our list.
With these, you should also consider these general aspects when choosing the best library management software .
These mentioned, of course, are software-specific features. Generally, however, there are key aspects that you need to consider when looking for any type of software. These include:
Features Fit. Libraries typically offer the same kind of services. However, not all libraries are run the same. They have different publics and different usage shares. Hence, for some, certain software features will be more important than others. For others, they can really do away with such features. So, if you are shopping for a platform, choose the one with the right amount of features that fits your needs. As a rule of thumb, excess always costs more.
Ease-of-Use. What good is a software solution when it is very unwieldy? Well, just a little. But that is not enough. Library management today is held to a high standard, especially because of the hybrid ways of interaction (i.e, in-facility and online). To achieve optimum results in managing these two dimensions, users are better off with a platform that is not only easy to use but also enjoyable to use. This is because having a hybrid operation is more record-keeping-heavy.
Deployment. Library management platforms started out as on-premise solutions. Today, however, electronic library systems can come as web-based software tools. There are others that have a hybrid deployment that combines an on-premise platform with a cloud-based portal. Moreover, there are also web-based platforms that have offline functionality. Which type to use is a big consideration when choosing any type of software.
Integrations. Organizations today are right to look for software products that can integrate with each other. This is to provide management with 360-degree visibility, complete with drill-down capabilities. In this way, they will be able to base their decisions on real-time data. Also, this enables them to make adjustments pretty quickly. So, when choosing an ELS, it is best that it has the ability to work seamlessly with your organization’s ERP software or its classroom management solution.
Mobile-Ready. As most people access digital information via their mobile devices, it is best that your front-facing portals are optimized for mobile. You may also choose solutions or additional ones that can help you translate your on-premise search experience into a great mobile experience. There are, of course, software providers that are starting to offer mobile-based online public access catalogs such as MasterSoft. However, to implement such requires another subscription. Plus, it is best to have it integrated with your ELS.
Support. It is important for end-users to receive ample support from software providers. This is especially so in setting up or updating the system. It is also best to choose a software provider that is proactive when it comes to improving features, capabilities, and ease of use. With this, your platform can adapt to software market trends and, of course, to your evolving operational needs. As you can notice from the chart below, it might be possible that not-so-stellar functionality can be made up for by great customer support. Conversely, bad customer support may just undo how great a product is in the mind of users.
Source: Breeding, 2020
Currently, library management software solutions are about to cross a threshold from mere discovery to discoverability. Hence, library managers should take it as a matter of course to invest in platforms that can make their offerings available on web search. This way, they can increase their libraries’ visibility and widen the reach of their services.
Traditionally, library tools and services only allow patrons to search for available resources within their collections. This, as librarians may call it, is discovery. On the other hand, discoverability, as contrasted to discovery, is a set of “services or methodologies that enabled library materials to be found though [sic] general web search engines without having to make use of library-provided discovery tools (Breeding, 2022).” This varies on different search platforms. Google, the most popular one, implements this using the BorrowAction section.
This section is found just under the Knowledge Panel on the right-hand side of your screen when you search for a book. Using a user’s IP address and GPS data, it connects them with a local library to directly borrow or request the book. This is a relatively new feature that is different from the ReadAction section that leads users to a local or online bookstore for purchase.
|EBSCO||EBSCO Discovery Service||EBSCO Discovery Service|
OverDrive-hosted library-branded digital collections
|Delivery of JSON feeds to Google Search|
|OCLC||WorldCat Discovery ; FirstSearch||WorldCat library web visibility program|
|BiblioCommons||BiblioCore||Organic link exposure|
|Koios||Services based on Google Ad Grants|
|Innovative||Vega Discover, Encore|
|Open source||VuFind, Blacklight, Aspen Discovery, Pika|
This feature, of course, is most useful to public libraries. We expect that more and more of them will make use of this service. This service, however, can be intractable when done manually and by library staff themselves (see the Google instructions for yourself). But through integrations with key services provided by library management systems, public libraries can enhance their discoverability on search engines. With this, libraries can make their way to the forefront again. With new insights, here is the list of the best library management system you can find in the market today.
CodeAchi Library Management System (LMS) is one of the most sought-after platforms on the market today. It is known for packing its comprehensive features in an easy-to-use highly-visual interface. Because of this, it is popular among public libraries, schools, colleges, and universities around the world. Key features range from an OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) to an automatic reports generator.
Aside from this, the software provider is also known to provide stellar customer service. Also, it is prized for its automatic fine calculation module with automatic SMS borrower notifications through emails and SMS. Also, the software has a 30-day free trial version for users to try out the features and interface for themselves. Lastly, it has multisystem support. Hence, users can connect it with other library management tools and databases.
Libero is a popular cloud-based library management system solution known for being highly customizable. It can be deployed tailored to a wide range of library operation types, including public libraries, academic libraries, and corporate libraries. It also has a version for special library management settings, including those for museums, galleries, and cultural heritage libraries. The product also has a mobile version called Libero GO that serves not only as a mobile portal but can also be used as a barcode scanner and manager.
As one of the best tools available, Libero is also touted for its excellent customer support. Moreover, the software provider is very proactive in making improvements. And, thanks to its cloud-based deployment, users get to access new technology and updates immediately when they are available.
Alexandria is a cloud-based integrated library system (ILS) known for providing librarians with the ability to customize library experiences. This is thanks to its interface creation tool that allows users to add custom fields, buttons, icons, and images. Hence, users can configure the library experience to be engaging for patrons of all ages and reading levels. The platform also connects users with eBook providers and offers free resources like monthly themed posters.
WorldShare Management Services (WMS) is a unique cloud-based library management platform that leverages cooperation between clients and the software provider to create a system that fits their needs perfectly. WMS lets subscribers define their own success such as design and KPIs, then provides them with tailor-made solutions. The company is also known for allowing clients to train in their custom system in a sandbox environment before going live.
Inifiniti Library Software is a customizable library management software solution primarily designed for school use. As such, it is fitted with features for developing the love for reading and core independent learning skills. When paired with the LibPaths portal hub, teachers and librarians can create curated content for both parents and students to promote library materials and personalized learning. Also, it makes library resources available to users wherever they are—at home, in the library, and even on the go.
The cloud-based platform also helps librarians with manual tedious tasks through automation. These include sending automatic notifications for overdue items.
Evergreen ILS is a unique open-source library management solution with an active development community. It is maintained by passionate volunteers and is used by more than 2,000 libraries across the globe. The platform has an on-premise client that allows web connection to a vast network of users, allowing for the sharing of resources among the group.
Mandarin M5 is a customizable web library management software accessible through any device. It is known for providing users with features to configure it according to their needs and preferences. Also, the platform supports Unicode. Hence, it allows patrons and librarians to search for any material using any language, including Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew, among many others.
Libib is an intuitive cloud cataloging platform with a highly-visual interface. It allows users to create up to 100 mixed media collections, including books, music, movies, and games. The platform is customizable enough to be used by different library types. It is also popular among corporate users such as Disney and EA games.
Atriuum is a customizable web-based library system for libraries of all sorts. It has deployments for public/academic, schools, and church/special libraries. The platform provides multiple mobile apps for both patrons and librarians. For library management, these include an Asset Inventory Manager, Mobile Asset Tracker, Book Systems Pay, and the Atriuum Mobile Interface. For patrons, the platform has Librista for search and Librista Checkit for library transactions.
KnowAll Matrix is a completely browser-based integrated library management system that is fully maintained for clients, providing them with free upgrades as they become available. The platform also has an AutoCat feature that adds catalogs quickly by automatically downloading bibliographic data, including images from resources such as Google Books, COPAC libraries, and other specialist resources.
The product also features a familiar Google-type search feature with simple and advanced search together with filters and ranking.
Apollo ILS by Biblionix is designed especially for public libraries from the ground up by practicing librarians. As it is widely used in both the United States and Canada, the platform automatically connects clients with state catalogs and ILL systems and maintains these connections at no extra charge. It has a comprehensive set of features, from collection management to online payments.
Evolve Integrated Library Software (ILS) is a flexible platform that can easily fit any library environment, from public libraries to managing private collections. The platform is web-based and comes with automated reports. It also has automated cataloging capabilities using MARC Imports and the Z39.50 client. The product is intuitive to use and works with a mobile application to improve the patron experience.
SydneyEnterprise is an end-to-end archiving and library management solution for special libraries. The software is designed especially for large, multinational, and multibranch operations. It is built to be flexible and customizable, from features to its look and feel. It provides users with easy reporting tools that can automatically be generated any time they are needed.
ResourceMate is a robust customizable library resource management and automation solution for all industries. It is not only widely used among public libraries, school libraries, and museums but it is also being utilized by churches, non-profits, civic organizations, and corporate entities. As such, the platform is available via tiered product plans.
The ResourceMate Family of Products has six offerings with a one-time license fee. They include:
The software provider also charges for annual support, including upgrades. These annual support plans range from $106 to $394 per year.
LibraryWorld is a web-based library automation service. It allows you to create a branded library site and provides you access to customizable library automation options. The product offers features for managing library processes from cataloging and circulation to inventory and patron management. Moreover, aside from being mobile-friendly, LibraryWorld is also accessible via native mobile applications for Apple devices.
Surpass is billed as an affordable management system for all types of libraries. These include both public and school libraries as well as special libraries maintained by churches, museums, and businesses. Surpass has both on-premise and cloud-based deployments. However, the former is quite limited when it comes to features and capabilities. The on-premise platform does not include self-check features. Also, pricing varies depending on the number of workstations that can access the software.
The cloud-based platform is offered via five plans with monthly pricing but billed annually. They are:
Follett Destiny Library Manager is a library management system for schools. It does not only provide librarians with the usual tools to manage library processes and assets but it also provides opportunities to enhance learning experience through its native integrations with other Destiny tools. It is basically a part of the Follett Destiny Suite that integrates with learning engagement products such as Destiny Discover for discovery and Collections by Destiny for personalized learning.
Genesis G4 is a library automation software that has two deployment options: on-premise standalone and cloud. The product’s standalone version is only available for Windows machines while its cloud platform is accessible through any device. It is designed to be scalable enough to support single libraries for up to districts. It is also flexible in terms of functionality. This means that the platform can be used for different types of libraries, including commercial libraries and correctional facility libraries.
Handy Library Manager by PrimaSoft is a hybrid on-premise and cloud library management system solution with an extra charge on the latter. It offers quick cataloging features, including MARC imports and ISBN cataloging. Unlike other platforms, its deployment supports an unlimited number of items in its catalog. And, users can organize them in multiple libraries such as textbooks, documents, and reference materials among others. It also has printing capabilities for library reports, barcode labels, and spine labels.
Koha is a full-featured open-source enterprise-class library system solution. It is being developed by a passionate community of practicing librarians and enjoys corporate support. The product is being used by public, academic, and special libraries around the world. Hence, it is available in a wide range of languages with more being added every year. It is flexible enough to support operations of single-location libraries and consortiums. And, as a free open-source platform, there is no vendor lock-in.
There is really no general answer as to what is the best library management software solution available. Only the stakeholders in your organization can address that. If you are looking for software products, however, you can start with the ones on the list above. All of them are intuitive to use and require no special IT skills to implement. Moreover, if there are technical requirements such as those for migration, many of the software providers above take care of these for clients.
Choosing the right fit could be pretty hard, especially when there are many candidates. And, aside from friendly-priced premium software, there are also many free-to-use open-source platforms that provide great features. Moreover, free open-source solutions oftentimes rival both the functionality and ease of use of premium platforms. This is evidenced by the fact that open source communities have been growing—not only in general but specific among library management solutions.
One last thing that you need to consider as well is that it is better to choose a platform that can integrate with other third-party solutions, especially online learning platforms, and student information system (SIS) solutions. For educational institutions with specialized scientific laboratories and facilities, it could be integration capabilities with scientific data management systems.
This is more important if you work in an academic or school library. This is because, with such integrations, your institution can provide personalized digital learning environments for your stakeholders. In this way, you can leverage other online education trends such as using AI for personalized learning.