OCLC’s Web-scale Management Services Released to Early Adopters

August 12, 2010

The much-hyped OCLC Web-scale Management Services (WMS) moved from pilot phase to production last month with the release of acquisitions and circulation components to around 30 early adopters. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has posted an ambitious timeline that would make it the first institution to go live with the product on August 30; Pepperdine University Libraries in Malibu, California, is slated to come in second with a projected go-live date of October 11.

Calling WMS “the future of the ILS,” UTC’s Jason Griffey, project lead for the WMS migration, told American Libraries that “using a centralized database of bibliographic records like WorldCat means that you simplify pretty much every other aspect of back-office procedures.” Web-scale Management Services moves acquisitions, circulation, and patron management into the cloud, putting those functions alongside WorldCat Local; the aim is to make workflows more efficient by automating critical back-office operations and reducing software support costs.

Michael Dula, director of digital initiatives at Pepperdine, said the move to WMS fits within “our overall technology strategy of moving functionality to externally hosted systems.” With so much computing going on in the cloud, Pepperdine felt it made sense to "manage information, not servers," Dula told AL, asserting that the change “to a web-based system with a modern interface is huge.”

Noting the benefits of the change to WMS for back-end users, Griffey explained that “moving an item from acquisitions to circulation is a 2- or 3-button-click process.” And leveraging networked information sharing made possible by the cloud infrastructure has more advantages than just processing books in-hand. For example, WMS keeps universal, up-to-date information about vendors, so that libraries don’t spend their own staff time maintaining vendor lists. “We will be able to access (and contribute to) a central vendor database,” Dula noted.

“People have been talking about [a central vendor database] for 15 years,” OCLC Executive Director for Networked Library Services Andrew Pace told AL, adding, “It’s hard to estimate, but this improvement alone could save about one-quarter of an FTE’s time in some libraries.”

Despite their hopefulness about WMS, both libraries noted the typical challenges that come with migrating to a new system. Griffey noted that getting the data migrated along the library’s “insane” schedule has been the hardest part. Dula told AL that many of Pepperdine’s challenges surfaced during the switch to WorldCat Local last year, a change that paved the way for WMS. “We had a lot of data in our old system with nonstandard formats, particularly with OCLC numbers,” Dula said. “We had to run a reclamation project to get our holdings records up to date.”

Despite challenges, both early adopters expect the payoff to be huge. WMS’s acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation workflows are all faster and simpler, and are all browser-based. “This means less time fiddling with specialized software,” Griffey notes, guessing the library will save enough staff time in the new efficiencies to pay for it over the course of the year.

Dula also expects major cost savings. “Our overall expenditures on core collections management functions are projected to drop by over one-third," he told AL.

Patrons will experience major changes in the search and discovery layer, as WMS will make the entire WorldCat database available in the same interface they use to search their own library’s catalog. “I look forward to the patrons being able to interact with the library’s collection in new and interesting ways,” Griffey said.

After a year of testing the application and infrastructure of WMS in the early adopter phase, OCLC plans to make the product widely available next summer.



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