Bellingham Public Library Upgrades Software

By Bryant Hill

The Bellingham Public Library Board of Trustees cheered as they celebrated the official replacement of their old Integrated Library System (ILS) for an upgraded ILS at their board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15. 

ILS is the computer software program most public libraries use to keep track of checked and returned books, order items, catalog new materials and other vital library functions. 

“It affects everything we do,” Library Director Rebecca Judd said. “It feels great to be finished.” 

The library officially turned off services of their previous ILS program called “Horizon” at 1:05 a.m on Jan. 1, activating a new software program called “Polaris,” from Innovative Interfaces, Inc.. 

The previous ILS “Horizon,” by the SirisDynix company, needed to be replaced before Jan. 31 of this month when the library’s contract with SirisDynix expired and the library would have to pay for another year. 

The upgraded software system “Polaris” is a cloud-based program that is more secure and efficient than its predecessor, according to Judd.

The Polaris program serves both the Bellingham Public Library (BPL) system and the Whatcom County Library System (WCLS), allowing both library networks to mutually exchange materials on the same platform. 

Both libraries began contract negotiations for a new system in July and together signed a contract with SirisDynix on Aug. 1. 

Head of Digital Services Jon McConnel credited the WCLS with the project’s timely completion. 

“Working together, we were able to do it.” McConnel said.

As part of the transition process into the new software system, Bellingham libraries were closed on Dec. 3 and Jan. 2 to train library staff. Many library functions including checking items in, placing holds or making payments were unavailable from Jan. 1-7 while Polaris was coming online. 

During that time, the library’s central branch on 210 Central Ave faced a backlog of around 10,000 items that could not be checked in. The Bellingham central library circulates around 1.5 million items each year, and items can easily accumulate in a short amount of time, Judd said. 

The library is currently fully operational with the new and improved software system, and while bits and pieces are still being cleaned up, there haven’t been any major issues so far, McConnel said.

The public’s experience with the new library system will not be that different from what many are used to, as the switch mainly affected the administrative side of things, according to Judd.

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