ILS: Inventory or Search and Retrieval System?

Search Help.There’s an interesting discussion going at LibDev about what our ILSs are. It all started with a discussion of what role XML and webservices could/should play with ILS/catalogs, but a comment reminded us that Vendor’s decisions about adding new features to products that have been around for 20 or 30 years sometimes edge towards lock-in. I replied offering Flickr as an example of a vendor that’s been successful in part because of their open APIs.

Then David Walker made the point that most ILS were built as inventory systems in the days long before Google showed us that search and retrieval was a separate issue.

The problem is that we have long mistaken these systems for a search and retrieval tool. That is really only a secondary (at best) feature of any ILS, and so it should come as no surprise to us that [they leave] much, much to be desired in that area.

David’s point is almost inarguable. Entirely inarguable, except that electronic sources represent a growing region of our information landscape while the relative number of non-electronic resources inventoried in the ILS shrinks. Unless the ILS evolves, the only items we’ll need to inventory are our preserved resources and archives, and ILSs aren’t very good at that either.