Montana Shared Catalog - Frequently Asked Questions

Montana Shared Catalog - Frequently Asked Questions


This article covers frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers when it comes to the Montana Shared Catalog (MSC).

What is the Montana Shared Catalog (MSC)?

The Montana Shared Catalog is a voluntary consortium comprised of over 200 libraries and branches stretching across the state from Troy to Ekalaka and Plentywood to LimaThe MSC currently includes academic libraries, public libraries, school libraries, and twelve special (law, medical, government, museum) libraries. These libraries all share the consortium's integrated library system (ILS) software, the bibliographic records contained within the system, and access to system administration and training support provided by a dedicated team of Montana State Library (MSL) employees.

What's the primary value of being an MSC library?

Membership in the consortium is a great opportunity for Montana libraries to improve their quantity, type and quality of library materials and services through collaboration and cooperation. The MSC facilitates library development and frees library staff from dealing with locally hosted servers and system software. Some MSC members have formed sharing groups that not only share their patrons and collections, but also work together in ways that help each other stretch their materials purchasing budgets. Perhaps most significantly, MSC members share their smarts and imagination—can you imagine having so many brains to pick when you have a problem or a bright idea?

Who is actually "driving" the MSC?

A dedicated team of MSL employees administer the system and provide training support to make the MSC the best consortium it can be. Having said that: 
  1. By-Laws are set by the MSC membership in partnership with the State Library.
  2. Budgets are prepared by the MSC Director and submitted to the MSC membership for review. They are then discussed and voted on by the membership during their annual spring membership meetings.
  3. MSL's MSC team provides training and ongoing support.
Consortium members make every effort to reach decisions by consensus and in the spirit of cooperation. In the event that consensus does not occur, a majority of the membership present at a members meeting or voting electronically is required. The MSC team and the Content Management Committee attend to operational and procedural decisions, and present suggestions to the membership for approval. The Montana State Library Commission makes some funding decisions, with advice from the State Librarian and the Network Advisory Council.

Your library, regardless of size or type, has an equal voice in all the policy and financial decisions affecting the consortium.  

Which applications and computer hardware does the MSC run on?

We use SirsiDynix Corp.’s Symphony integrated library system (ILS). The components of the Symphony ILS include:
  1. WorkFlows modules: Circulation, Cataloging, Acquisitions, etc.
  2. Enterprise: the online public access catalog (OPAC), that patrons use to search, place holds and manage their accounts.
  3. BLUEcloud Analytics (BCA): the reporting tool staff use to run on-demand statistics for circulation, collection information and development, holds, Public Library Annual Statistics, and more.
  4. Mobile apps: MobileStaff.

Who fixes the MSC when it breaks?

The MSC team monitors the system, performs system upgrades, fixes things when broken and makes configuration adjustments as necessary. Your library won’t need on-site staff people to keep your staff interface and online catalog functioning. If the MSC staff can’t resolve software problems, they have direct line, priority access to the vendor’s customer support department.

Our goal is that the MSC is available to your staff and users, except for scheduled downtime for upgrades, large record loads, and maintenance.

For scheduled and unscheduled downtimes MSC libraries have access to the Symphony system’s Offline feature, to circulate materials if the server becomes unavailable.  

You may need on-site staff people to keep your local area network running smoothly and your workstations and related peripheral equipment online.

How is the MSC financed?

Currently, 75% of the annual operational funds come from member libraries. The other 25% is provided from the Montana State Library. The State Library provides start-up financial assistance to libraries joining the MSC, hosts the staff workspace, and pays the salaries of 2.33 operational staff. The other 2.66 staff salary is paid by the membership.

What is the MSC budget?

The budget fiscal year is July 1 through June 30. The budget is broken down by operational and administration costs.

How much does it cost to join the MSC?

Start-up costs range from $900 for small, un-automated libraries and up to $30,000 for large, automated library systems that migrate their data. Montana-specific start-up costs have been negotiated with SirsiDynix, toward the goal of making the MSC affordable for all of Montana’s libraries. A competitive MSC-start-up assistance program helps libraries afford the initial license and data-related expenses of joining the MSC. Start-up costs not associated with direct vendor costs, such as: peripheral equipment (mobile devices, receipt printers, barcode scanners and/or barcodes) and new library training are paid by the library and included in the start-up cost estimate. The MSC Director will supply your library with two cost estimates: a start-up and an ongoing cost estimate.

The MSC is a bargain if you compare the costs of being an MSC library versus running and maintaining your own system. The initial and ongoing out-of-pocket and capital costs, combined with the time it takes to run a local system, and the value of librarians’ time spent on computers instead of users, all add together to make owning your own system an expensive proposition.

A careful accounting reveals that the costs of being an MSC member are equal to or less than the costs for having a standalone automated catalog and circulation system.

What is the annual cost of remaining an MSC member library?

Annual ongoing costs range from $900 from small non-circulating libraries to more than $35,000 for the largest member libraries. Contact the MSC Director for an estimate of your library’s anticipated annual costs. 
MSC membership requires enrollment in OCLC, which is an additional annual cost for the library if they are not already enrolled.
All libraries pay as little as possible, given the costs of running the MSC. Libraries with larger collections, more users, and higher yearly circulations pay more than libraries with smaller title, user, and circulation counts. The smallest libraries receive an additional title, patron, and cost-share break.

Our intent is to use a measure that equitably distributes the consortium’s annual costs among MSC libraries, based on the record counts taken from the system on March 1, each year.

What are the consortium’s typical ongoing costs, and how much will they be in future years?

The consortium’s typical ongoing costs include SirsiDynix software licensing, maintenance and support, enriched content (cover art, reviews, etc.), authority maintenance, catalog clean-up,  training, meeting and conference costs, MSL indirect service costs and 2.66 of the cost of three (3) MSC staff positions. Annual costs can be expected to increase by as much as 3% yearly due to inflation. The state also provides nearly $100k per year to the MSC to help reduce the amount of shared costs along with LSTA funds provided for 2.33 staff salaries.

How is the ongoing cost figured?

A library’s individual contribution to the ongoing costs of the MSC is determined by group consensus; every library has an equal vote. MSC’s primary concern is to keep prices fair and affordable for all participating libraries (big and small, but taking special care to keep smaller libraries enfranchised), while meeting its financial obligations.

The MSC ongoing cost formula is based on four measures. Those measures are: title (30%), circulation (10%) and patron (30%) counts that come directly from the system. The remaining 30% is divided equally among libraries. Title, user, and circulation record counts are done by system administrators on March 1 each year to create the next fiscal year’s ongoing cost formula. Member libraries are invoiced by mid-May of each year for the next fiscal year (July 1 through June 30).

The following breaks are included:
  1. Title record break – libraries with under 10,000 titles records receive a 5,000 title break.
  2. Patron record break – libraries with under 3,000 patron records will not be charged for patron records.
  3. Equal share of 30% - libraries with under 8,000 title records AND under 1,000 patron records will pay $200 less than the other libraries sharing the remaining balance equally.
The price structure strives to provide all libraries with a good deal, but takes exceptional care that it doesn’t price large, medium or small libraries out of the catalog. It is a delicate balance that is annually re-examined by the group.

Can libraries form sub-groups within the MSC?

Yes. Public libraries with branches can present their library system catalog to their users. County-wide systems present a multi-type "visage" to their users. School and agency libraries have the option of displaying their district’s holdings as their default catalog.  

Thirty-two libraries are part of the Partners Resource sharing group and another eleven are part of the 4-Rivers sharing group, while five others make up the BridgerNet sharing group. These groups share their collections and patrons. They stitch their partnership together with special system configuration and whatever courier/delivery services that can be arranged. The Partners group also offers floating collections of new materials to their patrons. These items remain on the receiving library’s shelf until needed elsewhere, giving the local libraries a “new” set of materials to offer their users on a rotating basis. This has made their patrons very happy.

Must we join a resource sharing group when we join the MSC? Can we join these groups later?

You need not join a sharing group when you join the MSC. Libraries are strongly encouraged to inquire about joining the Partners sharing group -- the only sharing group open to new members -- but they should know beforehand that there are circulation-policy and logistical details that must be worked out.

Can my library customize the public web view of the MSC online catalog?

The MSC catalog is available to anyone, anywhere, anytime, through internet access and a web browser. Our desire to customize the catalog to your library’s unique needs and preferences is tempered by finite staff resources and the capabilities and limitations of the SirsiDynix Symphony software.

The “Enterprise” web interface is available to your users. The friendly interface includes search suggestions, “did you mean” functionality, and “facets” to easily scope search results to the desired materials. It also includes enriched content (such as book jackets, table of contents, excerpts, and book reviews). This content is licensed from Syndetic Solutions, Inc., and your library’s share of this consortium-wide cost is part of your ongoing expenses.

Some of the look-and-feel of the MSC system can be customized for your library; other aspects are determined by consortium-related requirements and cannot be changed to meet your library’s needs. 

What data can I migrate from my existing system?

Bibliographic- and item-level data migrates well if it is in standard MARC format. Patron information can be migrated. Some libraries use this opportunity to re-register their patrons in the new system. Patron data in standard flat-text files from student-data or similar systems can usually be migrated. Circulation, serials control, and acquisitions data is problematic and we do not attempt to migrate that data except for very large libraries or library groups.

Selected libraries will begin a three to six month process of adding their records to the MSC. This process will include testing and training timed to meet the needs of new libraries coming online. Within three to five months of joining the system, selected libraries’ catalogs will typically be available over the web, and libraries will begin to circulate items using the MSC system.

Can we use the MSC to build our bibliographic and patron data files? We have no electronic data files; instead we use a card catalog.

Yes, the MSC is a great tool to use to create an electronic duplicate of your card catalog. We can help you estimate how long it might take to get the job done. Libraries not migrating bibliographic data are required to manually enter 80% of their circulating collection no later than one year after joining the MSC.   

Why is a collection management policy required?

Collection management policies are a prerequisite to maintaining a useful collection. Accordingly, the Montana State Library Commission requires grant-seeking libraries to have a current (less than 3 years since the last formal revision/update) collection management policy, approved by the library board/school board, or principal or administrator.

What are some of the drawbacks of being part of the MSC?

Once you join the MSC, the library has made a long-term commitment. The expense of exiting the MSC is fairly substantial and would be borne by the library requesting to do so.

You share your library’s catalog with over 200 other member libraries. It must work for all. Belonging to a consortium requires that your library commits to communicating with other MSC members, committees, and the system admin/training team. You may need to make operational and financial compromises and share the consequences of decisions that lack immediate benefit for your library.

How does a library join the MSC?

Information on applying to join the MSC can be found in How to Join the Montana Shared Catalog.

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