The Library issued a 296-page Request for Proposal (RFP) on July 7 for a proposed Integrated Library System (ILS), following a June 17 notice in the Commerce Business Daily. Prospective ILS vendors were given until Sept. 8 to respond with their detailed proposals for an ILS, for its installation and for follow-up maintenance and software updates.
"In a departure from its past practice, the Library is seeking to buy a commercial off-the-shelf system rather than developing the software in-house," said Barbara Tillett, chief of the Cataloging Policy and Support Office and project leader of the ILS RFP Project Team.
"An ILS will allow us to do a number of new and different things not now possible with our existing stand-alone applications," Ms. Tillett continued. "For example, it will help with the security of collections by providing online inventory control for individual items."
In the RFP, the Library has provided descriptions for the wide variety of material processing activities within the Library. The document also goes into significant detail on what LC needs the system to do in the areas of: inventory control, acquisitions, binding, cataloging, circulations, collections development, online catalogs, preservation, serials management and production of LC products, such as cataloging records. The RFP also contains information on LC's technical environment and related requirements for the proposed ILS.
The ILS will also help deal with the so-called year 2000 problem. Like many other computer systems in use today, most of the Library's stand-alone applications contain dates in a two-digit format for a given year, Ms. Tillett said. Programs may fail to operate properly after 1999, because the year 2000 will be indistinguishable from the year 1900.
"The ILS will go a long way toward solving the year 2000 problem for the Library, if we can get the system up and running before Jan. 1, 2000," Ms. Tillett said.
"One thing we do expect," Ms. Tillett continued, "is that putting an ILS in place at the Library in the long run will be much less expensive than modifying all of our stand-alone applications to be year 2000-compliant."
While the Library is working to solve the year 2000 problem, an interagency committee, coordinated by the General Services Administration, has already initiated several actions, such as requiring vendor software listed in future federal procurement schedules to be year 2000-compliant and specifying four-digit year fields for federal computers. The RFP for the ILS states that the system must be year 2000-compliant.
Besides integrating information for separate library functions into one system, an ILS will provide networked access through its online catalog to the Library's Web site, as well as to other digital repositories and online resources available locally and through the Internet, Ms. Tillett said.
The issuing of the RFP is the culmination of a year's work on the part of the ILS RFP Project Team. The RFP document went through four drafts, and more than 100 LC employees served as "official reviewers" of the document. The reviewers in turn consulted with their service unit colleagues, including representatives from the AFSCME locals, to make sure the RFP addressed each work unit's requirements, Ms. Tillett said. Ultimately the ILS will affect the day-to-day work of the majority of LC's 4,100 employees.
In preparation for issuing the RFP, the Library issued a request for comment (RFC) for the proposed ILS in the first week of December 1996. Issuing RFCs is a common practice for federal agencies on large, complex contracts. The Library held a "vendor conference" at LC on Jan. 17 so that prospective vendors could get a firsthand look at the size of the project. Nine vendors responded to the RFC by the Feb. 3 deadline, and the ILS RFP Project Team took vendors' comments into consideration in the final draft of the RFP document.
Ms. Tillett said, "As intense as the process was to develop the RFP, that will probably turn out to be the easy part." Now the Library will turn its attention to the evaluation of proposals and planning for implementation of the ILS. Evaluation teams have been formed to analyze responses.
"In analyzing proposals," Ms. Tillett said, "the Library is looking for the best value to the government and not just the lowest priced system. We want the vendors to provide the technical capabilities we've set out."
LC tentatively hopes to evaluate all RFP responses by December 1997. If the project receives full congressional approval, a contract might be signed by next spring.