Consortium and Interoperability Options Using Sierra

We are a 2 branch system using Sierra. There is a nearby 1 branch library also using Sierra.
We have been asked by our funding authority to explore interoperability options.

  1. Does anyone have experience or examples of interoperability with another library outside of a consortium relationship?
  2. Would anyone with experience working with a consortium for their ILS or other software or services share the pros and cons of such a setup?

I would also greatly appreciate anyone with experience with a consortium sharing any details of how it actually works. What is the level of distinction between the members versus how much is merged together?

My knowledge is practically zero on this topic so any info will help!

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Hi @jrichmond, welcome to the wild :lion: and wonderful :unicorn: world of consortia where basically anything is possible!

I’ll lay out some of the more traditional options as a starting point:

  • Full Service: The consortia handles everything. From buying and setting up staff workstations to changing ILS settings. Like a super powered Managed Service Provider.
  • Shared ILS: The consortia manages a single ILS Platform with a single bib file and shared patron accounts.
  • Inter Library Loan: Each library maintains its own ILS system but then uses a 3rd party system like InnReach or ReShare to share resources.

There are lots of variations of the options mentioned above. It all just depends on what your stakeholders are looking for. I think there is a consortia forum planned for IUG 2023, so that would also be a good place to network and learn more.

Transportation is one of the most difficult challenges of consortia. “Sharing” materials doesn’t help much when you can’t get items from point A to point B.

@suzyq I feel like you could share a unique perspective on these questions.

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Hi Jason - I resemble that remark… :wink:. I’ve been a consortium admin with four different ILSes and handled several others individually (part of a consortium now but at a member library).

Like @wesochuck said, many things are possible. I’d add on to what he said by noting that within a shared ILS there is a spectrum of experience along what I’ve come to call “Confederation to Full Consortium”.

A Confederation has a shared ILS but only shares what they must within the limitations of the system. This typically starts at bibliographic records but does not necessarily include patron records (one of my previous systems had distinct customer records for each system). Policies are also as distinct as the system can make them. Resource sharing looks very similar to ILL in this scenario.

At the other end of the spectrum is a Full Consortium. Bibliographic and Patron records are shared (though there may be permissions around who can edit them). Acquisitions and Collection development are done in a coordinated fashion (maybe even a single set of accounting funds). Policies are shared across library systems and patrons have similar (ideally the same) experiences.

The consortium I’m a member of is somewhere in the middle between the two. We share bibliographic and patron records but there are separate accounting units / acquisitions records. Some circulation policies are shared but some are library system specific. For the most part, resource sharing looks like holds placement to our patrons - but we don’t share everything. We started out on Millennium and then Sierra. We are now on Polaris. I’m happy to answer further questions if you have them.


We come down somewhere between @wesochuck 's definition of Shared ILS and full service consortia. We don’t entirely handle everything, libraries are on their own for workstation purchases and many policy decisions (ones that don’t fully impact shared resources) are set by individual members of the consortia. But there are a lot of grey areas in there. For example we provide some networking equipment for members if they don’t wish to handle that on their own.

Are main roles are to administer the ILS, provide training to members on its features, and to assist where we can with a few other tools of benefit to the consortia as a whole (group purchasing opportunities, a shared Overdrive Advantage Collection, managing Google Suites, providing analytics).

Beyond that in Massachusetts we also participate in an inter library loan system that ties together the catalogs of all the consortia within in the State (a mix of Sierra, Polaris, Koha, Evergreen and Symphony). That’s administered by another group using Auto-Graphics SHAREit.


Thanks, Wes, and thank you Jason for asking a favorite question! First off, there isn’t really a consistent answer to this. Which is why I guess we’re a great bunch of people to do business with! :wink:

My background is 14-member multi-type, based largely on the fact that it involves university, community college, K-12 school district and 4 public libraries spread out over 90 miles and four distinct counties. In a multi-type such as this, what we have in common is the software; what we don’t have in common are the patrons, policies, or processes. Thus, we do not share patron records (faculty use end of semester dates, but get 2-3 week checkouts at the public library. Kiddoes at usd250 may get 2 weeks, but get 2-4 weeks at the public library for checkouts. Faculty at usd250 may get a year checkout at the school district, 2-3 weeks at the public library, and maybe a semester long-checkout at the university. So. We all maintain our own patrons, and all have separate cards and privileges. Unless that particular library is a “branch” and is used to having things decided for them as a main library with “two branches” - it may be best to share servers but not records.

Another question to ask, are you all on the same fiscal year pattern? In our case, campus runs July-June, publics run Jan-Dec, schools run Oct-September. So we don’t clear statistics based on “end of year” because my end of year is not necessarily your end of year.

Bibs. Yes, we share bibs. We encode using the 049 tag to indicate “who has planted their flag” and claimed a piece of the bib. With Sierra, you can assign “locations” and even “libraries” (branches) but if you are a consortia you also will have “scopes” - while scopes I think were generally created for public to “scope their view of the online catalog”, scopes also use staff permissions, so, as a cataloger, I would have permission to edit the bib, but if I am at library A, I do not have permission to edit, delete or create an item at “library B” - Scoping has an inanely complex setup to it, but if set up correctly, it does protect the ability of library A to not muck with library B’s items, patrons, orders, etc. In other words, separate, and different.

If your three libraries are all publics, and you all agree on lots of things, you might be able to work, theoretically as “branches” with policies that work for everyone, but in mixed-type situations the tag line really is that everyone agrees… " to do it differently" -

I won’t go too much further into this, but this may give you a bit of something to think about. If you have any other questions offlist, my email is - Thanks, Susan


@wesochuck @lreynish @jmgold @suzyq

A big thank you for everyone’s thoughtful responses! I need to sift through all of this and report back to the Director. Might have follow up questions then.