The automation software used for Merlin is Sierra, from Innovative Interfaces, Inc. (III).  III has been a leader in library technology and services for nearly 30 years, and is one proprietary software vendor that has remained stable (with a retention of 98%) in a competitive ILS marketplace. Merlin libraries are currently connected through the BadgerNet Converged Network, and telecommunications costs are subsidized by the TEACH Wisconsin program. The Merlin members receive training, technical support, statistics, and a network library card program.

Sierra’s multi-tier, client-server architecture includes software modules for the following functions: circulation for resource sharing (including offline circulation and self-checkout), central bibliographic database, central patron database, management reports, online public access catalog,  patron overdue and reserve notices (email, print and telephone), and acquisitions functions.


The following workstation recommendations for running Sierra staff applications are intended to guide a typical library in realistic workstation selection, and describe a reasonably modern workstation that libraries using a typical three year or four year replacement cycle will already own.  Using processors slower than those recommended for Sierra applications will result in reduced performance and difficulties operating other applications while using Sierra.

All recommendations are based on the most current release of the software.
•    Processor: An Intel Pentium 4, Pentium D, Xeon, Core or similar processor running at 3 Ghz or faster (2 Ghz or faster for the Core 2 Duo), or an equivalent processor such as the AMD Athlon 64, Opteron 64, or Turion processors with comparable performance.
Note: Sierra applications work on slower processors, but performance will be affected.
•    RAM: 1 GB (recommended)
Note: If you plan to run other applications on the workstation in addition to Sierra, you should consider adding additional RAM for optimal performance. Newer operating system versions such as Windows Vista require more memory then earlier versions such as Windows XP, so your library should consider additional memory when using newer operating system versions.
•    Free Disk Space: 500 MB (recommended)
•    Sound Card: For audible system warnings and notices.
•    Peripherals: A mouse or other pointing device
•    Resolution: 800 x 600 or better
Note: 1024 x 768 or better recommended for Sierra Acquisitions displays.
•    Browsers: Innovative recommends using a modern browser capable of supporting current Web standards.
•    Sierra Desktop Application: Please contact NWLS for any issues related to the Sierra Desktop Application.

Supported Operating Systems

Windows ® 2000 (service pack 2 or later), Windows ® ME, Windows ® XP, or Windows ® Vista (Business or Home), Windows ® 7 (all editions), or Windows ® 8 (all editions)

64-bit, Intel-based (Core 2 Duo) with Mac OS X 10.5.2 or later (Leopard) or 10.6 (Snow Leopard), or OS X Lion
Workstations on 10.5.2 or later will need to download the Java for Mac OS X 10.5 Update 1 or higher, as appropriate. 

Network Access

Sierra workstations require network access to the Sierra Database and Application servers. 
With average sized patron records, one Sierra Circulation requires a minimum of 10 KBPS to process one transaction every second. Thus, a dedicated 56 KBPS line can handle no more than five Sierra Circulation stations. This is a good rule of thumb for the other Sierra applications as well. 

Also, the Sierra client assumes a good quality network link and expects low latency and high reliability in addition to decent throughput. Sierra does not expect to recover seamlessly from a connection which is fully dropped at the TCP/IP level.  Therefore any Sierra workstation that is not connected via a dedicated TCP connection should use the Wireless Workstation product (not the standard client) for best performance.  Any practice converse to this will likely result in reduced performance and possible data corruption.

Annual Software Enhancements

Innovative Interfaces upgrades the software suite and products line annually through voting ballots submitted by customers.

Sierra Updates

  • In Acquisitions, fiscal close function displays a confirmation message when the process is completed.
  • In Acquisitions, Sierra client has an indication as to which fiscal close method is being used.
  • In Acquisitions, output vouchers  sends vendor code and foreign currency elements simultaneously.
  • In Cataloging, post-search limiting is added for Remote (z39.50) searches.
  • In Cataloging, link maintenance is performed on-the-fly instead of nightly.
  • In Cataloging, the Statistics Group table is expanded to 5,000 codes.
  • In Circulation, is "damaged items" workflow option for the consortium.
  • In Circulation, is an option for libraries to alert staff when a patron account is expiring.
  • In Circulation, when checking in large amounts of items, a running count displays.
  • In Circulation, the LIB USE ONLY status will return to that status if changed manually and then cleared.
  • In Circulation, the birthdate fixed field auto-fill is turned off.
  • In Circulation, the Days Closed table is expanded to 5,000 entries.
  • In Print Templates, additional fields will be added to the data library.
  • In Print Templates, a new template for financial payment receipt will be available.
  • In the public catalog, it will be possible to renew items when there are outstanding bib holds, as long as there are still enough copies available for those holds to be filled.
  • Create Lists will have minor expanded functionality (allow searches using relative dates; files will display number and name when listing in various functions)
  • In Database Admin, a new tool will better manage and improve the process of rapid updating the YTDCIRC field for end-of-the-year processes.
  • In Circulation, an option to include an explanation for an adjusted charge will be available and stored in fines history
  • In circulation, it will be possible to show the total amount due as well as individual fines when printing a patron's fines from the Fines tab.
The Innovative Users Group (IUG)

The IUG (Innovative Users Group) is a group of all public, academic, special libraries or consortia that use the Innovative products.  The IUG plays the important role of planning and managing two important events: the IUG Annual Conference, and the Software Enhancements process.


The IUG Annual Conference

IUG provides one annual conference a year.  The conference is usually a four day event, designed with specialized workshops the first day. The remaining days include library forums and a wide variety of and presentations by librarians and Innovative staff.

Apart from the annual conference, many IUG regional conferences are held annually.  


The Enhancements Process

The IUG plays a vital role in the decision making process to provide enhancements to the software system. Through this cooperative process, IUG members make suggestions, vote for system enhancements, and are afforded a unified voice for improving the system functionality. Participation in the enhancements process is one of the greatest benefits of IUG membership; this is an opportunity to address any software issues, big or small, that member libraries like to see improved.
Enhancement requests may be submitted at any time through IUG. Once a year the existing requests in the enhancements database are entered into a ballot, to be voted on and presented to III as recommendations. IUG enhancement requests are assigned a high priority and many have been incorporated into the software but there are no guarantees if/when a specific enhancement will be implemented.

The number of enhancements on the ballot and number of "top vote getters" for each category will be determined proportionally by the number of submissions in each category. A normal enhancement cycle follows this schedule example:

•    Libraries from everywhere submit enhancement ideas
•    Deadline for enhancements submissions is called
•    Functional experts review enhancements and draw up the enhancement ballot
•    Ballot is published on IUG website and IUG voting starts
•    NWLS makes copies of the ballot and distributes it to Merlin member libraries
•    Merlin libraries make their enhancement choices and send their responses back to NWLS
•    NWLS tabulates the results as one ballot vote and submits ballot to IUG
•    IUG voting ends at midnight of final day of voting
•    Ballot results posted to IUG website and sent to III


Functional Experts

Functional Experts work at IUG member libraries, have a strong familiarity with different components of the Sierra system, and have 2-3 years experience with the client. When possible, FEs represent different library types (Academic, Public, Law, School, etc).  FEs work in teams of 2-4 members for each category and review all enhancement requests. These teams combine redundant entries, notify submitters if the functions are already available or are identified in a subsequent release document, and reduce the number of ballot items for the final ballot. FEs have a clear and staggered appointment with "term limits" to ensure that fresh ideas and views of the process are brought forward.


Additional Products

The Innovative Interfaces software suite includes a optional software products that are continuously changing and upgrading as new technology becomes available. The products are developed with staff and user satisfaction in mind, providing solutions for staff efficiency and to make the user experience quick, personalized, and satisfyingly simple.