July 21, 2024

Putting the Pieces Together | Library Systems Landscape


Imagine a future library use case: a mom picks up her son from soccer practice, and he mentions that he has a report due the following day. He doesn’t have all of the materials he needs, and the local library is closing soon. So, the mom calls up the catalog using her car’s voice-activated web browser and reserves what he needs while driving.

If that sounds like a pipe dream, it shouldn’t. Many new cars already feature voice command devices (VCD) that allow drivers to interact with their stereo, GPS, and other systems, or even dictate text messages or emails. According to global information and analytics provider IHS, these features will be included in 55 percent of new cars produced in 2019.

In a recent conversation with LJ, Will Evans, managing director of consumer experience design for TLC Labs at The Library Corporation, described the scenario above and pointed out that libraries are already in the middle of a similar interface shift, with desktop computer usage in decline and tablet and smartphone usage rising sharply. As that shift has progressed, people have come to expect consumer websites—and, increasingly, libraries’—to be developed with responsive web design (RWD) techniques or a mobile app that will work with their tablets and phones.

“If you look at any of your data, you realize that it’s getting above 19 percent [of users]—especially among people under 30—who are accessing the [catalog] through a mobile device. That’s where you’re going to grow,” he says. “Most [libraries] are going to be realizing that a mobile-first strategy is incredibly important. The other thing is the importance of context. They’re no longer accessing the catalog from a screen inside the library. That’s going to be less and less the case. They’re going to be accessing it on the go, they’re going to be accessing it from the web browser in their car navigation system.”

User experience (UX) design is a strategic focus for TLC, and part of Evans’s job is to anticipate and prepare for these types of advances. But his argument should ring true for any librarian. There’s every reason to think that patron expectations will continue to evolve in tandem with emerging commercial technologies.

This first edition of Library Systems Landscape, the successor to LJ’s annual Automation Marketplace feature, will examine how library systems are currently evolving, specifically focusing on recent advances in ebook integration, the emergence of next-generation library services platforms (LSP), new tools that are expanding the boundaries of what library websites and catalogs can do, and the maturation of open source options as competitors to commercial products.

Table 1: The Next Generation

Ex Libris Alma 48 329
Innovative Interfaces Sierra Services Platform 113 336
OCLC WorldShare Management Services 92 177
ProQuest Intota Assessment component
released in November
SirsiDynix BLUEcloud In rollout
VTLS Open Skies In rollout
Numbers represented here were reported to us by associated vendors.
*Year End 2013

The next generation

OCLC was first to market with a next-generation LSP, launching OCLC Web-scale Management Services to early adopters in 2010. It was rebranded a year later as WorldShare Management Services (WMS). WMS and other LSPs aim to consolidate the functions of the varied, existing tools needed for acquisitions, circulation, workflow, analytics, discovery, and metadata and license management of print, electronic, and digital collections into a unified, web-based solution that replaces a traditional integrated library system (ILS).

“Happiness is best attained through fidelity to a worthy purpose,” says Andrew Pace, executive director of Networked Library Services for OCLC, quoting Helen Keller. “She meant [fidelity] in the sense of faithfulness, but from an OCLC perspective, it’s also [true in] the sense of stereophonic fidelity. We’re making these pieces fit together. Even though we have disparate development teams and disparate product teams, we’re marching together with a single purpose.”

Vendors have taken two distinct approaches to building their next-generation platforms. OCLC WMS, Ex Libris Alma, ProQuest Intota, and the upcoming Kuali OLE platforms have all been built from the ground up with new code. Alma was built by the company responsible for tools such as the Aleph ILS, the SFX OpenURL link resolver, Verde e-resource manager, and DigiTool digital asset manager, but this new system will be consolidated and seamless, eliminating the need to synchronize data across systems.

Intota is in the earliest stages of rollout; ProQuest released the first component of the system in November 2013. Intota Assessment is a collection analytics tool that combines a library’s historical circulation data with qualitative information from the Serials Solutions Knowledge Base, Books in Print, Resources for College Libraries, Ulrich’s, and other sources. Although Intota Assessment can integrate with a library’s existing ILS and work as a stand-alone collection analytics solution, it is just one component of the broader Intota LSP, which will ultimately offer tools for electronic resource management (ERM), patron-driven acquisition (PDA), print fulfillment, financial management tools, and other standard components needed to replace a traditional ILS.

In contrast to Alma, WMS, and Intota, the Sierra Services Platform from Innovative Interfaces Inc. (III), SirsiDynix’s BLUEcloud Suite, and VTLS’s Open Skies platform build on existing ILS solutions and consolidate features and functionality from other automation and discovery products offered by these companies and their partners.

Streamlined vs. time-tested

As Carl Grant, chief technology officer for the University of Oklahoma Libraries and independent consultant, notes in a series of 2012 blog posts written shortly after many of these platforms were announced, there are benefits to each approach. The built-from-scratch platforms don’t rely on legacy code, are more streamlined from the start, and can promise a true cloud-based multitenant architecture, in which all updates, patches, and bug fixes are handled on the developer side and only have to be performed once to be applied to all customers.

Each of these vendors also brings to the table a distinct advantage. With its massive member base, OCLC enjoys significant benefits from existing collaborative efforts, and WMS draws from data available in WorldCat and its other centralized data repositories. In January, OCLC announced WorldCat Discovery Services, offering access to a central index that will enable the discovery of 1.3 billion electronic, digital, and physical resources in libraries around the world. Meanwhile, digital and electronic resources are ProQuest’s core competency, and a central goal of these new LSPs involves integrating the management, delivery, usage analysis, and discovery of growing digital and electronic collections alongside print and other resources. And Ex Libris has the most experience building and operating comprehensive automation solutions.

Table 2: ILS Three-Year Sales Trends

COMPANY SYSTEM 2011 2012 2013 2013 SALES 2013 INSTALLED
Auto-Graphics AGent VERSO 12 16 17 17 0 591
Biblionix Apollo 79 80 87 87 0 441
Ex Libris Aleph 18 20 25 n/a n/a 2,367
Ex Libris Voyager 1 6 0 0 0 1,261
Innovative Interfaces Inc. Millennium 32 30 6 1 5 1,304
Mandarin Library Automation M3 42 38 13 n/a n/a 3,013
Mandarin Library Automation Oasis n/a n/a 33 n/a n/a 349
Polaris Polaris ILS 53 27 44 43 1 3,300
SirsiDynix Symphony 41 87 85 17 68 2,496
SirsiDynix Horizon 2 1 1 0 1 1,099
SirsiDynix EOS 91 58 70 62 8 1,132
VTLS Virtua 12 14 7 0 7 1,804
Numbers represented here were reported to us by associated vendors. n/a: not available.

However, III, SirsiDynix, and VTLS are building on familiar, reliable systems. Since the three firms still allow a variety of deployment options—including software as a service (SaaS) hosting, private cloud hosting, and local hosting for libraries with specific needs or security protocols—multi­tenant updates won’t be possible for all of their customers, and these companies may need to support multiple versions of their platform, Grant notes. But existing Millennium customers will enjoy the enhanced front-end functionality of Sierra with minimal staff training and a simple migration. Similarly, BLUEcloud and Open Skies customers may need to keep pace with the releases and updates to SirsiDynix’s Horizon and Symphony, or VTLS’s Virtua ILS, if they want to use the latest next-generation features upon rollout, but a data migration won’t be necessary, since a library’s core ILS will remain essentially the same.

BLUEcloud, for example, “will include, by the time it’s done, a completely new front end…while the back end stays largely intact. If you’re a Horizon user you can stay on Horizon, if you’re a Symphony user you can stay on Symphony,” says Eric Keith, VP of global marketing, communications, and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix.

BLUE is an acronym for “Best Library User Experience,” Keith notes. “Everything we do is focused on improving the library user experience, whether it’s staff, patrons, or students—everybody that uses our software.”

Although BLUEcloud is still in development, SirsiDynix is committed to the platform as a new chapter for the company. After surveying their customers, company officials acknowledged during their 2013 COSUGI user group meeting that many libraries were frustrated with SirsiDynix for focusing development efforts too much on new products, rather than enhancing existing ones. With BLUEcloud, the goal is to offer a comprehensive, cloud-based administration, acquisition, and discovery system for current Horizon and Symphony customers. Many of the system’s features are covered by existing maintenance fees, and, in January, the company announced BLUEcloud Rewards, a loyalty program that will give BLUEcloud adopters annual vouchers worth at least five percent of their maintenance costs to apply toward other SirsiDynix products such as the eResource Central ERM solution.

The company has made significant investments in the service, increasing its development staff by more than 30 percent in 2013 and announcing plans to hire 39 new programmers this year.

With the November 2013 acquisition of EOS International, a provider of technology solutions for legal, government, corporate, and other special libraries, SirsiDynix has the largest customer base of any ILS provider.

Popular option

Compared to VTLS and SirsiDynix, III has a head start of more than a year with its next-generation platform, Sierra, which was launched in 2012. [Shortly after this article’s publication in print, it was announced that III had acquired Polaris Library Systems] But, if Sierra’s rapid adoption is any indication, expanding the functionality of an existing ILS is a popular approach, which could bode well for these two competitors. At year-end 2013, Sierra was deployed at more than 430 library systems worldwide, according to recent press announcements, with most of these customers upgrading from Millennium.

Sierra works with an open source PostgreSQL database and an open source Apache Lucene index. Combined with Sierra’s suite of application programming interfaces (APIs), the open architecture of the system is designed to make it easier for libraries and third-party developers to integrate new applications into the system, or to facilitate interaction with social networking sites, for example.

“We’ve been focusing on communicating this idea of ‘Innovative: The Library Is Open.’ That’s been our theme for the past year,” says Gene Shimshock, senior vice president of global marketing for III. “It’s really become a rallying cry within the company. There’s no way any one vendor is going to do it all. If you look at all of the peripheral components of what goes on in today’s LSPs—mobile, analytics, ebooks, whatever—you have to pick your strengths and really look to libraries to give you direction on important areas for partnerships.”

Shimshock adds that though the lines between content providers and technology providers have begun blurring, III does not have plans to enter into the content business, which will help ensure that those lines of collaboration remain open.

LANDSCAPE DESIGNS (from the top), TLC’s LS2kids OPAC;  VTLS helped KCPL build a Civil War website using linked data;  Boston University was an early partner with Ex Libris’s Alma

LANDSCAPE DESIGNS (from the top), TLC’s LS2kids OPAC;
VTLS helped KCPL build a Civil War website using linked data;
Boston University was an early partner with Ex Libris’s Alma

Discovering partnerships

EBSCO Information Services has pursued a similar strategy from the content side, electing to pursue new partnerships with automation providers rather than enter the LSP market.

For example, in June 2013, III announced an expanded strategic partnership with EBSCO Information Services, featuring enhanced integration between Innovative’s Encore Discovery platform, Sierra, and EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) that will offer access to EDS’s unified central index and enable patrons to search a library’s EBSCOhost databases via the Encore interface. In addition, last year EBSCO added to its existing list of automation partners—which include SirsiDynix and OCLC—announcing new EDS partnerships with EOS prior to its acquisition by SirsiDynix, as well as several international ILS vendors, including Aurora Information Technology in Australia, SVOP in Slovakia, Cosmotron in the Czech Republic, and Talis in the UK. In June, the Kuali Foundation welcomed EBSCO as a Kuali Commercial Affiliate, brought on board to offer the company’s expertise in integrating discovery services with Kuali OLE (for more on Kuali OLE, see “Open Source Options”).

Although many automation vendors offer discovery services of their own, access to EDS’s unified central index significantly expands the amount of content available through those discovery interfaces, as well as the quality of searches.

Cool tools

Polaris Library Systems, meanwhile, has been working to expand the concept of discovery to include resources within a library’s community. March 2013 marked the official launch of Community Profiles, an add-on feature to the Polaris ILS that offers local organizations the opportunity to create profiles in a library’s catalog, upload information, and share event calendars, all of which become discoverable alongside other library resources during a regular search for print materials and e-content. For example, a search for cookbooks could reveal local cooking classes, while a search on a local history topic could reveal a local historical society or even an individual expert on that topic.

At its most recent user group conference in October, Polaris announced the development of LEAP, a web application that will enable access to Polaris’s staff client from a tablet or other mobile device.

“We want to make the interface more touch-friendly, more tablet-friendly, so that you can get away from that desktop environment and move among patrons and other staff, and still be able to use the system on any device,” explains William Schickling, president and CEO of Polaris.

The initial beta release will include a circulation module that will allow staff to roam and help patrons.

In January, III also announced Mobile WorkLists, a new feature for Sierra that organizes paging lists for filling requests or finding missing items and optimizes their display on tablets and mobile devices. Similar functionality will soon be added to LEAP.

Semantic web

Linked data has been a buzzword for quite some time, and, in 2013, VTLS leveraged its expertise in automation, digital asset management, FRBR, RDA, Bibframe, and Drupal design consulting to help the Kansas City Public Library, MO, launch the first of several planned microsites: “The Missouri-Kansas Conflict: Civil War on the Western Border.” At first glance, it appears to be a local history site, albeit a very well-designed one, with an unusually large collection of thousands of scanned documents from more than 25 institutions relating to the history of conflict over the Missouri-Kansas border before and during the U.S. Civil War.

But dig deeper, and librarians will soon find what the linked data and RDA buzz is all about. Options to explore this extensive collection include a map, a time line, and a digital gallery, but the dynamic relationship viewer is the real showstopper. In many cases, clicking on someone’s name will bring up a visual interface highlighting battles that the person fought in, regiments, organizations, or other people that he or she was affiliated with, and more. Users can either browse from affiliation to affiliation, which in turn continues to open up more visual browsing options, or click on the links between to check out the digitally preserved items that document these affiliations. The entire system operates with the catalog.

“When you are in your catalog, and you click on something, you can see a visual, semantic web–type display of the content, showing all of its links,” explains Vinod Chachra, president and CEO of VTLS. “You can keep browsing through this linked data display. When you hit the focal point of the node, you go back to the catalog display at the point you [initially] clicked on to go to the visual display. The visual display and the catalog are interchangeably connected.”

Finding ebooks

Commercial ebook integration was a key theme in 2013. ILS providers and ebook vendors alike addressed librarians’ complaints, improving third-party commercial interfaces for discovering and checking out ebooks and other digital content, and making sure that, once patrons got through a sign-up process, these interfaces were intuitive and easy to use. But these separate, siloed interfaces were still creating barriers to discovery. Librarians simply wanted their patrons to be able to find and check out digital content from any vendor without being forced to navigate away from the catalog.

By early 2012, ebook vendors had gotten the message. Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform already included an integration of collection development services for print and digital formats; in the spring, OverDrive announced a suite of APIs that would eventually enable discovery and checkout directly from a library’s catalog; and the 3M Cloud Library announced a partnership with Polaris that would ultimately offer this functionality to any customer of both systems. That summer, 70 library systems formed the ReadersFirst Initiative, issuing a joint statement reiterating the need for comprehensive access to ebooks through the library’s catalog and clarifying specific demands for vendors.

“Part of the frustration [within the field] was that we didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate what we wanted,” Michael Santangelo, current coordinator of ReadersFirst and electronic resources coordinator for BookOps, the technical services organization serving the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library, told LJ in an earlier interview. “The ReadersFirst requirements were based on what people wanted; we just changed it into technical language.”

Rapid response

By the end of the year, everything began quickly falling into place.

In December 2012, Polaris and 3M were the first to go live with a fully integrated catalog at the Baltimore County Public Library; Polaris later announced plans to integrate with Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform and OverDrive as well.

TLC was the first ILS vendor to integrate fully with Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform. It was also among the first ILS providers to announce integration with OverDrive’s first round of metadata, search, and availability APIs, which were released in the second half of 2012. These enabled patrons to view OverDrive ebooks from the library catalog, although checkouts and holds still required navigating to OverDrive’s interface.

OverDrive released its circulation APIs last fall. These include the Patron Authentication API, which enables a library’s ILS to confirm with OverDrive that a patron who is logged in to the library’s catalog is in good standing and is allowed to check out ebooks. Collectively, these two sets of APIs enable full integration with any ILS, allowing patrons to place holds or check out OverDrive ebooks and other content without leaving their library’s catalog.

Upon the release of OverDrive’s full suite of APIs, most vendors began working on integration efforts with the company. III achieved the first full commercial integration with OverDrive and the III Encore discovery service, going live at Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) in January. III had completed its integration efforts with the 3M Cloud Library months earlier, in September 2013.

VTLS is also working to integrate its Chamo Discovery service and its MozGo Mobile App with OverDrive, and in December 2013, the company announced that it had successfully integrated these services with the 3M Cloud Library.

Additionally, when SirsiDynix announced the general availability of its eResource Central (eRC) ERM system in June 2013, the company was already working with eight major digital content providers, including EBSCO Information Services, Oxford University Press, Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, 3M, and Recorded Books. eRC makes ebooks and other digital resources from multiple vendors available through the Symphony and Horizon ILS via the SirsiDynix Enterprise and Portfolio discovery tools.

Simply put, everyone is now working with everyone else to address the issue of ebook integration. Scheduled to release their initial vendor scorecard in October 2013, Santangelo and ReadersFirst opted to wait owing to the flurry of integration announcements. When the “ReadersFirst Guide to Library Ebook Vendors” was released in January, OverDrive, Axis 360, and the 3M Cloud Library all received relatively high scores—none less than 80 out of 100—thanks to their work and cooperation with ILS vendors over the prior two years.

The road ahead

In 2006, frustration with the state of commercial OPACs had become so acute that the blunt statement “the OPAC sucks” briefly became a meme within the library field, cropping up in blog posts, presentations, and even a song on YouTube. As patrons were becoming accustomed to increasingly sophisticated search engines and the social collaboration features of “Web 2.0,” OPACs were beginning to look downright creaky by comparison.

“There was no spelling [correction], no relevance rankings, no ‘did you mean?’ feature, no social web features, no tags, reviews, ratings—there were a lot of things at the time that did not exist in the classic OPAC,” says Jimmy Thomas, executive director of Colorado’s Marmot Library Network.

Catalogs and patron interfaces certainly haven’t achieved a state of perfection since, but in less than a decade, these and other features have been introduced by most vendors. Open source ILS and discovery options have grown to become real competitors within the systems landscape (see “Open Source Options“), pushing commercial vendors to stay ahead of the curve with features and functionality. The demands of ReadersFirst were addressed almost immediately, so enabling patrons to discover ebooks alongside print resources in a library’s catalog will soon be de rigueur. And a new generation of library automation systems is just beginning to showcase its potential. You may not be able to ask your car to reserve a Glen A. Larson retrospective on DVD just yet, but that future doesn’t seem so far away.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.