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Brighter outlook for tools in the cloud

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The adoption of cloud-based systems by research libraries is on the rise, according to Sharon Davies

Twelve months ago Research Information reported on how the growth and improved accessibility of the cloud is presenting a wealth of exciting opportunities for research libraries.

Fast-forward one year and the benefits of library tools in the cloud continue to be realised by research libraries, as the adoption of cloud-based systems continues to grow.

JG Chirapurath, senior vice president and general manager at ProQuest Workflow Solutions, observed: ‘A year ago there were early adopter libraries who were moving to cloud-based systems. Now it seems we have crossed the chasm and are in an “early majority” phase, with the pace of adoption increasing. Rather than buying discrete traditional systems, libraries looking at any type of new system are evaluating integrated cloud-based systems because they recognise the value those systems bring.’

Adding to this point, Andrew Pace, OCLC’s executive director, networked library services, said: ‘When I was in library school, libraries changed their systems every seven years, yet in the last decade that figure has changed to just once in every 10 to 15 years, due to libraries holding on to legacy systems.’ However, as libraries decide to embrace new cloud-based technologies so this trend appears to be changing as observed by Pace: ‘If you look at Marshall Breedon’s data report on the number of libraries shopping for new library systems, it’s roughly 34 per cent across the entire industry, as libraries increasingly see solutions out there that can move them to the next generation. A lot of libraries are now actively watching this space. So it’s a very exciting time.’

Chirapurath said: ‘Both corporate and academic libraries are moving forward quickly with adoption of cloud-based systems for different reasons, but both recognise the benefits that cloud-based discovery and management systems bring to libraries. Corporate libraries are ahead of some library segments in looking at cloud-based services because they are more familiar with cloud-based technology. Corporate research libraries benefit from operating in a more “tech-friendly” environment and are driven to seek access to the most current research information they can find.

‘However, these same corporate libraries are also cautious because they view research as a business critical advantage and have different types of privacy concerns than academic librarians.’ He continued: ‘Academic libraries are also rapidly adopting cloud-based systems because they see the benefit of these services and don’t want to focus their limited budget on IT expenses and management. Academic research libraries also understand the cloud-based systems better support management of the growing volume of electronic resources and can support researchers’ needs better.

Chirapurath added: ‘Corporate researchers also benefit from academic researchers’ desire to share research more broadly because the open access information resources being ingested into cloud-based discovery systems help corporate researchers gain access to more current research. The increasing adoption by both types of libraries is fuelling a more rapidly movement to cloud-based systems in both library segments.’

The cloud and research data management (RDM)

John Kaye, senior co-design manager at Jisc, observed how research data management requirements are bringing forward the need for research libraries to invest in cloud solutions: ‘For research libraries yet to adopt cloud-based services or those still needing to be convinced, I would argue one of the most compelling cases for the cloud comes from the research funders themselves.

‘To take a few steps back, the RDM policies of funders set certain requirements for the use, management and storage of research data. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), for example, mandates that data from the project it funds must be stored within the European Economic Area (EEA) with “effective data curation provided throughout the full data lifecycle”. If you are in receipt of an EPSRC funding granted after May 2015 and seen as failing to comply – essentially, by obstructing the sharing of publicly-funded research data – this could result in a loss of eligibility and funding.’

Kaye continued: ‘The EPSRC requirements encourage engagement with cloud-based scholarly communications services. Indeed, one of the EPSRC’s recommendations is that on publication each dataset is given a unique identifier which can be cited to support discoverability and reuse, such as DataCite’s digital object identifier (DOI), a system for identifying content objects in the digital environment that’s actually run out of the cloud to support discovery – even if an object’s ownership or location changes, its DOI remains the same, to offer a stable, reliable link. An added bonus is that this system complements and is interoperable with ORCID, a unique digital identifier for researchers, for which more than 1.5m IDs have been issued globally. The result is that research data is easier to find and reuse, and you’re actually able to properly track the impact too.’

Kay added: ‘With research libraries often the responsible party for implementing and managing RDM solutions at universities, cloud services cannot be overlooked. The challenge for them, then, is choosing the right cloud application for the right lifecycle stage.

‘For example, at the “managing active data” stage, cloud storage that enables local file sync’ing and share or other file storage solutions within the EEA are often preferred by researchers, for awarding collaboration opportunities and offering an easy way to backup research data.’

Benefits of the cloud for research libraries

So what opportunities does cloud-based computing bring to research libraries?

Chirapurath of ProQuest Workflow Solutions explained: ‘Cloud-based systems offer a variety of benefits to research libraries, many of which uniquely address the goals of librarians and researchers. Cloud-based systems are lower cost for libraries, they are more easily and rapidly updated, and have a stronger support system across the world with multiple locations. Cloud-based systems also better meet the needs of modern researchers operating in an “anytime, anywhere and on any device” model.’

He continued: ‘For librarians, cloud-based systems facilitate research collaboration across locations and enable broader access to more up-to-date content. This increases the speed of research and provides opportunities for more interdisciplinary and global multi-location research. Cloud-based systems better support leading edge research with improved access to near real-time resources compared to older technological systems that are based on inventory and management of print resources. Since researchers are looking for an edge with the research they are doing, whether scientific, medical or technical, cloud-based library discovery and management systems result in faster insights, potentially leading to faster breakthroughs.’

Chirapurath added: ‘The opportunities offered to libraries through use of these tools are in addition to those offered by any cloud-based system, such as the reduction in hardware costs, decrease in IT support time and expense, and a full disaster recovery system that libraries don’t have to administer. Rather than spending time and money on hardware maintenance and IT infrastructure with traditional systems, librarians can reallocate budget to additional premium content that benefits researchers and they use their time to bring better value to research with their experience and insights.’

Challenges for cloud-based computing and tools for research libraries

Pace of OCLC believes the challenges facing research libraries in relation to the cloud are much less than just a year ago, and observed: ‘We talk to libraries about data security, privacy, and data ownership, ensuring libraries realise that their data is their data and moving to the OCLC cloud is not something that should be daunting.’ Talking about the perception of cloud-based technologies, Pace added: ‘An early adopter of OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services said “one of the main challenges is to overcome the illusion of control around managing library management system locally [as opposed to in the cloud]”.’

Chirapurath of ProQuest Workflow Solutions observed: ‘The “library” has become more of a virtual knowledge centre marked by researchers accessing information more fluidly and collaborating more seamlessly. While librarians still play a key role there are “growing pains” for some librarians because cloud-based systems put librarians in a different place in the research stream. Today, researchers gather information first via an “explorer” model, which is followed by a second more collaborative stage.

‘The new model requires new ways to interact – not just as gatekeepers who provide access to critical knowledge, but value-added information professionals collaborating at a later stage in the research. Some librarians may feel less comfortable with the increasingly interdisciplinary approach in corporate and academic research as well as with the rapid speed research is conducted. Researchers are accessing information on all types of devices, including mobile phones and tablets, and often want access to research on their terms so librarians may not even be working if a researcher is accessing information in the middle of the night, or in a different time zone and location.’

New services and collaboration

As research libraries continue to embrace cloud technology, so new services are being developed to meet the evolving needs of libraries that draw on the inherent benefits of cloud-based systems, as highlighted by Chirapurath of ProQuest Workflow Solutions: ‘Examples of these services are tools such as improved assessment services that can manage and track resources across geographic boundaries and multiple locations or new research management systems. Cloud-based systems also offer the ability to share electronic resources and information about databases and holdings across different locations and different types of research libraries at a much faster rate than before.’

Tamir Borensztajn, vice president of discovery strategy at EBSCO Information Services, added to this point: ‘Our cloud infrastructure has enabled us to extend our offerings beyond our core platforms and do this in a way that delivers tremendous value to our customers. Over the years, we developed lightweight applications – many through customer collaboration – that augment our discovery service and our EBSCO host platform. The key is that we now deploy and maintain these applications in the cloud for subscribing customers. For libraries this means little or no work in deploying apps that augment their existing EBSCO platforms.

‘In short, the cloud is really a way to deliver more value to customers. We are able to reduce customer workload – customers do not need to maintain a server or worry about installing the latest software update. And, importantly, we can readily grow our offerings and deploy apps quickly to the benefit of our customers and end-users alike,’ continues Borensztajn.

Chirapurath of ProQuest Workflow Solutions added: ‘Cloud-based systems bring the highest value in what they enable librarians and researchers to accomplish in collaboration.  These technologies fundamentally change the relationship between researchers and librarians. It used to be that researchers came to a corporate library and requested specific, often esoteric, information which the librarian would provide them. Instead libraries now support researchers. These researchers value the serendipity of knowledge insights and connections made when research tools are in their hands. This generation of researcher looks to librarians to help guide them in this interactive discovery experience once they have identified an area that they want more information about.’

He concluded: ‘Researchers’ are being helped by librarians who play a different role (compared to times past) so they can reach the knowledge they seek. This evolution in research is a much more scalable model that exposes new and continual changing content to a broader and more diverse group of researchers who are increasingly collaborating on new and exciting interdisciplinary breakthroughs.

‘One other benefit that should be highlighted is that cloud-based systems inherently manage electronic resources better. We are all aware of the shift from traditional print resources to electronic content, as well as the increasing volume of multi-lingual content. Content is exploding! In this explosion, the cloud offers better economies of scale to manage the vastness and complexity of content.’