Libraries must meet evolving needs of researchers and institutions

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Libraries face times of change. Some of the providers of library tools reveal how library management systems can help meet the challenges ahead. Interviews by Sian Harris

Frans van Ette, director of business development, Swets

End users want their content on every possible device and they want a unified discovery solution so that they can have that content at their fingertips.

Librarians have a whole host of needs, the most important of which is being able to justify their decision making. Resource management tools really need to be built with electronic resources in mind. It is also important to provide solutions to help librarians understand user behaviour. For example, our Selection Support tool gives information about usage and price and we have recently added information about impact factors too.

Having information about usage, quality and price is very important to librarians. It’s not good enough anymore to say, ‘Professor X said this content is important’.

There are also wider questions about what is the role of the librarian. With these types of tools, librarians can show what their role is. When you spend as much money as librarians would like to do, this is important.

We see libraries’ involvement not just with content but also in monitoring the research productivity of their institutions. That gives very important information to the institutions about which research areas they might choose to invest more into or move away from focusing on. Libraries can discover this information with the Mendeley Institutional Edition. We will be pulling more of this information into our own tools over time too.

There are trends of information being more open and of companies working together to build the best experience for customers. For example, Mendeley is set up for building applications on top of its API. We also see this with other organisations such as OCLC with its WorldShare tool. We are talking deeply with OCLC and other vendors of library management systems about how to integrate their tools with ours.

Many library management system companies like OCLC, Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces and others are building cloud-based systems and we want to integrate with them. It is much easier when stuff is in the cloud. For librarians it is a seamless workflow. It is a great improvement on the old EDI connections.

Our philosophy at Swets is that we want to integrate with anyone. We have particularly had this strategy since 2010 when we saw big data and APIs really emerge. We made a conscious decision not to build everything. You can’t build it all on your own. There is too much else going on that’s too valuable to discard.

However there are a lot of legacy systems out there that are not ready for a new approach and not everybody thinks the same way within companies. If people start to believe they can build one system to do everything they face a big challenge. Instead, a lot is possible if you integrate systems and allow information to flow. Open development is very fundamental in this industry. It will be a catalyst for a number of things we’ve not even dreamt of yet.

However, there are many questions with what’s going to happen and whether data is secure. These are genuine concerns and need to be well-managed. It feels like letting your child out of the house for themselves for the first time. It’s good but scary.

I see more possibilities than disruptors these days. Technology enables much more now. Disruptors might be people not always understanding library decisions, which can lead their institutions to suffer. It is hard for libraries to demonstrate their value and we need to help them show it.

In basically every industry globally you need to demonstrate what you do with money. Business information is critical. It is better if you can build a foundation of data and logic.

Graham Beastall, managing director and Graham Partridge, research & development director, Soutron


For library staff, the big needs are for streamlined processes that are efficient but provide essential statistics and reports that help decision making. They also want reduced training time. Library users require quick and seamless access to the information they need when and where they need it.

With the economic situation, library budgets continue to be cut and librarians need to do more for less as they strive to justify their services within their organisations.

Librarians do not have time to configure systems as they used to and they also do not have dedicated systems staff. This means a supplier has to be much more agile and in tune to provide support. Bringing together physical and electronic materials is overtaking other needs.

The integrated library system (ILS) is still a critical factor in staff performance and productivity. It is also outside the expertise of IT departments and, as such, hosting systems are necessary. This requires systems that can integrate with internal systems, especially for the user who wants/needs single sign-on (SSO).

Clients these days do not have time to create their own reports and so look to suppliers to provide and write these as required. Suppliers need to understand and work with their clients to understand their needs and help evolve their services. It is about the customer relationship as much as it is about the application.

Library users demand simple but efficient workflows. They also want flexibility, especially in the structure of the database so that it can be used not just for the library but for other areas of the business as well. Ease of cleaning up data when it comes from older MARC-based systems is also very important.

Libraries continue to face economic difficulties and cutbacks both on budgets and staffing. Fewer people will visit the library so libraries need to push information electronically to end users based on their needs. We are actively working on providing, streamlining and improving this type of service.

Other challenges include lack of flexibility and out-dated standards that have been extended to meet today’s needs but in a way that is not efficient. If systems are too complex this causes disruption when staff leave or join an organisation.

Another challenge is staff members who do not adjust and adapt to the new realities and want to follow the same procedures that they always have because the tools they use are known. Having several, isolated systems, instead of a single one, leads to duplication of effort and poor reporting.

Andrew K. Pace, OCLC executive director of networked library services

Libraries have less ‘gravitational pull’ or influence than they used to. Patrons used to have to begin their searches in libraries because libraries housed most materials, but needs have evolved with the web and accelerated as more and more material is available in online formats.

Users need to find information where their searches begin, whether it is through Google, other bibliographic resources, social networks, scholarly sites, or elsewhere. Searching needs to be simplified and not siloed, requiring many searches in many places. Delivery of materials needs to be easier. Library staff need management systems that allow them to manage ‘the collective collection’, not separate systems based on format or department. Systems need to be more efficient.

Library management systems can streamline workflows, especially for commodity materials, so that library staff can spend more time on acquiring and describing unique materials, or in providing other services to their customers.

Library systems need to be web-based, reliable, simple to use and easy to train on. Many users still demand that new systems have most of the minute functionality of their legacy systems.

Many of these legacy systems are arcane and difficult to use, but support advanced use of the system by experts who have used them for a long time. Almost all of the systems that are in use pre-date the web. Many pre-date the internet. They are based on deployable client-server architectures that are run library-by-library. Shared data and shared workflows hardly exist, making the operation of these systems inefficient. There are no network effects in stand-alone systems. These legacy systems have not kept pace with the changing nature of library collections and the rapidly shifting expectations of library users. Those two facts alone have been the major disruptors.

Cloud-based, multi-tenant systems take away the hassle of hardware and software. No more downloads, no more upgrades, no more client-server headaches. Building new systems from the ground up has given us the opportunity to use 21st century technologies to create more efficient workflows. The strength of OCLC specifically is around the vast amounts of bibliographic, library and e-resource data that it maintains. This allows libraries to have systems that facilitate more efficient technical services workflows while at the same time making worldwide materials instantly discoverable by patrons and expediting delivery of those materials from local collections, consortia borrowing or interlibrary lending.

We are in production with over 50 libraries using OCLC WorldShare Management Services and have nearly 100 more in the pipeline (in seven countries). We will continue to expand our functional coverage and our expansion into other market segments – groups, public libraries, large research libraries, special libraries. We are also addressing interest in patron self-service, as well as analytical report-writing, and better management of electronic resources.

Jane Webber, customer relationship director, Softlink

Society has immersed itself in digital technology. Library users are now digital citizens, engaged in accessing the internet and social media through computers, mobile phones and web-activated devices 24/7. Students share books, post and blog reviews using social media. Today’s libraries are more than sources of scholarly works. They are thriving centres of knowledge, integral to an organisation’s success.

It is evitable that libraries adopt digital technologies, including e-books and social-media integration, to provide anywhere, anytime access to resources. The 21st century librarian is focused on strategies for servicing the patron-driven digital demand and integrating electronic resources including online databases, e-books, federated searches and discovery layers. Many libraries have piloted or are now supplying e-books to their patrons.

With numerous online and free resources now available, librarians are changing the way they develop their collection from just-in-case to real-time resourcing. Challenges include the management of ‘one collection’ as a combination of digital and traditional resources and managing a seamless interface for user services. Key to the librarian’s success is their ability to discern quality knowledge from the cascade of constant, real-time and often irrelevant information users are exposed to.

Pavel Ignatov/Shutterstock

Other challenging trends for library staff include: managing users’ expectations, especially where student fees have seen major increases; juggling declining budgets; and a trend in low levels of end-user information literacy and research skills that requires additional time commitment from librarians to assist users with information searches.

With depleted budgets and digital resource ownership in question, libraries need more objective guidance on the best ways forward with content and management of digital resources. They also need help with the management of online and electronic resources. Technology, such as the widespread adoption of cloud technology, will continue to drive change across academic and research libraries.

Librarians are excited about the potential of emerging technologies that will enable them to develop innovative ways to continue to discover the right knowledge and deliver it to their users.

Library management systems assist librarians to manage the physical and electronic resources they have, regardless of what or where they are held. Technological advances in library systems enable libraries to create new services that were previously not possible, such as virtual cataloguing and referencing, personalised and seamless OPAC interfaces, automated current awareness (information alert of topics of interest) and downloadable media accessible from mobile devices on the way to work or in the comfort of the user’s home.

Softlink’s knowledge, content and integrated library management solution, Liberty V5 was one of the first systems to adopt cloud technologies to enable these changes. Softlink has also released a Library Link App that provides library users with the ability to connect to Liberty integrated library management with Apple or Android mobile devices

In the future, library users will want to manage research enquiries and have the transparency and repeat navigation to be able to revert quickly back to valuable information. Softlink has recently released illumin to help manage requests more effectively.

There are also an increased amount of resources available from other sources. These may not be reliable, but librarians need to be current and relevant to their end users’ needs and so understand, for example, the Google search effect.

As libraries become more digitally-oriented the online catalogue may no longer be the sole catalogue/index within an organisation and certainly not the sole repository. However, it needs to provide access to resources whatever format they may be in, and wherever they may be located. In a digital world this moves the integrated library system into the realm of digital rights management, catering not just for access management but for a plethora of different formats of documents and sources of content.

Library funding is static and in some areas decreasing. Yet, expectations to deliver user-driven services and meet user digital technology demands are increasing. The numerous interfaces, sign-ons and volume of passwords library staff have to remember to access their diverse range of systems and information portals are also a challenge, as is the expansion of free information sources. Librarians who are not IT-focused, and don’t invest in an intuitive library management solution will suffer in the digital world because information is changing so rapidly with technological innovation, the influence of social media and the growing expectations of digital generation.

Colin Carter, sales account manager, UK & Northern Europe, Innovative Interfaces

Library users are facing the increasing challenge of accessing the information that they need through a wide variety of formats and interfaces. For many years, the reasons that users have been accessing libraries have been diversifying. The ways that users are accessing libraries are also changing, with all types of libraries seeing a significant increase in the number of virtual users: people who make use of resources that are managed by the library but never physically enter a library building.

Users who do come to libraries may be borrowing material in the traditional, physical formats, but they may also be looking for a place where they can access online content (either freely available or licensed), a place where they can study and research, or they can work with colleagues and peers. These differing uses of libraries are an opportunity to expand the scope and efficiency of library services with events, classes, collaboration spaces, and so on. Library technology can be a way to meet the range of possibilities, including managing the collections to make an ideal fit with the library premises and users.

To do this, library staff members have to understand and participate in an increasingly electronic, collaborative, and virtual world. Keeping track of the latest technologies, and how these impact on the library and information world, is a real challenge. However, these new technologies also present opportunities to streamline and simplify many of the day-to-day processes that are required to run an efficient and effective library service in the library building and beyond.

One of the biggest needs for library staff at all levels is for detailed, high-quality, management information and decision-support data. For example, data that will allow a member of library staff to see where stock can be withdrawn (or moved to a remote store) to free up space for additional services; or data that will show how much to spend on a given area of the collection to meet demand. Data should be available without the need for complex database analysis skills or tools. This data needs to be provided in a format that is accessible for all levels of library staff and is capable of interacting with the underlying support systems and technical solutions that are in place.

Users have an expectation that they should be able to receive the same level of service and access regardless of their choice of device and interface. Library staff have to be aware of the range of technologies that are available and how services can be delivered to these devices against a back-drop of stagnant or reduced budgets. Technology must be responsive to these two challenges to ensure the effectiveness of libraries.

Diego Cervo/Shutterstock

Library management systems must deliver services to the users’ choice of device and interface. Innovative Interfaces developed AirPAC, a catalogue (OPAC) interface for mobile phones, early in the life of this technology. Since then, we have released Encore Mobile: a version of the Innovative discovery application that operates on any smartphone or tablet. This product responded to the key user needs of a modern web interface, access through preferred devices, access to library-only subscriptions, and the ability to search on-the-go.

A second key role is in providing the decision support data and management information that assist librarians in their daily operations. Our Decision Centre and Reporter draw on the wealth of data that the library management system holds, and help library staff to make informed and accurate decisions about their service. For example, Decision Centre enables a member of staff to conduct detailed analysis of circulation activity across the collection and determine which areas or stock should receive additional investment, which require weeding to create additional space, or which should be moved to a different location to maximise usage. All of this is done through a user-friendly web interface.

One of the biggest challenges that users face is getting a seamless process for managing physical, electronic and digital content. Many library systems were developed during the time when all libraries had to worry about were physical books, journals, CDs, etc. Now there are databases, electronic journals and articles to license, e-books to circulate and manage, digitised collections of local material such as research papers in the institutional repository, archival collections, and digitised photograph collections.

The Encore Discovery platform provides a single interface to all of the resources that are managed by the library regardless of format. This ensures that library users do not have to struggle with different interfaces for the resource formats that they need to fulfil their information requirements.

Key disruptors to libraries in the coming years are around the challenge of e-book licensing and the conflict between enabling access to resources against a need for increasingly-stringent data security concerns.

E-book licensing and management is a challenge for the whole library and information industry – not just library system vendors. In many cases, the challenges are about business models rather than technology. As publishers struggle with how they can thrive in an electronic age, they are creating barriers to the use of e-books. The Sierra Services Platform is designed to enable data to flow between e-book publishing solutions and the library system, with the aim of being able to present a unified view of physical and electronic book activity. However, the availability of content from publishers will affect libraries regardless of their technology platform.

Libraries want simple management of resources and the systems that are used to manage them. In response, many libraries are looking to system providers to provide their solutions as software-as-a-service or in a cloud environment. Innovative Interfaces has seen a significant increase in demand for hosted systems and is responding to this by opening up additional data centres in different parts of the world including in Europe. However, for information services teams that house these systems, security against inappropriate use of data and unauthorised access is a key concern.