Library management systems embrace change

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Integration, usability and good discovery tools are some of the requirements of modern library management systems, as their providers
tell Siân Harris

‘We are at a major point of change in the wider information economy within which library systems form part of a larger whole,’ observed Ken Chad of Ken Chad Consulting. He was writing in a briefing paper about the study in library management systems (LMS) carried out in April 2008 on behalf of JISC and SCONUL.

This study examined the systems used in higher-education libraries across the UK and came up with some significant observations and recommendations. It noted that the LMS market in UK higher education is already mature and that four main vendors (ExLibris, Innovative, SirsiDynix and Talis) have almost 90 per cent of the market. This market maturity means, according to the study authors, that the benefits to libraries of changing LMS provider are limited.

The products are not sufficiently different to warrant the costly process of changing one’s supplier, the study argued.

This doesn’t mean that institutions have to keep their LMS exactly as it is though. The study recommended that they push their vendors for better value for money when they review their contracts. They should also look at ways to simplify and streamline how they use their LMS.

One way to increase the value of the core LMS, said the study, is to make it more interoperable with other institutional systems such as an institutional portal or the finance or student record systems. This can be achieved with service oriented architectures, using technologies such as web services. And leaving the core LMS with the same vendor does not mean that the whole process has to stay the same.

Libraries can add modules and features to the system such as RFID (radio frequency ID) based self-service systems or vertical search products. Working with other libraries and sharing provision can also help to share the costs, said the study.

With these recommendations in the minds of customers and suppliers, we asked some of the providers of such library tools what they see as the biggest requirements from libraries and how they are trying to meet them.

Library users expect to find everything together says Stephen Abram, vice president for innovation at SirsiDynix

Traditionally, the library management system or integrated library system (ILS) was responsible for running libraries efficiently and effectively. Over the last few years, the role of the ILS has been expanding from meeting library needs to delivering user experience.

Change has been focused on innovation in user experience. That is a challenge because libraries vary and their online users and physical users are different. For example, in a public library the physical users tend to be transaction-focused or those with less IT access or experience. In contrast, the online users of public libraries tend to be more highly educated and computer literate. In academic libraries, the online access comes from places such as student housing while those who come into the physical library tend to have more complex problems and need help with filtering rather than finding information.

In addition, older lecturers might not fully understand what it means for the journals to be online. Navigation needs to work both in and outside the library. Keeping both print and electronic versions is not such an option anymore, especially with the impact of the current economic situation on serials budgets. However, users expect to find everything together.

There is a move towards federated searching. This gives a Google-type search of all the library’s resources. ILSs also have to be API compliant. This gives people the option to connect things up in the context of the library. For example, they might want to connect material with a course pack or specially-chosen websites.

We have to ask ourselves how to reduce the complexity of finding information and improve the quality of the questioning. Our Enterprise tool enables faceted search and fuzzy logic searching. This is important because most people do not have the synonym knowledge that librarians have. Having fuzzy logic means that you don’t need to know how to spell a Czech surname. We give users what they ask for and what we think they meant as well.

This puts some of the librarian’s magic in and allows information to be shown to end user without the end user having to know it. If 80 per cent of the users are virtual this is essential.

The LMS will become more standardsbased in the future. More of them will be XML-compliant, which will help them to be interoperable. They will also use Unicode to support different languages, support Registry files and have author disambiguation.

Library budgets are going to be very damaged over the next few years. Libraries aren’t going to get more staff, so they have to find new ways to free up those they have. We also have to find creative solutions to retain our businesses. Most libraries are locked into a 1950s style of organisation. This is not flexible enough to deal with the world as it changes. Libraries need to move to more sophisticated management structures instead of silos and hierarchical structures.

They should become real consortia not just buying groups. This means working as a team, sharing standards and sharing strategies. 

Iain Dunbar, director of Softlink Europe, believes that LMS suppliers need to enable personalisation for libraries and to keep an eye on Web 2.0 developments

Identifying customer needs is crucial – most of our customers have very different needs and requirements. Information managers are increasingly seeking systems where they can carry out their own personalisation, to suit their way of working and user needs. Our knowledge management system, Liberty, can be entirely configured, for example the OPAC can be modified to reflect the inhouse graphic identity and integrate with the website or intranet. The layout of the screen can be altered according to the site’s requirements, directly from the interface and without any need for technical knowledge or IT assistance.

Ease of use and intuitiveness are big drivers. Ease of installation and maintenance, as well as supplier-hosted services are also sought after. Organisations are also increasingly seeking fully web-based systems to avoid any software being installed on each ‘client’ PC.

This offers speedier implementation and less involvement from IT departments. Leading library and knowledge management systems are now entirely web-based from the OPAC to the library management functions.

Federated search is starting to have a massive impact on information centre users and is an important step in the move towards single ‘discovery’ or search tools. Checking how many databases will be available through the LMS is key. In Liberty for example, there is federated search support for over 4,000 external information sources.

Web 2.0 systems that facilitate and encourage user publishing will continue. There will be particular focus on information officer-driven initiatives such as increased online collaboration between information centres, shared catalogues and increased user input.

Web 2.0 is also enabling social networking between users of the information centre. Initiatives from library and knowledge management systems suppliers to support this include integrated blogs, reviews/ratings sharing, book suggestions, and tools to locate readers with similar tastes.

Usability is a key requirement for users, says Elisabeth Robson, OLIB product manager for OCLC

The catalogue has become a way to pull together disparate resources, including commercial resources and web links. Library management systems also allow circulation, including check in/check out and enable libraries to purchase materials and track where they are.

One of the biggest user requirements is usability. It has to be straightforward and has to do some of the searching for the user. It’s amazing how important the look and feel of the interface is. Users want simple interfaces with simple search boxes that do a lot behind the scenes – much like they are used to with Google.

Librarians also say that users want to replicate the functionality that they see elsewhere. For example, when they search the catalogue they want to be able to see reviews of the items they are interested in before they borrow them.

And if they find that the item they want is not there or is out on loan they want to be able to link to places like Amazon to be able to buy it. We increasingly have to look at what is going on in the wider information world and partner with them. It is not just ‘me too’ copying of Google and Amazon though.

We also offer a hosted service. This saves libraries time and money. We host the software and server and they access it via their browser.

There are a number of challenges. It is a mature market. Pretty much everyone who needs a LMS has got one. People also change LMS less frequently than they used to.

Libraries are looking to their existing supplier for added value. Increasingly, LMSs are becoming interoperable and we have to take interoperability seriously. Customers are looking for best value as well as added value.

They want to be able to take one bit from one company but modules from another company. It has to be simple to pick and choose between suppliers.

As well as looking to secure new customers we are looking to existing customers to provide added value and differentiate ourselves from the competition. Libraries still need to do the same things that they have done for years. The core functionality is not going to disappear but it will be enhanced by changes in technology. We have to ensure that new versions still do the old things as well as the new.

Thomas Snyder, who until recently was chief commercial officer of Swets, talks about why this subscription agent is moving into the realm of library management tools

Until now the structures of libraries have had clear borders but these borders have now been transcended. We recently launched eSource Manager, an electronic resource management (ERM) system within SwetsWise and we have had a very positive reaction from customers. It is pre-populated and is a natural extension to our current portfolio. Convergence is taking place. Normally an ERM system would be a standalone module from a third party and it would an empty shell that you had to populate yourself with your own content. Within SwetsWise we already had our Licence Bank module, which gives details of publishers’ licence terms. With the addition of eSource Manager, users can adapt any field to manage their own licence conditions. They can also add their own codes and financial information. And the acquisition module in SwetsWise also integrates seamlessly with our ERM.

We believe that what we propose meets our user needs better than standalone packages for a large part of the library management community. Traditional ERM systems are a major financial and IT investment. We believe we can start to add more and more ILS needs.

Most large institutions have already invested in ERM systems and there has to be a particularly compelling reason for them to change. However, many smaller institutions have not yet invested in ERMs because they are prohibitively expensive and have functionality that they don’t need. For us this is the first step into a new domain. The big question for us is how do we take this to the next level.

We also plan to start measuring usage of products. This will help librarians to be better organised and informed. At present usage data is not something that a LMS does but that SwetsWise will do.

This is currently done by ScholarlyStats, which Swets bought earlier this year. Publishers provide usage data but it is complicated to pull it all together. One user might access a paper in, for example, Elsevier’s ScienceDirect but other users might access it via a database or platform such as CABI or Ovid.

The LMS can help make users more aware of the library’s role, says Colin Carter, sales account manager for the UK and Northern Europe for Innovative Interfaces

The library’s resources and services are managed more and more by systems. For example, libraries are investing in RFID self-check devices. Such developments mean that library staff can concentrate on face-to-face interaction with users.

Many institutions now spend well over 50 per cent of their budgets on electronic resources. This changes what the library deals with and means that the user can have access without touching the library. This is quite a threat to the libraries themselves. People don’t appreciate the library’s role in brokering access.

Another challenge is the different types of media that people want to access. This might include streaming audio and streaming video, as well as the capability to rate and tag things.

The LMS still has the traditional functions such as acquisition, cataloguing and access to resources. Now, however, there are also federated searching and discovery platforms. The customer as well as the library needs to have freedom of choice in their systems but these systems need to work together. We see customers picking best of breed in these functions. When we developed Encore, our discovery platform, we found development partners that used LMSs other than Millennium (Innovative Interface’s LMS) to ensure that it worked with those too.

And the integration required is not just with modules within the system but also with other systems that the institution uses. These include Microsoft Excel and finance systems. Standards are absolutely key. They make development much simpler. For example, if a resource complies with a particular standard, such as being OAI-PMH-compliant, then we can harvest it.

Link resolvers have become core components of LMSs, believes Oren Beit-Arie, chief strategy officer of Ex Libris

Many libraries are at a crossroads, reevaluating their businesses, missions and operations. The digital world will dominate more and more in the future, because of both mass digitisation and born-digital content.

Global economics also have an impact. Libraries want to do more with less where it matters. At the same time, the LMS is not just about the future and digital content but also about other types of content including physical. The move to digital doesn’t mean that libraries won’t have any physical resources to manage. They need to work with tools that support a hybrid environment.

Good linking is very important. Our Primo tool was the first link resolver for the research community. Link resolvers enable users to click on a link and get to the article. It doesn’t sound complicated but it is, because of the range of access methods available over the web. The article can be available in several places. Which is best for the users depends on what subscriptions have been negotiated by their institution. It is a complicated web of many-to-many connections.

In order to solve that problem it was not just enough to talk about it. We had to develop a new standard, OpenURL, for interoperability. We worked with the community on this and developed it with NISO. The result was the Z39.88 NISO standard for OpenURL linking. I think that all scholarly link resolvers use this standard. It’s already clear that link resolvers have become core components of LMSs.

The applicability of this standard goes beyond the standard realm of a library. It has been adopted by Google, especially in Google Scholar. It was also used by Microsoft’s scholarly offering before that project was stopped.

I think that being able to align the research community to the wider community is a good goal. It will enable us to support tools and standards that can provide more value moving into the future. It will also make it much more feasible to integrate with other systems and resources.

We’re seeing libraries want to work more with other tools outside libraries. This is partly to minimise costs but also trying to get out of the traditional circles of users and expose the informational professional’s role to a wider community. For example, there is an opportunity for research libraries to provide services to the outside research community to, for example, manage data.

Most of the effort in libraries is focused on research output but we need to manage the whole process. This is a very interesting place for libraries to be.

Ex Libris works in 70 countries and the variations are profound. It is difficult to create specific tools that will work everywhere and every day there is a new tool in web space.

The solution we have just embarked on is an open platform. We’re creating tools and components that can be easily integrated with a range of solutions and plug-ins.

It is very hard to say that we are only going to integrate with a particular learning tool or social networking tools. Instead we have generic integration tools so that we take any component and embed it in any tool.

The same thing has to be done in backend solutions too. We are launching a project called URM (Unified Resource Management). This is remodelling the back office management systems for both print and digital collections that can be either held locally or accessed remotely. We need to do things a lot more efficiently and make it easier for libraries to integrate these resources.

There is also a lot of need for digital preservation to ensure that digital material can be accessed over time. This is critical but isn’t given as much focus as it should have. We’re undergoing an extremely interesting project in this area with the National Library of New Zealand.

Everything we do has to bring value to end users, creating services and products for them. This is an advantage that libraries have over the likes of Google. Libraries know their users and the needs of these users.