Library services see web-scale transformations

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Sian Harris asks about the role of web services, and APIs in modern library management systems

Nathan Godfrey, chief operating officer, Softlink

Libraries are about the value of information in all formats – hardcopy, e-books and journals, audiobooks, multimedia and more. Leading LMSs are platforms that aggregate, categorise, discover and deliver this valuable information. They automate necessary but repetitive daily tasks, reducing the time spent on auxiliary issues and enabling staff to focus on client-facing services and developing service enhancements.

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 Library Link App provides library users with the ability to connect to Liberty v5 via most modern digital devices (Apple or Android).

A ‘one platform’ approach with deeper integration with third-party providers, rather than discrete stand-alone services, provides libraries with seamless workflows to maximise operational efficiency.

We create a central platform that seamlessly connects and integrates with third-party modules and content providers. This enables the holistic management of workflows from the ‘one platform’ and eliminates the need to physically exit one service to access another.

Softlink works with partners to develop and provide deeper integration through APIs, such as integration with products such as e-resource suppliers, RFID, recognition software and federated search (discovery layer). We partner with third-party providers such as OverDrive, EBSCO and Biostore to optimise library services.

One of the biggest challenges for 21st century library management is the fragmentation of content. The continued development of interoperability for deeper access to added information sources using common standards and based on emerging technology is important, as is ensuring library staff have in-depth knowledge of the system and its capabilities. Solutions such as Softlink’s Liberty v5 offer more than library management. It provides a digital and physical asset management and booking system, enabling organisations to use it to manage any collection, fleet or asset.

With budgets cuts and reduced staffing, systems need to be more flexible to meet the organisation’s needs. Liberty does not need to be managed by a systems librarian.
Research libraries are looking for ways to improve research enquiry management. Capturing experiential data has always been a challenge for libraries, even for the most information-centric organisations. Softlink’s illumin tool helps to manage requests more effectively, offering a knowledge bank of past requests and responses.

Web-scale services are increasingly important as libraries look to maximise efficiency. Cloud computing can alleviate time consuming but necessary tasks and reliance on local IT resources that impact the library’s already overburdened staff. We offer a range of cloud-based services including SaaS and local install options. We manage cloud solutions for many small libraries to multi-site jurisdictions and consortia.

In the current economic climate we are seeing many competitive organisations merge – creating greater needs for global data management. Solutions that effectively manage multi-location library and content management will become integral to global information sharing.
Interoperability and integration with diverse content and discovery layer providers will be paramount. Solutions will need to be flexible and adapt to changes in technology.

There will also be further developments in the area of self-service functionality, especially for increasingly digitally literate users.


Ben Siler, senior marcom specialist, SirsiDynix


Libraries continue to serve more and more users in more and more ways, but they often receive flat or even decreasing levels of funding. A successful library management system has to use new technologies to eliminate costs and inefficiencies while providing creative new ways to increase revenue. Library management systems have to give libraries the analytics to understand how they can most effectively target their efforts, as well as the ability to do so.

However, that focus on new features makes it easy for some companies to lose sight of traditional integrated library system (ILS) features as they build new systems, even though these traditional features are vital to a library’s everyday function. In addition to the exciting new features (such as web interfaces, evidence-based acquisition, and web-scale discovery), library management systems must continue to provide the stability and security of yesterday’s ILS. It’s only when a library management system balances both traditional ILS functions and new technology that it can serve all of a library’s needs.

Libraries need systems that combine the latest improvements in cost-savings, analytics, and efficiency with the stability and breadth of features found in a traditional ILS. Our BLUEcloud Suite is a suite of cloud-based products that integrate with our existing ILSs. Our BLUEcloud products deliver the next-generation analytics, unified search, unified administration, and more, that library staff and library users need. Since the BLUEcloud Suite integrates with proven ILSs, however, it also guarantees the stability and security of a proven product.

Library management systems need to give libraries the tools they need to serve more users in more ways, even with limited resources. In addition, library management systems need to help libraries position themselves in such a way that they can compete with content providers like Google, Amazon, and Netflix. Both of these needs require creative thinking, disruptive practices, and novel technologies.

Web-scale services are vital to libraries’ ability to maintain their position as the first stop for information. Library users are used to comprehensive, intuitive searches that bring back results from all relevant content areas. Many library users don’t understand the distinctions between library catalogue and subscriptions, and the inability to search across all of a library’s systems can be frustrating.

We have integrated EBSCO content in our premiere search products, Enterprise and Portfolio. With EBSCO Discovery Service integration built in to both products, users can search across both ILS and subscription content in the same interface.

Library software providers will continue to adapt their systems to the changing needs of library staff and library users. We’ll see more emphasis on e-books and other digital content, intuitive web-based interfaces, and other modern technologies. In general, library management systems will get better at handling content from multiple sources, not just a library’s local MARC data.


Annette DeNoyer, director of product marketing, Innovative Interfaces


LMS functions need to keep pace with the evolving library ecosystem. As such, the most important functions include integrated resource sharing, seamless user experiences, connected workflows, actionable data and analytics, and cloud-based services.
Innovative provides an integrated service model in Sierra, our library services platform. The foundation for library transformation is built on an open systems architecture, which makes robust APIs, direct data access, connections to external system, and cloud optimisation possible.

We have worked very hard to ensure that we continue to build on a foundation of trusted workflows that deliver the best end-user experience possible for both end-users and staff.
We have built power and flexibility into Sierra that allows us to leverage new technologies, support rapid iteration and new product development, and build partnerships to power integration across a complex ecosystem. No single entity can provide everything that librarians want and need, so we are committed to both an open platform and open partnerships to provide a complete experience.

One challenge is adapting to the modern collection, which includes all aspects of eContent management; another is providing patrons with access to resources across institutions. Innovative provides print sharing through INN-Reach and has built Sierra to support cross-institution sharing of all resources. We are striving to make librarians mobile so they can do their work where it’s most relevant. With our web and mobile interfaces, we hope to support library transformation and allow for self-service on patrons’ personal devices. We also recognise the importance of a seamless experience for patrons and provide a single search box for eContent, digital, and print resources.

Web-scale services, such as our SkyRiver bibliographic utility, provide the opportunity for libraries to share workflows and content in ways not thought of even a few years ago. As these resources become more prevalent, libraries will continue to find uses that have the opportunity to reduce costs and bring a whole new level of services to the individual user.
With our emphasis on “open” and APIs, we’re pushing to provide an open platform that plays well with other partners and other software while allowing customers to access their data.

While the future is hard to predict, we know that certain aspects are important in LMSs, including seamless analytics for all library functions. Data will need to span physical and electronic circulations, room use, computer use, and all other touch points with patrons, as well as housekeeping items such as budget utilisation.


Karen Reece, head of libraries, Capita


The most important functions are being able to help libraries service their end-users, to help people find what they want as easily as possible and break down barriers to get to materials.
We did a lot of work with the University of Worcester in the UK, which has a new joint university and public library. The LMS is able to tell whether the patron is a student or a member of the public and provide different customer journeys. The important thing is to have correct, simple authentication on the website.

The biggest challenge from a technical standpoint is mobility. The way that users access systems has changed radically over the past few years. Most students have smartphones. Whichever way the user accesses the catalogue, it should be the same experience. It will look different depending on things like the screen size but it will need to have the same content and information. We need to react to that and ensure that students are not impacted. HTML5 helps us to render web pages appropriately to the device, with all the functionality but optimised for the device.

Staff also need mobility, for example when a library has an event in a shopping centre or a school. We have recently launched a version of our LMS that can be put on a tablet for staff.
Web scale is an integral part of what we do. At Capita we’ve been doing it for five years or more and it is delivered through software as a service. Web scale means it is easier to do updates, easier for us to make changes and the customer doesn’t need to install anything.

About 20 per cent of our customers have moved to web scale to date. Some customers have concerns around data protection and security and we need to be able to reassure them. Lots of libraries have made significant investments in, for example, self-service kiosks and we need to ensure these are not affected. There are also legal issues of having customer data held offsite and the legal process can take a while.

We always do evolution to web scale as a managed project, so it’s the same as any server migration for them. At Capita the choice is with the customer. Some institutions say that moving to web scale doesn’t work for them at the moment. They may prefer to use infrastructure that is on site. Having said that, every tender we’ve won in the past 18 months has been web scale.
Another key part of the LMS is that it is not the monolithic thing that it was five years ago.

Getting all your software from one supplier is not ‘real world’. The LMS needs to be able to integrate with things like the institutional repository, the finance system and student registers, and this needs to be bidirectional. This is something we’ve addressed using web services to link one system to another.

We are working with customers to help, for example, ensuring that e-books can be downloaded directly from the library catalogue. Because it’s a web scale catalogue it’s not really about us creating our own Capita e-book store, but linking to whatever e-book provider the customer uses and making it seamless. If the right way of accessing data is presented it ensures that the library is more relevant – and that can only help promote the library service.


Graham Beastall, chairman and managing director, Soutron


Library management systems continue to focus on the management of stock (physical) and access to electronic materials including online databases, the processing of journals and subscriptions and accounting for expenditure incurred. The change however is that there is less cataloguing to do as most data is now available to import and there is less emphasis on an OPAC and more emphasis on managing knowledge and providing services around that knowledge. The library should be capable of delivering library, archive, records management and knowledge services.

The biggest challenges are integrating the systems with third-party systems and managing e-resources in a streamlined and efficient manner, which is difficult given that the platforms for e-books are separate and distinct from the library system and there is little connectivity between systems at this time. Keeping up to date with web browser changes is also difficult, especially given the frequency and the number of browsers to accommodate.

Web scale services are important as they provide a way of easily connecting one system with another. They are complemented by an API, which is an absolute necessity for a system to be open and accessible. We have both an API and web services and we can customise web services to meet specific needs for data exchange. Our standards are based on XML and this means we can work with most systems.

Future LMSs will pay less attention to back-office processing and do more for knowledge services. Back-office tasks will be removed from the library as it is a non-productive area. In future this will be delivered as part of a service agreement and the library will be more concerned with approval processes and access to content than curating and processing invoices. 


Jane Burke, vice president of strategic initiatives, ProQuest


I’ve been involved in locally-deployed, server-deployed systems in the past and I think that their time is over. We are in the early stages of the move to cloud-based systems. Libraries need to understand the technology that surrounds them today and take advantage of these new technologies. There are tremendous opportunities and libraries need to pick up the pace.
Library collections have fundamentally changed, particularly in academic libraries. In order to free up valuable resources, libraries need to make their existing workflows more efficient.Some libraries’ workflows have been in place so long that they don’t realise how inefficient they really are, with systems that were written 30 years ago for print.

If new library systems really are new then they provide opportunities for huge change in workflow – but change in workflow is a huge challenge for libraries.
With the cloud there are concerns about things like security, data and privacy. In our solution we are addressing this by looking to link to the student registry so full patron data does not move into the cloud. For sites where this is not realistic we are also looking at geographically localised hubs.

Our approach is different from some other suppliers. We’ve not finished Intota but it will be a library services platform and we will roll out services as they are ready. We think our approach will help with the challenge of integration into existing systems by not doing it all at once.
The first Intota service is rolling out now and will be a collection assessment service for both print and electronic resources. We are doing assessment first because good assessment can be a foundation for everything else.

Our next service will be Intota E, an e-resource management (ERM) tool. Intota E will also do automated handling for patron-driven acquisition (PDA). Libraries have said that, while patrons love PDA, it is very labour intensive for staff. Intota E automates the process.
Interoperability has to be the hallmark of Intota. A lot of the inefficiencies of old systems were down to a lack of interoperability. We have created Intota from the beginning with robust APIs.

We use them and hope users will also create and share services. We see this happening elsewhere.  Cloud-based systems will become the norm as we get more and more of them deployed. Customers in academic libraries increasingly make space in their library for collaborative learning by looking to push print books out of their building and into warehouses, often in conjunction with neighbouring libraries. The whole collection will be much easier to share and access when details of the collections are in the cloud.


Andrew Pace, executive director for networked library services, and Axel Kaschte, product strategy director for EMEA at OCLC


Most legacy library systems were designed before the worldwide web and often before the internet, and have not kept up with the needs of library users of collections. The biggest thing that library management systems need to do is manage to ‘the “collective collection”, as OCLC’s Lorcan Dempsey describes them.

Libraries spend more money on electronic than print but more people are involved in managing print than electronic resources. This is because of historic workflows and processes in libraries. From the beginning electronic was treated differently from print. With electronic content there is so much to catalogue that libraries often rely on publisher information. Having metadata early on in the workflow is an important part of collective cataloguing. With WorldCat we massively aggregate data and when libraries sign up to OCLC’s WorldShare Management Service (WMS) the first thing we do is to make sure that their holdings are up to date in WorldCat.

Libraries were probably the first profession to expose our back offices to the public. These were designed in a way to mimic the card catalogue. Keyword searching was the greatest innovation since sliced bread but then there was a plateau. There is an opportunity to move to the next stage.

WMS is replacing the thing that came before but completely different. We have what we think of as the WMS paradox, where we need to provide a platform where libraries can do what they are used to doing but also a platform where people can change what they do. The most successful WMS libraries have been where there is institutional-level commitment to change.

Libraries want to focus more on their unique collections or on serving users better. However, often special collections stand alone and this has injected inefficiencies. Many libraries are still spending energy on Microsoft spreadsheets for their collections and this includes top universities in countries like Germany, the UK and the USA. Even link resolution is not standard; it’s often hard coded URLs. This is not very scaleable or shareable so it’s not very effective.

The future is cloud-based. That’s certain. It makes things easy to set up. We use a private cloud so the environment of each user is separate. That’s important, especially in Europe with concerns about data. Data is managed separately in regions so patron data from Europe never enters the USA. OCLC has a security officer and privacy officer on staff. Another benefit is that things are networked so you can analyse across libraries. This aggregation enables much more predictive analytics. Every library only has a bit but web scale enables availability of metadata at scale.