Openness and user experience guide future library systems

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Sharon Davies investigates library management systems in research libraries today, librarians` and researchers` experiences of using them, and future trends

Library management systems (LMSs) are in a time of transition, moving from legacy models to new-generation systems. Recent years have witnessed a growth of SaaS (software as a service) environments, cloud-based systems, increased integration and open-source LMS as libraries adapt to meet growing demands and user expectations.

‘We seem to be at something of a tipping point,’ observed Ben Showers, head of scholarly and library futures at Jisc. ‘In 2008 we published a joint library management systems report with SCONUL, which made it clear that there was a sense of stagnation within the library community. Existing systems were considered to lack the functionality required to meet the changing needs of libraries and their users, and weren’t easily able to talk to other technologies, meaning the library remained something of a data silo.

‘Six years on, there is a definite change in the air. For most UK academic libraries there is now both a desire and an opportunity to move away from legacy systems and redundant back-office processes. The shift is being driven by technological advancements and shared community services that perpetuate best practice.’

Showers highlights examples of open-source LMS such as Knowledgebase+ in the UK and Kuali Open Library Environment (KualiOLE) in the USA.

Jane Burke, vice president, market development of ProQuest supported Showers’ observation: ‘Today’s research library collections and how users want to access them has fundamentally changed. It’s these changes that have led to the development of the next generation of LMS, which are beginning to be adopted by research libraries. These new solutions are fundamentally different in both technology and approach from earlier models.’

Characteristics of these new systems include web-scale discovery systems, management of print and e-resources, improved workflows, interoperability, the move from information management to analytics, and the growth of cloud-based systems.

There are several potential advantages of moving to cloud-based systems, as Tamir Borensztajn, vice president of discovery strategy at EBSCO, observed. ‘Some libraries are already moving their LMS to the cloud. The advantage for libraries is the ability to focus on core services rather than incur costs and require resources that may be associated with maintaining a system on-premise. Regardless of which LMS a library chooses, one has to keep in mind that modern systems based in the cloud typically offer web services and APIs to interoperate with other enterprise solutions. The cloud allows libraries to connect open systems, provide libraries with more choice, and deliver the best possible experiences to library users.’

However, a big concern for many libraries thinking about the cloud is security and the losing of its local control. Martin Eve of the University of Lincoln, and founder of Open Library of the Humanities, observed: ‘On cloud-based systems, I fear for the growing disintermediation of the library by technology companies whose goal is to serve shareholders, rather than academic constituents. We have already seen the dangers to privacy posed by cloud-based solutions in other areas. Furthermore, my feeling is that libraries should be actively developing their own open-source LMS platforms to be run in-house, so that we retain control of the technologies that surround our educational resources and so that we communally benefit.’

Impact of LMS changes on librarians

The University of Manchester library has implemented the Ex Libris Alma LMS with a cloud-based SaaS system. Commenting on her experience of moving the university to the cloud, Lorraine Beard, head of digital technologies and services observed. ‘SaaS means the systems librarian is no longer managing hardware and database administration. The skills needed now are systems integration, management information, front-end interface development, application development and helpdesk management. There is also much less separation between systems staff responsible for the LMS and those responsible for e-resources.’

Beard listed the benefits of the new system as ‘good workflow management; a web-based service, enabling access from anywhere; a suite of APIs allowing easy integration with other systems; and the reduced need for local infrastructure and support.’

But such systems also come with their challenges, as Beard noted. ‘It is much harder to significantly change the system to fit your organisation. It is a large business-wide system that is not that flexible and agile and requires significant upheaval to move away from.’

Gregg Silvis, associate university librarian for information technology and digital initiatives at the University of Delaware Library, explained how his library’s implementation of OCLC’s WorldShare Management services (WMS) has changed the way it manages its LMS and how this reduced the time required to perform routine tasks. He commented: ‘For years we have been loading records, indexing and doing authority controls etc. But now, having switched to WMS, we don’t have to deal with those same sort of issues.’

‘Another impact has been the amount of staff that we used to have to devote to doing system upgrades.’ WMS comes with automated upgrades.

Referring to the WorldCat Discovery service, which comes with WMS, Silvis added: ‘With the new system, we’ve also seen an increase in the uptake of inter-library loans. While it’s placed more demands on the inter-library loan staff, on a positive note, users are findings resources that they hadn’t been able to easily discover before.’

New LMS have also created the opportunity to free up staff to develop other services, as Colin Carter, director of EMEA library engagement for Innovative Interfaces, explained: ‘The move into the mobile space, enabling staff and patrons to interact with library systems through a range of mobile devices, reflects the way that working practice is changing in libraries as staff are encouraged to move from behind information desks and onto the library floor.’

This freeing-up of staff has also allowed librarians to develop services. Showers, from Jisc, observed: ‘The Library Analytics and Metrics Project (LAMP) is currently working with eight academic institutions to develop a “data dashboard” that will enable libraries to make sense of their disparate and diverse datasets. As a result librarians will be able to spend their time actually acting on the data, and use these insights to improve and develop new services.’

Another challenge for librarians has been the impact of change management, as Burke from ProQuest observed: ‘I see the key challenge as taking full advantage of these new systems.  To do so requires the research library to re-engineer its processes, some of which have been in place a long time. Change management is never easy because it is about people. But if there isn’t change in how the work is done, the new solution will not deliver the promised benefits.’

Impact of new LMS on researchers

The effects of such changes are not limited to libraries and their staff; they are intended to improve things for the patrons, researchers.

As Borensztajn at EBSCO observed: ‘Discovery serves as the library’s “front door” for the research community. In essence this means that the LMS must support or interface with the discovery layer to enable knowledgebase integration, authentication, comprehensive analytics, and patron functionality.

‘When done right, researchers will enjoy a streamlined experience to discover both print and digital content readily, and interact with the library for a range of functions. If integration is not seamless and the LMS remains “closed”, functionality is reduced, and the workflows may be bogged-down by multiple interfaces and steps. It goes without saying that an open LMS, one that makes APIs and web services readily available, will benefit both librarians and researchers alike.’

Carter of Innovative Interfaces said that there are still challenges for researchers in dealing with different silos. ‘Although a lot of work has been done to try and implement web-scale discovery, none of the applications that operate in this space offer 100 per cent coverage, which means that researchers will always need to know that there may be other resources available that are not included in the webscale systems. There have been huge improvements in this area, which is a real benefit to researchers, but this is also an area of challenge.’

Future trends for LMS

There are a number of emerging themes for future LMS. ‘As we look to the future, openness will be an increasingly defining element of the LMS, in particular as it pertains to its interoperability with the library’s discovery service.’ said Borensztajn at EBSCO. ‘Importantly, the trend toward openness means that libraries will have more choice to evaluate and select other applications based on their merits and not because they simply “fit” by default within a particular LMS vendor’s existing offering.’

Scott Anderson, information system librarian and associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania agreed: ‘From my perspective, it’s much more plausible and better to have open platforms and services that can talk to each other versus being forced into combinations that are vendor centric’.

 Another important future trend set to define future library systems is the increased focus on the user experience. Showers observed: ‘One emerging trend being explored by libraries to enhance user experience is gamification, where game mechanics are incorporated into non-gaming contexts. Both the University of Huddersfield’s Lemon Tree and University of Manchester’s BookedIn are good examples  – turning the borrowing of books into a social game where you compete against fellow students to collect points and unlock achievements.

‘It’s this increased focus on the user that will define the future library system. The relationship between the student and the system will become more intimate, with the user data informing the development of the service, in a continuous, cyclical process. It is essential that, as the expectations and needs of the user evolve, libraries and systems are resilient and responsive enough to adapt to this constantly shifting landscape.’

Andersen of Millersville University added: ‘What users want is what you and I want when we interact with Google, Amazon, or a social media site. We want logical functionality, reasonable authentication, and connectivity to resources or services that work without undue hassle. Humans seek paths of least resistance and if an LMS helps with that, that’s great.’

Silvis of the University of Delaware library added: ‘One thing that we have tried to do at the University of Delaware is to make our content discoverable in Google. I therefore imagine in years to come the public interface for library systems will be Google. I’m aware of all the search and related issues related to this but it’s about our users. For example, a college student grows up with Google and then goes to college and has to use a different search system. After college they go back to using Google. Google or a successor to Google is the key because this is where people search. Libraries are where people discover and retrieve resources so it’s going to take a partnership between the two to achieve this.’

Expanding on Silvis’s point, Andrew Pace, executive director, networked library services at OCLC added: ‘We know that not all discovery is happening in the library and we know that a lot of discovery is not happening on library systems. We should be looking to syndicate beyond Google to the open web like Google Scholar, and services such as Mendeley and Researchgate.

‘Other future trends includes change in metadata management. Moving from record-by-record management to more entity-based management that will provide rich benefits not only to cataloguing but also to discovery,’ said Pace. ‘Also, we’ve done a lot to bring print and licence together in our management workflow. Therefore the bringing of print and licence together more with digital would be good.’

Burke of Proquest noted: ‘Some examples I envision for the future include that it will be possible from within the system to see availability and pricing before purchasing resources. It will be possible to request materials directly from another library from within the solution and authority control will be fully automated instead of manual. Reporting on the usage of resources will be easier and richer because of the platform and discovery services will become richer because it will be possible to add reviews. This is a very exciting time in library automation. The model is changing dramatically, and the new model offers many possibilities.’

Sharon Davies worked as a freelance journalist for many years before moving into librarianship. She is currently doing a masters in librarianship at the UK’s University of Sheffield