Revealing the silver lining

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For academic libraries, the future is cloud-based. Here, Scott Livingston, OCLC’s executive director for market strategy, shares his outlook – while we look at a new community project to develop a cloud-based library services platform

How would you define a cloud-based library system?

Cloud-based library services platforms like WorldShare Management Services (WMS) allow libraries to run both front-office and back-office software applications in third-party data centres (like OCLC’s data centres) rather than requiring the library to locally host its software applications. The library management system is accessed by librarians and their patrons on various devices through a web-browser.

OCLC pioneered the move of library systems to the cloud with the introduction of WorldShare Management Services more than five years ago. The vision of WMS was to create a next-generation, cloud-based library system that empowers libraries to be more efficient through sharing data, infrastructure and community – all in the cloud and at scale. 

What are the key benefits for libraries – and, by extension, researchers – wanting to adopt cloud systems?

Libraries can improve their services and their relevance today with cloud-based offerings, which offer several benefits and the opportunity to do more in the future. The benefits of cloud-based services include: 

  • Seamlessly taking advantage of current and rapidly emerging technology;
  • Reduced duplication of effort from networked technical services and collection management;
  • Streamlined workflows, optimised 

to fully benefit from network participation; 

  • Greater software reliability (due to the use of multiple redundant sites); 
  • Cost savings by sharing computer hardware and removing maintenance expenses; and 
  • Simplified library operations by eliminating software backups, installs and upgrades.

Cloud computing frees library staff from managing technology so they can focus on improved services, collection building and innovation. For library end-users, cloud-based services offer the benefits of delivering library resources, services and expertise at the point of need, in a manner that end-users want and understand.

What is involved for the libraries that move to a cloud-based system? What are the key challenges?

The process of moving from a traditional, locally-hosted integrated library system (ILS) to a next-generation cloud-based library management system is relatively straight-forward. The key steps are similar to any typical library system migration – data migration, system configuration and staff training. Organisations such as OCLC have well documented implementation plans, templates and checklists as well as dedicated staff to ensure a smooth transition as libraries leave their legacy ILS. 

Has there been a headlong rush towards cloud systems, or are some libraries resistant?

Historically, some libraries have had concerns with cloud-based systems. These concerns focus primarily on data security and privacy, data ownership, and reliability. 

Cloud-based computing for library systems has been available for more than five years. Today, we see the full range of library tools and services available in the cloud. Everything from library management systems and discovery services to access and authentication software is now available in the cloud. As we’ve moved out of the early adopter stage, we’ve seen these concerns mostly drop to the side. 

That said, libraries looking to move to a cloud-based library service platform should perform comprehensive due diligence before selecting a platform. This includes feature/functionally analysis, of course, but should also include a detailed understanding of the service provider’s technology stack. 

For example, the service provider should hold some of the industry-recognised professional certifications such as ISC2 Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP), ISACA Certified Information Security Auditor, IAPP Certified Privacy Professional, and others. Also, they should maintain an information security program that is certified to the ISO/IEC 27001 standard, an international benchmark.   

What about the future? What developments are on the horizon, and how are these likely to benefit libraries and the scholarly publishing arena as a whole?

The future is cloud-based. That’s certain. It simplifies libraries’ operations and offers cost and time savings. Plus, it makes it easier for library service providers to offer the latest technology and services with the latest enhancements. 

Cloud-based infrastructures will also enable a variety of new service offerings, such as mobile interfaces and application programming interfaces (APIs). These sorts of applications will allow libraries to expand the services they offer to their communities. Mobile and APIs also extend the library’s influence and relevancy allowing it to embed itself into the fabric of its community. 

And, of course, the processing power of cloud-based servers is significantly greater than many locally-hosted systems, so we expect to see significant advances in ‘big data’ areas like linked data and predictive analytics. 

FOLIO 'promises fundamental change'


EBSCO's Tamir Borensztajn, vice president of SaaS Strategy, describes a new community project to develop a cloud-based library services platform

Called FOLIO, the open source project brings together libraries, service providers, and developers from across the globe. The project evolved out of a recognition that the integrated library system or, it latest iteration, the library services platform, have remained fairly stagnant. These platforms (ILS or LSP) remain often closed, are built on legacy architectures and are fundamentally monolithic in nature.

By contrast, many other industries have seen their ecosystems open up and deliver unprecedented innovation. These industries have witnessed a growth in collaborative and innovative projects as patents are readily made available and open source is leveraged. For examples one does not need to look beyond Linux, WordPress, or companies such as Google (Android) and FaceBook that make a variety of open source technologies available to spur innovation. These examples illustrate how an open environment can bring about radical change by harnessing the power of global participation, knowledge and talent. The time now has come for the library industry to follow suit.

The collaborators in the FOLIO project are currently building an open source platform that will support traditional library management functionality, yet is built for innovation. As such, the FOLIO platform will be extensible at its core. This means that anyone can freely build on core functionality or extend the platform through the development of applications that will deliver new services. These applications will be available via a marketplace.

The project uptake so far indicates a real thirst for this approach, where libraries can leverage the platform’s core functionality, utilise existing applications, and either develop new applications independently or work with other libraries, any developer or commercial vendor

The FOLIO project will enable libraries as well as commercial service providers to work together and bring about fundamental change. The FOLIO project allows this precisely because of the scope of participants and the vision, ideas, and resources that participants worldwide bring to the project.

The community at large – libraries and vendors – can work together to imagine and develop new services. Think of integration with campus ERP, support for research administration, or predictive analytics. The FOLIO project is unique in that it brings the library community at large together to transform and innovate. The project, which is well underway, is bound to deliver new approaches to the challenges that libraries face in an ever-changing world.