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Perspective and commentary by Marshall Breeding

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Top Technology Trends: July 2009

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Although I am not attending this year’s American Library Association annual conference in Chicago, IL, I will be participating virtually in the LITA Top Technology Trends panel. The following are some of the trends that I see playing out in the niche of library automation.

Discovery Interfaces Expand Scope

The genre of Discovery Interfaces has been an ongoing trend for the last few years. These interfaces aim to replace the traditional, stodgy OPAC with a modern interface, delivering library content through an interface more consistent with what patrons experience elsewhere on the Web. They offer visually appealing design, relevancy ranking, faceted navigation, and other standard Web navigation techniques. These products offer an attractive replacement for the online catalogs delivered with the ILS.

The initial phase of this genre of products delivered a new interface. Yet, they remained largely tied to the content managed in the ILS, despite the ever increasing investments in electronic content. In many cases, a federated search component would aim to supplement the primarily print content of the ILS with a clumsy mechanism for accessing e-journals and database.

We’re now seeing a new wave of discovery products that deliver pre-populated indexes of e-journal content, providing access to the individual articles represented in the library’s body of subscriptions on equal footing with the print materials managed within the ILS. Products in this genre include Summon from Serials Solutions, WorldCat Local from OCLC, EBSCO Discovery Service, and Primo Central.

The technology for a new-generation library interface with Google and Amazon-like features has become increasingly commonplace. Every library automation vendor offers one – Innovative Interfaces' Encore, Ex Libris' Primo, AquaBrowser now owned by R.R. Bowker, LS2 PAC from The Library Corporation, VTLS Visualizer, SirsiDynix Enterprise etc, and open source versions prosper as well: VuFind and Blacklight. Open source components such as Apache Lucene and SOLR, make the construction of a modern interface less of a technical feat.

Today, it’s the scope of content addressed that differentiates discovery interfaces. It’s now within reach to produce discovery interfaces that address the full breadth of a library’s collection through a single consolidated index, spanning print, articles within e-journals, and each of the individual objects within the digital collections, institutional repositories.

The major change that enables this breakthrough involves a relenting of the stranglehold of publishers and providers of content. Until recently, few were willing to allow wholesale access to the content held within their information products. That left the primary means of discovery outside their native interfaces the far-from-elegant approach of metasearch that incessantly hammered their servers with a very low possibility of connecting a user to their content. The new paradigm of pre-populated indexes involves the risk of wholesale exposure of their key assets, yet stands to increase the use of their products through a more efficient search model.

Social networking powers library discovery

Web 2.0 concepts have been churning in the library technology space for half a decade, but have yet to become part of the core infrastructure that power libraries. Tags, ratings, and reviews have been an expected feature in new discovery interfaces, but have yet to make a substantial impact on the way that patrons interact with library collections.

Library Thing for Libraries and ChiliFresh have become popular add-ins to help existing library catalogs and discovery interfaces add a measure of user-generated content.

BiblioCommons aims to bring social networking into the patron’s basic experience of the library. An interesting new approach to discovery interfaces, BiblioCommons brings user-generated content, social interactions among library patrons, and other Web 2.0 concepts into the process of selecting reading materials. Following a longish period of development, a dozen or so libraries expect to launch BiblioCommons catalogs by the end of the year.

I anticipate that social networking components will increasingly become embedded into the inner fabric of library products and not merely add-ons and afterthoughts.

These interesting products have yet to displace the legacy catalog. Despite a plethora of products available to replace them with more modern interfaces, the vast majority of libraries continue to offer vintage OPACs. Even in the best of times, the replacement cycles of automation products in libraries turn extremely slowly.

The demise of the single-library ILS

In today’s environment of highly-scalable computer platforms and increased interest in resource sharing, the concept of each library operating its own ILS becomes less defensible. We’re seeing a trend toward larger-scale implementations that serve many libraries:

  • Vendor-hosted Software-as-a-service offerings that aggregate many instances of their products.
  • Consortial, Regional and state-wide implementations that aggregate many libraries into a single instance of an ILS platform.
  • OCLC’s WorldCat Local cooperative library system that aims to provide a global platform for library automation to its member libraries.

Web Services and SOA advance

Development of technology products for libraries increasingly embraces SOA or at least offers legacy functionality through Web services. Projects such as the Mellon-funded OLE Project and Ex Libris URM aim to build new frameworks for library automation through a service-oriented architecture. Existing products increasingly use Web services to provide access to internal functionality and data. Today’s environment that fully embraces the concept of openness and holds distain for closed systems. Open source, open APIs, and open access content continue to advance into the mainstream of library technology.

Jul 12, 2009 12:04:10
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Name: Marshall Breeding

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