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New York Public Library Partners with BiblioCommons

Smart Libraries Newsletter [September 2011]


The New York Public Library plans to make a major change in the way it offers access to its collections to patrons. This fall, NYPL will implement BiblioCommons, shifting from its current Encore-based catalog. In preview mode since June, NYPL plans to make BiblioCommons its default patron search interface in September 2011. BiblioCommons, a member of the genre of next-generation library catalogs, not only delivers a modern search environment with a discovery experience that includes both faceted navigation and collection browsing capabilities, but it also embraces a more dynamic and social character, including options to share and exchange information with other users . BiblioCommons provides a complete online catalog replacement, though NYPL will continue to rely on Innovative's Millennium ILS as its core automation environment.

According to BiblioCommons President Beth Jefferson, NYPL has not only subscribed to its current product, but has also invested $1 million in the business. This investment will support BiblioCommons' capacity to develop of its next generation of features.

NYPL sees BiblioCommons not just as a replacement for its current catalog, but as a platform that it can use as the basis for other kinds of services. As a large library with complex needs, NYPL will take advantage of the ability to extend the BiblioCommons platform through the use of application programming interfaces. In some areas, NYPL and BiblioCommons will collaborate on the development of new capabilities. The library will also have the ability to create extensions to BiblioCommons that are specific to its interests by building on top of its platform of APIs. In this way, the library is not limited to the out-of-the-box capabilities of the product, but can integrate and extend it to its specific requirements.

BiblioCommons offers a suite of APIs that can be used to support the creation of custom features and functionality and to make connections into external systems. NYPL expects to work with BiblioCommons collaboratively, in some cases expecting the company to produce enhancements to the system, and in others will build its own capabilities on top of the platform of APIs.

Rather than creating its own system using open source software, NYPL chose to invest in a company that brings technologies to the table beyond what they would be able to create internally. By subscribing to BiblioCommons and making investments in the company, NYPL will be able to accelerate its development roadmap.

New York Public Library: A World-Class Municipal Public Library

NYPL serves the New York City boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, with a total of ninety locations, including four research libraries. The boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn operate independent library systems. Queens Public Library has implemented the Virtua ILS; Brooklyn Public uses Millennium.

NYPL implemented Millennium in 2008 to support both the research and the branch libraries as a combined system. The research libraries had been using Innovative's INNOPAC system since 1988. The branch libraries operated on a separate Dynix system. Millennium provided a technology platform to unite the two sides of the library system that previously had been separate due to major differences in requirements between a major set of research collections and the branches of a major municipal library system.

BiblioCommons Makes the Big Leagues through Social Discovery.

BiblioCommons, a relative newcomer on the library discovery product scene, was created by a company of the same name based in Toronto led by Beth Jefferson. Smart Libraries Newsletter featured BiblioCommons in its August 2009 issue, covering its background, launch, and progress through that time. Since the initial pilot implementation in the Oakville Public Library in July 2009, BiblioCommons has been implemented by libraries throughout Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Other major municipal libraries in the North America implementing BiblioCommons include the Seattle Public Library, Boston Public Library, the Ottawa Public Library, Edmonton Public Library, Vancouver Public Library, and the CLEVNET consortium in Ohio; and the Santa Clara County Libraries in California. It has been implemented by the Christchurch City Libraries in New Zealand and the Yarra Plenty Regional Library in Australia. As a small company that only recently launched a Web site beyond a single page placeholder, BiblioCommons has relied followed a relatively low-key marketing approach, but one that has landed a number of high-profile public library systems.

To date, BiblioCommons has seen adoption primarily in public libraries. NYPL also includes four major research libraries. Jefferson states that, "Our product appeals to the research libraries of NYPL in its potential to help make connections among researchers into communities of interest. In this same vein, we see that BiblioCommons can also help establish connections among teachers."

BiblioCommons Technical Details According to Marty Tarle, Vice President for Engineering, BiblioCommons fully embraces cloud computing technology in its design and deployment. The application has been built to operate as multitenant software-as-a-service, where a single code base supports all subscribing libraries. It has been designed in both its internal architecture and deployment strategy through a cloud-based infrastructure to scale to support extremely high use by its rapidly growing customer libraries.

BiblioCommons relies on a technology platform constructed from an arsenal of mostly open source components. It makes use of PostgreSQL as its core relational database, Apache Lucene and SOLR for relevancy-based search and retrieval, and runs in a Java Virtual Machine with software written in Java and Ruby on Rails. Critical infrastructure, internal synchronization, and business logic is written in Java with Ruby used primarily for front-end interface routines. The environment relies on the relative new nginx (http://, which has gained a reputation as a high performance and lightweight Web server for delivering static pages.

The hosting model for BiblioCommons follows a hybrid approach, making use of servers that reside in cloud services along with its own equipment. As of July 2011, BiblioCommons reported that its service was deployed using about 30 Amazon Machine Instances (AMIs) through the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), supplemented by another set of30 servers housed it its own co-location facility. Over time, BiblioCommons expects to increasingly shift to cloudbased infrastructure as it scales in capacity to support additional libraries. BiblioCommons maintains separate indexes for each subscribing library system. Even though all libraries share the core infrastructure, as patrons search, they see results only from the collections of their own organization. The service takes a more centralized approach for user records, providing a larger pool of participants for social features and enabling interactions among patrons associated with different library systems.

Functioning as a complete online catalog replacement, BiblioCommons has invested heavily in developing connectors to synchronize data from an underlying ILS and to display real-time status and availability information. Connectors have been completed for SirsiDynix Horizon and Symphony, Innovative Interfaces Millennium, and Evergreen; support for Polaris is underway. The connectors make use of API's and other techniques; the Integrated Discovery System-Discovery Interface (ILS-DI) protocol has yet to become implemented by the major systems in such a way that would allow a more standard approach for communicating with a library's automation system.

Navigating Privacy Issues

BiblioCommons aims to help patrons find interesting materials to read next rather than simply returning search results in response to keyword queries. A thoroughly social approach for library patrons to interact with the library catalog stands out as the distinctive element of BiblioCommons. The environment encourages users to create their own personal collections and reading guides which lay the foundation for engagement with the library and fellow readers in various ways. Social features include sharing their reading experiences with others, to rate and review material and to create private or shared lists of titles.

BiblioCommons provides ample opportunities for library users to share information regarding their reading interests in order to gain insights on interesting materials from fellow readers. Patrons are provided with the ability to easily manage the visibility of their contributed content, anticipating the general concerns libraries may have regarding guarding the privacy of patrons.

Social networking has acclimated individuals in our society toward sharing considerable information about themselves, though with ever more demands for increased control over what is shared and to what audience. Librarians generally hold a very high standard of protecting patron privacy. As library discovery products increasingly adopt social networking characteristics, they need to balance the benefits of sharing information while giving patrons the ability limit or grant access to contributed content according to their preferences. NYPL worked with BiblioCommons do develop a privacy policy in a frequently asked questions format to explain the privacy options and controls available to users. (see http://nypl.bibliocommons. com/info/privacy )

As part of its due diligence prior to implementing Biblio- Commons, NYPL engaged the security firm Cigital (www.cigital. com) to audit its software and security practices, which gave generally positive results and led to even tighter controls. Today BiblioCommons stands as a major contender in the discovery services arena for public libraries. The successful deployment in these major libraries demonstrates not only that it's approach resonates with the current aspirations that libraries hold for the way that they aim to deliver their services with increasingly social flavor, its technical platform can scale to meet the demands of some of the largest libraries.

View Citation
Publication Year:2011
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 31 Number 09
Issue:September 2011
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: BiblioCommons
Products: BiblioCommons
Libraries: New York Public Library
Record Number:16143
Last Update:2022-11-26 21:08:20
Date Created:2011-10-07 14:57:14