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Smarter Libraries through Technology: The Roles of Integrated Library Systems and Library Services Platforms

Smart Libraries Newsletter [March 2013]

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One of the major activities that we have covered in Smart Libraries Newsletter during the past few years involves the emergence of the new genre of library services platforms. The entrants in this genre take a significant departure from the well-established model of the integrated library systems that have prevailed in library automation for the preceding three decades. I suggested the term library services platforms as a way to distinguish these new products, which are designed for comprehensive management of print, electronic, and digital resources; offer a robust set of APIs for interoperability and extensibility; and are Web-based and use cloud computing.

While I recognize this new genre of library services platforms as substantially different from integrated library systems, I see it as a new branch of the library automation industry. I don't anticipate that the existing trunk will die off any time soon, but will continue along its own path of evolution. I anticipate that library services platforms and integrated library systems will co-exist for quite some time.

Rather than fading away, I think that integrated library systems represent appropriate and progressive technology infrastructure for many types of libraries. I worry that librarians reading about the new library services platforms will have a mistaken impression that the products still considered to be in the category of integrated library systems are obsolete. I see many integrated library systems that are not only viable, but also quite progressive in their ability to meet the future needs of the libraries. Academic libraries have changed in a way that meeting their automation needs seems to require the radical departure represented by the more revolutionary approach of library services platforms. Other library sectors have seen considerable change, but with quite different trajectory and velocity.

The key challenge for integrated library systems lies in achieving the incremental developments that support the changes experienced within a given library sector. In the current phase of the library automation industry, for example, I see public libraries as better served by a progressively developed integrated library system than by the library services platforms.

Public Libraries: Reshaping the ILS

Public libraries today face some incredible challenges. They will benefit greatly from the right kind of support from the technical infrastructure. These libraries are busier than ever. Demand for print materials generally continues to increase, and it often must be met with fewer staff members, shorter hours, and other resource constraints. At the same time, public libraries report explosive growth in e-book lending activity. Public libraries aim to stimulate engagement in their programs and services through their virtual presence. Connecting library patrons to the library and to each other through external social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, and through complementary features in their own technical infrastructure strengthens the library's position as a community hub and promotes reading and literacy. Public libraries approach electronic resources much differently than their peers in academic and research libraries. Public libraries usually offer a relatively modest set of databases of reference and scholarly materials to support homework assignments, personal research, genealogy, local history, and such activities. These collections represent a relatively small portion of their overall expenditures for collections.

In contrast, a typical academic library subscribes to many hundreds of scholarly electronic resources across many specialized fields of study, in many cases representing the vast majority of its funding for collections. The shape of collections, physical circulation patterns, and the kinds of services offered to patrons seem increasingly divergent between public and academic libraries.

CategoryLibrary Services PlatformTraditional Integrated Library SystemProgressive Integrated library System
ArchitectureService Oriented ArchitectureClient/ServerService oriented architecture
InteroperabilityAPIBatch processesAPIs
DiscoveryWeb-scale, index-based discovery representing broad corpus of scholarly publishing MARC records managed directly in local ILS Books, multiple e-book collections, reference and article databases, programs, Web-site content, etc.
PatronIntegrated social featuresIsolated to essential ILS functionality Integrated social features
Key integration issuesCampus authentication, learning management systems, campus ERP IsolatedMultiple e-book lending platforms, self-service equipment, municipal or county systems, etc
Cloud Computing?Multi-tenant software as a service Local installationVendor-hosted option, evolving toward multi-tenant
Public interfacesWeb-based Web-basedWeb-based
Staff interfacesWeb-basedGraphical clientsWeb-based

ILS: Still a Good Fit for Public Libraries

The emergence of library services platforms does not necessarily mean that integrated library system should be considered obsolete. Quite the contrary, I see many of these products as continuing to evolve in ways that will serve libraries well into the future. I see the ILS as especially viable in the public library arenas where books dominate daily activity, though with increasing emphasis on e-book formats. The ILS as a business system for libraries based on print materials should be able to evolve to take on the challenges of e-books and some other emerging needs.

Significant challenges remain for these products to develop aggressively. The integrated library system will have to advance with new aspects of functionality to dramatically improve the processes of e-book lending, both from the perspective of end-user experience and in the way it supports acquisition and management of these materials. The architecture of ILSs must modernize, embracing APIs, cloud computing technologies, and Web-based interfaces if they are to remain viable in the long term.

I see considerable modernization taking place among the ILS products oriented toward public libraries, as in the following examples.

  • Polaris Library Systems has steadily evolved its ILS and has continued to see positive results in terms of new sales. The company has been aggressive in developing APIs for Polaris, offering access to its software development kit to its library customers and to authorized third parties. In recent weeks, it has become one of the first to deliver full integration of e-book lending through its own PowerPAC interface, initially through a collaborative effort with 3M Cloud Library with other arrangements underway. Through a partnership with ChiliFresh, Polaris has created a Social PAC that fully embraces the concepts of social networking. (More details reported in this issue.)
  • The Library Corporation has completely re-worked its LS2 PAC and the staff interface for its Library.Solution ILS into a fully Web-based environment based on HTML5. It has also addressed the need to support e-books, offering the ability to discovery, view current availability status, and to perform loans from within LS2 PAC. It's also interesting that TLC has been able to extend its bibliographic services, launching a service it calls eBiblioFile to deliver MARC records for e-book collections to libraries as they acquire new titles from any of the major e-book lending services. eBiblioFile finds use well beyond the libraries that use the company's automation products.
  • Biblionix has found considerable success in the small and medium-sized public library arena with its Apollo ILS. I see Apollo as relatively traditional in its functionality, but quite progressive in its technical architecture. Designed for these smaller libraries, Apollo offers functionality for the circulation, cataloging, and acquisition of materials without much of the complexity of the systems designed for larger libraries. By delivering this functionality through a modern multi-tenant platform using Web-based interfaces offered as a software-as-a-service subscription, Biblionix is able to offer Apollo at affordable costs for libraries with bare-bones budgets.
  • SirsiDynix has worked to keep its ILS products viable though technology components that layer in modern architectures and by creating new products that address management and access of e-books and other types of electronic resources. Available for both its Symphony and Horizon ILS products, SirsiDynix has developed a Web Services add-in that makes their functionality available through a set of APIs consistent with modern architecture. The company has also created new patron interfaces, including Enterprise, Portfolio, BookMyne, and Social Library that operate though the Web Services layer to deliver modernized user experience. Another new add-in product, eResource Central, addresses the management and access of e-books in this Web services environment.

Each of these examples illustrate that public libraries can remain well-served by the integrated library system, but only to the extent that these products are aggressively developed and reengineered to address timely functional requirements and current technical architectures. Beyond these few examples, elements of progressive development or stagnation can be seen across the many dozens of ILS products available today. It's essential that libraries evaluate any product of interest relative to its progression of functional and architectural development and not rely on categorical distinctions.

Architectural Evolution of the ILS

In the longer term, I would expect the ILS to evolve and take on more of the characteristics of the library services platforms, especially from the perspective of internal architecture and deployment models. In the short term, many of the ILS products have bandaged their existing legacy components with service layers that enable additional extensibility and interoperability. But for longer term viability, it seems that a more thorough re-development into true multi-tenant software-as-a-service platforms is needed for these products keep pace. I also see the metadata management features of these systems as eventually evolving into more comprehensive and multi-format models, which was one of the basic precepts of the library services platforms. As the ILS continues a path of progressive development, it will gain increased resemblance to the library services platform.

The association of library services platforms with academic libraries and integrated library systems with public libraries is also not a firm distinction. While the problems of academic libraries may have prompted some of the characteristics of the library services platforms, some have been adopted by multiple library type. While Ex Libris Alma, Kuali OLE and Serials Solutions Intota are geared specifically to academic libraries, the OCLC World- Share Platform and Innovative's Sierra aim to meet the needs of many types of libraries.

I do see that the library technology arena entered a new phase with the emergence of library services platforms. These new products represent an important new thread of activity in the industry. Yet it is important not to hold a simplistic view of the industry. Recognize that many reasonable product and development strategies will coexist and compete. It isn't realistic to expect any set of categories to fully describe all the different products and services.

View Citation
Publication Year:2013
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 33 Number 03
Issue:March 2013
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Subject: Library Services Platforms
Integrated Library Systems
Record Number:18074
Last Update:2022-12-06 07:36:27
Date Created:2013-06-22 14:39:01