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Smarter Libraries through Technology: New-Generation Products Take Multiple Paths

Smart Libraries Newsletter [August 2014]

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I watch with interest the how the roster of products for managing and providing access to library collections continues to evolve. Smart Libraries Newsletter has chronicled the emergence of these systems in recent years, and we are finally getting close to the point where all the cards are on the table. A variety of development strategies are in play, ranging from systems built anew from the ground up as well as those extending or evolving from pre-existing systems. The concepts underlying some of the new systems began as early as 2009, with development churning through 2012 or so, after which followed a phase of implementation. Many of the new generation systems are now available as routine offerings, though some remain in the later development and implementation phase.

It is important to recognize the differing product development strategies used in creating the new generation of library technology products. Those created entirely anew, without the need to accommodate pre-existing systems may be thought of as “greenfield” development projects. “Brownfield” projects build on antecedent products, preserving some components, such as business logic, data structures, and workflow components, while re-engineering the technology infrastructure into current-day architectures or frameworks. The brownfield approach tends to be more incremental, phasing in new technical infrastructure layers, moving forward existing functionality, which can then be further extended or reshaped to address new areas of interest. Both models come with benefits and challenges. A greenfield approach that starts off with a clean slate to address library needs as they exist today, but also represent a major investment in development and requires libraries to migrate from existing systems. Brownfield projects face the challenge of re-working or extending some areas functionality that may now have different expectations, but still would involve a gentler transitions than a full migration.

Innovative has taken the brownfield model in the creation of its next generation Sierra library services platform. The longstanding strategy for the company has been to move its products forward through new conceptual design and technology platforms without reconstructing the business logic or functionality that has steadily advanced over the history of the company. Each of the product generations, INNOVAQ, INNOPAC, Millennium, and Sierra have involved dramatic changes in technology and architecture while carrying detailed functionality forward. This phased approach has enabled Innovative to navigate into next-generation technologies through multiple eras without having to build a new system from scratch and re-create functionality upon which its customers depend. This strategy has paid off for Innovative as seen through record-setting sales statistics for libraries that signing contracts for Sierra, including new customers as well as those migrating from Millennium.

Innovative initially announced Sierra in May 2011. Its first production implementation was in May 2012 at the Bloomfield Township Public Library, and it currently has more than 200 live implementations representing 2,000 individual libraries. SirsiDynix has taken a hybrid approach to produce the BLUEcloud suite, its next-generation technology platform. The company has two longstanding ILS products, Symphony, which traces its heritage to the Sirsi Corporation, and Horizon, from Dynix. Both Symphony and Horizon feature mature functionality, establishing track records as operationally stable and reliable, though with aging architecture. SirsiDynix has followed a development course that involves the creation of a new suite of applications following modern technology and architecture to initially extend and gradually displace the functionality in Symphony and Horizon. The BLUEcloud suite of products has been created as a multi-tenant software-as-a-service platform that provides a variety of applications for both staff and patron functionality. This strategy allows its customer libraries to continue using their current ILS, which manages most operational data, and avoid migration efforts. SirsiDynix makes a core set of BLUEcloud components available to its customers as part of their current ILS maintenance fees with the option to purchase others that address new areas of functionality at an additional fee.

Ex Libris opted for entirely new development as its path to the next generation in the creation of Alma. Rather than build on either its Aleph or Voyager ILS products, it has created an entirely new platform. This strategy avoided having to re-work legacy software programming and technology components, but meant also having to rebuild interfaces, module functionality, and business logic. Creating a new system allowed freedom to create entirely new product without constraints relative to legacy system data structures, technical architecture, or functionality. For library customers using its existing Voyager and Aleph ILS products with entirely different data structures and architecture, it means more of a migration process than an incremental upgrade. Detailed functionality provided in the legacy products may not necessarily be implemented the same way in the new generation platform.

Ex Libris began the conceptual exploration of its Unified Resource Management concept that led to Alma as early as July 2009 and announced it as a product in January 2011. Boston College was the first library to implement Alma in July 2012. To date, more than 300 libraries have contracted for Alma, with a large portion in production.

OCLC followed the course of new development for its WorldShare Platform that is the basis for its suite of resource management applications for libraries. WorldShare was created as a new multi-tenant software-as-a-service platform that delivers its functionality through web-based interfaces with ties to large-scale data resources such as the WorldCat collection of bibliographic records, a knowledgebase of e-content, shared vendor database, and other resources. While OCLC owns a variety of traditional ILS products, they are maintained as independent products with no inherent connection to WorldShare.

Libraries using these ILS products, as any others, would go through a migration process to implement WorldShare. OCLC originally announced WorldShare in mid-2009, with the first libraries moving into production in January 2011, including the Craven-Pamlico-Carteret Regional Library System. To date, OCLC has around 200 libraries that have implemented WorldShare.

ProQuest Intota, covered in-depth in this issue, is a product built anew. While ProQuest has developed a variety of applications for the management and access of electronic resources, primarily through its now-absorbed Serials Solutions business, the company has no legacy ILS product. Intota therefore has been created with an entirely new design and technical platform. Intota was originally announced in June 2011, with its initial foundation release completed in June 2014. This release does not yet displace traditional ILS functionality for managing print resources, which is anticipated for 2015. While some libraries are in production with this foundation release, the full product is not yet available.

The open source Kuali OLE project is nearing the completion of its initial release with the level of functionality able to displace a local ILS implementation. Kuali OLE has been created through a series of projects with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation providing significant funding in addition to the financial and in-kind investments by the partner institution. HTC Global has served as the primary Kuali Commercial Affiliate, involved in technology architecture, software development, and project planning. Kuali OLE implements a service-oriented architecture, delivers staff interfaces via web-based clients, and relies on the Kuali Rice middleware for much of its underlying technical infrastructure. The initial planning project for Kuali OLE began in 2008, with software development starting in 2009. Two libraries, Lehigh University and the University of Chicago, are on track to place the software into production in the summer of 2014. Expect further coverage in Smart Libraries Newsletter following this milestone.

In addition to these projects, many other products continue to evolve, adding new features and capabilities, and phasing in new technologies in smaller steps. Some examples include the products from The Library Corporation, which, as in recent years, has introduced a new line of patron and staff clients based on modern interface designs using HTML5 for access through web browsers and mobile devices. TLC has also launched Carl.Connect to provide new interfaces for its Carl.X platform and deployed its second generation of APIs. Auto-Graphics has also launched a new version of its VERSO ILS, which also has made the transition to a new set of patron and staff interfaces based on HTML5. Similar advancements can be seen in the product lines of each of the major companies in the library technology industry. Products that retain their established name should not be discounted relative to their innovation and advancement.

It will be interesting to see how products developed through these divergent paths are validated in the field over the long term as measured by how libraries make procurement decisions and in the way that each of these systems is able to meet the requirements of the libraries that adopt them.

View Citation
Publication Year:2014
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 34 Number 08
Issue:August 2014
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
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Record Number:19960
Last Update:2023-01-19 23:50:37
Date Created:2014-10-29 09:55:49