Over decades, it's been interesting to watch the change in conceptual and technical models of infrastructure supporting librariesóboth in how automation systems have organized functionality and the technology platforms and architectures in which they have been deployed. In recent years, I have observed considerable divergence in models of technical infrastructure. Today multiple approaches coexist, each oriented to the distinct operational needs present in different types of libraries.
The integrated library system (ILS) stood as the dominant form of automation for many decades. In about the early 1980s the mold of the ILS was cast as a system centered on common databases, with modules oriented to cataloging, circulation, acquisitions, serials management, with an online catalog for patron access. The ILS was a step forward in consolidating the previous set of standalone circulation, cataloging, or acquisitions products. As I have written many times, the ILS emerged at a time when library collections comprised primarily in print materials, and it developed functionality to manage them with great sophistication. The character of the integrated library system has turned out to be enduring and persistent.
Libraries have changed considerably over time, but not in a homogenous way. Academic libraries have seen their collections shift toward a predominance of electronic resources with a smaller emphasis on print materials. Public libraries continue to purchase and circulate ever more print materials and e-book lending programs have proven to be extremely popular. Corporate and other special libraries diverge even more, with an emphasis on enterprise knowledge management, dealing mostly with business and legal content sources.
The integrated library system continues to persist most strongly in the public library sphere. The ongoing vigorous circulation of physical materials falls nicely within the capabilities of these products, especially as they have matured and evolved over the years. Many have sprouted new public-facing discovery interfaces or catalogs that offer more a more modern user experience and that better incorporate diverse types of materials. Most importantly, these interfaces now integrate well with e-book lending platforms to provide an unified presentation of print and e-books and with drastically simplified mechanisms for enabling patrons to download and read e-books.
The affinity between the online catalog or discovery interface and the integrated library system has proven to be quite strong, with most public libraries relying on products from the same vendor. The main exception is BiblioCommons, which has emerged as a user interface platform that many public libraries have chosen to use instead of that provided with their ILS.
The academic library arena has seen the most dramatic changes in the models of technical support infrastructure. The first wave of change came in the form of index-based discovery services that provided article-level search spanning all the resources in a library's subscriptions. The initial phase of change saw libraries use these index-based discovery services in tandem with their existing ILS products, often supplemented by an electronic resource management system. The second wave of change came with the emergence of library services platforms. They diverged considerably from the model of the integrated library system, managing print and electronic resources through a more unified, Web-native multitenant platform. OCLC's WorldShare Management Services and Ex Libris's Alma follow this model closely, while others including Kuali OLE and Innovative's Sierra incorporate many of its characteristics.
Neil Block from EBSCO Information Services recently suggested that the the patron-facing Discovery Services Platform serves as the foundation for library technology infrastructure. This view infers that the discovery service isn't an add-on to the internal resource management systems, but that it might work the other way around. In this model, the discovery service becomes the locus of integration for integrated library systems, electronic resource management, learning management systems, and other components needed to exchange data or deliver services. The concept of the discovery services platform aligns with EBSCO's strategy of offering EBSCO Discovery Service with APIs for interoperability with components of the library's choosing, rather than developing its own integrated library system.
In this month's issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, we take a look at yet another possible model for library technology infrastructure. Libraries of research institutions have a somewhat different set of priorities than large academic institutions. They may play more of a role in the curation and dissemination of the research output of the institution, where the institutional repository may be the most critical component of the infrastructure. In this vein, the Invenio software developed at CERN as the basis for an institutional repository has become the foundation for providing support to other areas of the library, including digital asset management and preservation, curation of research data, a publishing platform for scholarly journals, and to support the management and circulation of print and e-books. The Invenio software is now available to institutions outside of the CERN community through the professional services of a new company named TIND Technologies. The Caltech library has engaged TIND in an ambitious project to implement Invenio over the coming months to replace its existing integrated library system and to eventually extend its capabilities for electronic resource management. It will be interesting to observe this project and to see whether this new model gains traction in the academic and research library sector.