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Smarter Libraries through Technology: Reviewing the Past Year, Anticipating the Next

Smart Libraries Newsletter [January 2016]

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The new year presents the chance to review changes in library technologies and consider what we might anticipate for 2016. The sweeping changes that transformed the industry last year set the stage for events in the coming year.

A quick review of the events and developments covered by this newsletter in 2015 highlights an industry in a phase of aggressive consolidation, bringing ever larger forces to bear on creating and supporting technology products and services for libraries. Libraries likewise increasingly consolidate their resources to leverage large-scale technology implementations, increase the impact of their collections, improve efficiency, and reduce their costs of operations. Yet libraries demand technologies that effectively meet unique business needs, foster engagement with their communities, and strengthen strategic positions. Innovation, though not a goal in itself, is expected as a means to break out of previously established patterns embodied in systems that hamper libraries as they face ever increasing demands, budget constraints, and constant change.

Looking Back on 2015

Aggressive consolidation. The consolidation of the industry was covered our November 2015 issue that outlined the acquisition of Ex Libris by ProQuest, one of the most dramatic events in the history of the industry. Not only does it bring together two of the largest companies, it also represents a major step into the convergence of content distribution, resource management, and discovery. Both companies involved had themselves made strategic acquisitions. Ex Libris expanded into the realm of campus-wide mobile with its acquisition of oMbeil (June 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter). ProQuest purchased the Coutts monograph OASIS acquisitions utility and MyiLibrary digital content platform from Ingram Digital. The acquisition of 3M Library Systems by Bibliotheca likewise represents aggressive consolidation in the self-service and automated materials handling arena (December 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter). This merger produces a single globally dominant company in this sector, though challenged by smaller companies operating in each region.

The transition in ownership of SirsiDynix notably did not contribute to further consolidation (February 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter). Vista Equity Partners sold the majority of the equity in the company to ICV, a minority-owned and managed private equity firm. Its interest is in empowering the leadership of the SirsiDynix to develop businesses strategies both financially successful and that support communities in need. This lateral transfer of ownership of the company in the industry created through the largest number of mergers in the industry may demonstrate the top end of consolidation of direct competitors. This outcome was much less disruptive than would have been the case had it merged with one of the other major ILS companies. Library cooperation via shared infrastructure. Recent years have also seen a rise in libraries banding together in shared technology infrastructure projects. Now highly-scalable, sophisticated platforms, based on cloud computing technology and resource management and discovery systems, can handle ever larger groups of libraries, presenting opportunities for libraries to pool their resources through shared infrastructure. The September 2015 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter focused on this trend of shared infrastructure, describing projects of the University System of Georgia, the Wales Higher Education Libraries Forum, the BIBSIS network in Norway, the California State University System, and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, all of which have selected Ex Libris Alma. The Complete Florida Plus Program, including all the state university and community colleges in Florida, has opted for Innovative's Sierra. The selection of SirsiDynix Symphony as shared automation for all of the public libraries in Wales was covered in the October 2015 issue. Other technologies that support resource sharing continue to be advanced, such as the SHAREit platform for direct consortial borrowing across libraries with separate ILS implementations, which was covered in the July 2015 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.

Technologies emphasizing user experience, mobile, and engagement. Technology for the library must also provide exceptional user experiences for library patrons. Boopsie's platform to help libraries deliver their content and services to their community members' mobile devices was featured in the May 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter. Boopsie has since been acquired by DEMCO in October 2015. In April 2015, we covered BiblioCommons, a company focused on providing discovery services and content management platforms, and its emphasis on user experience and customer engagement.

Open Source. Products based on open source software have become a routine part of the library technology landscape. Koha and Evergreen are well established open source ILS products. Kuali OLE, oriented to the challenging needs of the large academic and research library, has to date seen only limited adoption and remains in its development phase. We covered the transition of the Kuali projects in depth in the October 2014 Smart Libraries Newsletter and again with new information in the July 2015 issue. EBSCO, unlike its rival ProQuest, has opted not to create its own resource management platform, but rather has made strategic investments in open source alternatives. The March 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter described a major grant EBSCO provided to the Koha community to accelerate development, especially in the capability for Koha to integrate with EBSCO Discovery Service. Invenio, another open source product, was developed at the CERN library and has ben commercialized by TIND Technologies. The August 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter provided an in-depth look at Invenio and its selection by the library of the Caltech.

In the January 2015 Smart Libraries Newsletter we covered the privacy and security of library systems. I have expanded and updated that study for an upcoming issue of Library Technology Reports.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Naturally any predictions for the library technology industry in 2016 are speculative. We can, however, think of developments likely to build on trends and trajectories or events that might disrupt them.

Possible business transitions. I expect at least some additional transformation in the business landscape of the library technology industry. The processes of business integration will take gradual effect following the recent set of mergers.

The ProQuest Ex Libris deal is expected to close in January 2015, after which organizational and product strategies will be announced and executed. Barring any major stumbling in its upcoming implementations, Ex Libris under ProQuest is positioned to become increasingly dominant in large academic, research, and national libraries, and we can expect more large-scale, shared implementations. Innovative seems to still be working through the integration Polaris and VTLS acquired in 2014. Innovative must appoint a permanent CEO in the near future to replace the interim executive put in place following the abrupt departure of Kim Massana.

Given the level of activity seen recently, it seems reasonable to expect additional business activity in the next year or two. Private equity companies usually make investments for a limited term, leading to possible changes of ownership. These may simply sell to other investors, similar to the Vista Equity Partner's sale of SirsiDynix to ICV; strategic sales to direct competitors or companies in adjacent sectors is also possible, but less likely.

Growing involvement in open source projects. Open source will continue to be a key area of focus for libraries. Open source software aligns well with library values. Libraries with adequate development capacity will direct their efforts toward open source projects when possible; those lacking local technical expertise will increasingly explore the use of open source software supported externally.

Koha will continue its steady climb into larger numbers of libraries and into larger and more complex organizations. The ILS most widely deployed in the world, Koha garners considerable interest and resources. The EBSCO grant was a big boost. The global community of developers continues to fix bugs, improve scalability, refine features, enhance interoperability, and expand functionality. I anticipate a steady path of adoption of Koha in small to mid-sized public, school, and academic libraries in the US and other industrialized countries, but gradual penetration into some larger libraries. Among developing countries, I expect Koha to further solidify its position as the dominant library automation system.

Evergreen, though a more scalable and consortium-oriented ILS, has not seen significant adoption outside the US, which is a possibility I would anticipate in the near future.

The Invenio open source repository and resource management platform, developed at CERN and supported by TIND Technologies, has attracted attention and seems well positioned for further adoption, especially by libraries oriented to science and technology or with large collections of documents. The characteristics of the Caltech and UN libraries resemble that of CERN and may represent a potential target audience for this product.

The Kuali OLE project stands at a critical point. The transition of the Kuali Foundation to a more commercial approach led by KualiCo has been underway since August 2014. To date Kuali OLE has not announced whether it will engage with KualiCo as have the larger Kuali Student, Kuali Financial, and Kuali Coeus projects. Only three libraries have implemented the system to date, and only for print resource management. Additional implementations anticipated to take place in 2016 and 2017 could accelerate the momentum of the project. The announcement by the hbz and GBV networks in Germany represent an important boost, with the potential for broader adoption among their member libraries.

Open source products are also becoming more firmly established in other genres of library-related software. In the repository arena, open source options such as DSpace, Fedora, and Hydra are widely adopted. Blacklight and VuFind provide popular options for open source discovery interfaces that integrate well into commercial article-level discovery indexes or e-book lending platforms.

Focus on user experience. I expect the trend toward delivering web-based library services with close attention to user experience to continue and expand. For public-facing services, the expectation for a modern web experience continues to intensify. On the broader web there has been a shift in recent years to heightened levels of usability, flat presentation styles, infinite scroll, and other deviations from earlier concepts of web design. Library-oriented products must be in close alignment with expectations established with patrons via other web interfaces and take advantage of the elegance and efficiency they deliver. Engaging with their communities stands as one of the most important aspects of web-based library services.

This year, I expect to see many of the existing patron-facing products developed both by vendors and by libraries themselves redesigned following current principles of web design, especially including the ability to present content and functionality responsively to support all sizes of screens and devices. Progress will also be made to redeploy and redesign staff-facing interfaces provided through software installed on desktop computers to be provided through web-based interfaces. The replacement of staff workstation clients will accelerate this year both through replacement of legacy products with newer web-based services and through the redevelopment of existing products. SirsiDynix BLUEcloud, Innovative's LEAP, and The Library Corporation's LS2 Staff clients are examples of the latter; Alma and World- Share Management Services reflect the reality that new products are based on web-native platforms.

Dominance of electronic, persistence of print. Despite the reality that electronic and digital content are an ever larger proportion of library collections, few libraries will be able to turn their attention away from print entirely. Public libraries, especially, will need to build and circulate print collections for the foreseeable future, but must also improve their capability to deliver access to e-books and other digital materials as an integrated service. The basic levels of e-book integration developed in recent years must be further refined and extended to include an ever more complex matrix of providers, including collections of e-books owned and managed by the libraries themselves. Capabilities related to e-book lending and integration will rise as a key differentiator of online catalogs and discovery interfaces oriented to public libraries. In large academic and research libraries, electronic materials overwhelm collection budgets, meaning that print collections must be managed more stringently. Services that assist libraries in identifying the print materials worth purchasing and provide data to help in weeding or selecting items for remote storage will be of rising value. Academic libraries work to develop spaces for patron study, collaboration, and creativity—usually at the cost of reducing the footprint of physical collections. These libraries will increasingly expect their resource management systems to provide built-in analytics and decision support for reallocating their physical collections.

Maturing API ecosystem. The functionality delivered in any one product will rarely meet in entirety the complex needs of large organizations. Many libraries expect to be able to extend functionality, connect diverse systems, mine internal data, or develop new interfaces or tools by making use of the APIs of their major technology systems. The quality and completeness of these APIs have become an important differentiating factor in the evaluation of systems. While the major products oriented to large libraries now offer APIs, each follows their own conventions. I anticipate that the next phase of development will bring a more coherent and consistent ecosystem of APIs across diverse systems.

These are just some of the broad themes that I expect to see make the headlines of Smart Libraries Newsletter in 2016 and beyond. Naturally these suggestions should be taken only as food for thought. In the past, libraries often had very modest expectations from their systems vendors. The emergence of supersized companies with enormous capacity for development leaves little room for excuses. I have high expectations for the technology-based products and services oriented to libraries. It will be interesting to see to what extent these expectations are fulfilled in the near future.

Despite this anticipated agenda of industry developments for the course of the year, no major events have transpired in the last month. Instead of providing in-depth description and analysis of a major topic or event, this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter will instead provide a series of updates on a selected set of projects and companies.

View Citation
Publication Year:2016
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 36 Number 01
Issue:January 2016
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:21514
Last Update:2022-11-29 00:34:17
Date Created:2016-04-20 09:29:58