Today's prevailing technology architecture is loosely called cloud computing. More specifically, modern software is designed for web-based interfaces and deployed on computing infrastructure residing in remote data centers. Any application intended for large-scale use, such as consumer or business software or social networks, will be deployed on a multi-tenant platform, where a single instance of the code base, operated on a distributed cluster of computing and storage devices, supports all its personal or institutional implementations. Facebook, Gmail, or Salesforce exemplify web-native, multitenant platforms that support millions—or billions—of users on a highly scalable platform. As the prevailing computing architecture, any major application created anew would be developed and deployed in this way.
Multi-tenant services have been created in the library technology environment, such as OCLC's WorldShare Management Services, Biblionix Apollo, and Ex Libris Alma. But in an industry where products can have a lifespan of multiple decades, opportunities to build from scratch according to current technology paradigms are rare. Many companies opt to evolve their products rather than start over in each phase of computing.
Innovative, as one of the longstanding companies in the industry, has faced the need to take its products forward through multiple generations of technology and has consistently followed an evolutionary approach. Sierra, one of its flagship automation products, can be characterized as an evolutionary product with flavors of a services-oriented architecture and remnants of its client-server legacy. In some aspects it functions as an integrated library system, but also is positioned as a library services platform.
In parallel to its existing suite of evolved products, Innovative has also initiated development of new technology infrastructure deployed as a multi-tenant platform. Dubbed the Innovative Open Library Stack, this platform provides a growing set of services that will become the basis of its new product development strategies. Development of the platform began in 2015. As implied by its name, this new platform is based on multiple layers of software. Some of the initial applications rely on the Open Library Stack to provide modern interfaces and functionality that tie into existing products. Future products will be deployed entirely within the environment.
The Open Library Stack includes a central layer called Shared Platform Services. Each of these services is invoked via APIs (application programming interfaces). Requests may come from a variety of entities, including mobile apps, client software, or any other external program. These API requests may be resolved by business logic and data entirely resident on the stack or through an instance of one of Innovative's traditional applications. An API request for a user login, for example, might be initiated through a mobile app, then address the Authentication Service on the Open Library Stack, which in turn will issue its own request to a specific library's instance of Sierra via its Patron API. Innovative positions this platform as a shared-services cloud that can create high-performance interoperability among any of its products or with external clients or business applications. This environment has been designed to operate with some data stores managed as multi-tenant to serve all users, such bibliographic data from SkyRiver or its new central e-resource knowledge base. The platform also manages access to data resident in specific instances of its server-oriented application.
The current set of Shared Platform Services includes:
- Authentication Service
- Settings Service
- Configuration Service
- Application Services
- Linked Data Metadata Service
- Central Catalog Knowledgebase Service
- Technical and Public Event Services
Innovative has deployed its Open Library Stack through infrastructure providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. These well-established global providers enable Innovative to activate services across multiple regions to support its global customer base. The software's architecture and the cloud infrastructure provide the capability for highly-redundant, scaleable, and secure services.
Innovative created Mobile Worklists as the first application based on the Open Technology Stack. This application provides a very simple set of functions, but exercises the capabilities of the new platform. Mobile Worklists enable library staff to record lists of items using a smartphone or tablet. The lists can be uploaded and processed within Sierra. Creating lists is one of the most popular features for manipulating records in Sierra and is used for reporting, record updates, or any other task that involves batches of records. The Mobile Worklists app, for Apple's iOS, is intended to provide a convenient way to perform routine tasks taking advantage of mobile devices, such as recording items consulted but not checked out, identifying candidates for weeding or transfer, materials needing repair, or other scenarios. Once the app is installed on a mobile device, the staff member signs in with the same credentials as would be used directly with Sierra. The Mobile Worklists app sends a request to the Authentication Service on the Open Library Stack, which in turn sends a request to the appropriate instance of Sierra. The app uses the camera of the mobile device to scan barcodes. The app can collect multiple lists, which when complete can be uploaded into Sierra for processing. Innovative recently released an updated version with the ability to send lists by e-mail and to format them as delimited files, which can be opened in spreadsheets or other applications.
MyLibrary! New Mobile App for Patrons
In March 2016 Innovative released a new mobile app for library patrons branded as MyLibrary!. Based on the Open Library Stack, the app includes a standard set of features of interest to library patrons, including searching the library catalog for both print and electronic materials through keyword search; display of items with real-time availability status; viewing account profile information, items checked out, outstanding fines; and placing holds on items. Patrons can check out and download available e-books from the library's titles provided through OverDrive or Bibliotheca Cloud Library. Using the device's camera, a patron can scan the ISBN barcode of an item to check to see if the item is held in the library. The app also displays social media streams from the library from Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. English and Spanish interfaces are offered.
The initial version of the app, available in iOS from Apple's App Store features Innovative's branding, though future versions will also be available with library branding. The app is not available for Android. New features anticipated for future releases include self-service checkout when visiting the library and notifications for items due, overdue or newly received by the library within areas of interest.
The new MyLibrary app from Innovative provides a very basic set of features that a library would expect in a mobile app for their patrons. While the features themselves are not earth-shattering, its deployment through Innovative's new Open Library Stack architecture is more notable. Innovative also offers the mobile version of its Encore discovery environment, directly addressing a library's Sierra server and predates the Open Library Stack infrastructure.
Innovative has a long history of involvement with mobile applications, initially introducing AirPAC in 2001 for PDA (personal digital assistants), the precursor to smartphones. The early version of AirPAC was modeled after Innovative's WebPAC, but accommodating small devices. AirPAC for Smartphones for the iPhone and Blackberry Storm was introduced in January 2009 with a more modern interface and using the RightResult technology for search results. AirPAC is no longer developed, displaced by Encore Mobile and MyLibrary!. (See “Decade of Mobile at Innovative” Smart Libraries Newsletter, March 2010.)
INN-Reach for Polaris
Innovative has also leveraged its Open Library Stack to extend the interoperability of its venerable INN-Reach resource sharing environment. INN-Reach provides a union catalog and direct consortial borrowing functionality for libraries using a distributed ILS configuration. INN-Reach enables patrons to search for materials in a catalog representing the holdings of all the participants and place requests of items of interest, which are then routed from the owning institution to the home institution of the borrower. INN-Reach was originally developed for the OhioLINK consortium of academic libraries in Ohio in the mid-1990s and was implemented by the Orbis consortium in 1997. The product was originally limited to providing a distributed consortial borrowing environment for groups of libraries where all members had implemented Innovative's own ILS—INNOPAC at the time, but subsequently Millennium and Sierra. The interactions between the INNReach system and the ILS were managed through proprietary mechanisms. In response to interest for this functionality for libraries using another ILS, support was added for other vendors' products using supplemental software called a Direct Consortia Borrowing broker, or DCB. The DCB broker, implemented as a subset of a Millennium ILS, translates the NCIP messages from a non-Innovative ILS into the native format of INN-Reach. DCB adds both cost and complexity to a resource sharing environment.
Innovative has recently leveraged its Open Library Stack to obviate the need for DCB when a library using Polaris participates in an INN-Reach network. Rather than using a standalone DCB, this new configuration relies on services residing on the Open Library Stack to translate messages between Polaris and INN-Reach. The Open Library Stack includes interfaces that interact with the APIs exposed by each of Innovative's major products, including Sierra, Polaris, Virtua, and INN-Reach. Since both Polaris and INN-Reach already have API interfaces into the platform, the DCB hardware and software can be eliminated, with the message translations implemented as a service.
The Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries has used INN-Reach since 2001 to provide resource sharing for its member libraries. DCB had been implemented to support libraries using non-Innovative ILS products, such as the Denver Public Library, which implemented Polaris in 2010. The Alliance has been involved in the beta testing of this new configuration, which significantly simplifies the technical overhead of an INN-Reach configuration with Polaris. ILS products outside the Innovative product suite will continue to need the DCB broker.
Sierra Release 2.1
The latest version of Sierra, Release 2.1 also takes an incremental step into current technology architectures. Sierra was initially delivered as Java-based clients, requiring installation on the computer of each staff member. This version of Sierra makes a partial transition to web-based interfaces. Innovative has included in this version the Sierra Web Application, providing web interfaces for a subset of functions related to circulation. This initial set of tasks do not involve patron check-outs, such as item returns, renewals not requiring a patron ID, incremental use counters of an item, and searching holds. These initial features available through the web interface do not yet replace the Sierra Java client required for the full set of patron interactions that take place at library service desk. Rather, they provide a sampling of functionality to introduce the new interface to circulation personnel until the more complete circulation client is released. The web interface extends the technology developed by Polaris to create a new set of web-based interfaces called Leap for the Polaris ILS.
This latest version of Sierra also includes a new package of RESTful APIs providing access to Sierra data and functionality of interest to academic libraries. These new APIs, for example, enable a library to provide access to e-reserves materials through the institution's learning management system.
Each of these three products, Mobile Worklists, MyLibrary!, and the INN-Reach extension for Polaris and the Sierra Web Application, is a relatively minor product that might not otherwise rise to the level of news coverage. The significance lies more in the transition Innovative has made toward developing a platform based on current architecture. With this new platform now available as a foundation, Innovative is positioned to accelerate the evolution of its broader product line to meet expectations for web and mobile interfaces and cloud-oriented architecture.