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Smarter Libraries through Technology: Evolution versus Revolution in Technology for Public Libraries

Smart Libraries Newsletter [July 2016]

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Each type of library faces a unique set of challenges. Despite a broad area of shared qualities and values, academic, public, school, and other libraries each also have their own specific characteristics. In many respects, each of these types of libraries has diverged even further in recent years. This divergence has implications for the strategic technology products that support their operations.

Academic and research libraries have been transformed by the almost complete transition of scholarly publishing to electronic formats. This dynamic has upended the way that they manage and provide access to their collections, giving rise to a new generation of library services' platforms which recognize the dominance of electronic materials, but are able to manage content of all formats. Smart Libraries Newsletter has chronicled the emergence and development of products such as Ex Libris Alma and OCLC WorldShare Management Services. These types of products have resonated with academic libraries seeking a comprehensive resource management approach delivered through a Web-native multi-tenant platform. Innovative and SirsiDynix continue to retain and gain new academic libraries via their evolved or hybrid integrated library system (ILS) products.

Libraries for the PreK-12 schools have quite distinctive technologies. They appreciate technologies able to manage library collections selected according to grade levels within a more carefully controlled environment of materials vetted by librarians and teachers. The thin budgets of schools demand very low per-library costs for technology and favor web-based automation systems that don't require dedicated computers or servers and that can be deployed centrally for districts or consortia of districts. Integration with district-wide administrative systems is essential for automatically populating student records, which must be entirely refreshed every term. Follett has developed its products around these characteristics and thoroughly dominates the school library sector in the United States. Softlink has a strong presence internationally.

Public libraries, the focus of this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, face their own distinctive set of challenges and requirements. Print and other physical materials remain a very strong part of public libraries' daily operations more than any other type of library. They generally continue to see growing demand for print materials. These libraries must acquire multiple copies of popular titles for each of their facilities and see high volumes of circulation, which require that they implement any strategy to help them meet intense demand, such as floating collections. Public libraries in urban areas must deal with incredibly high volumes of circulation transaction. New York Public Library, for example, reports circulation statistics around 27 million transactions annually. As a point of comparison, Harvard University—one of the largest and busiest academic libraries—recently reported 1.23 million circulation transactions.

The vigorous demand related to print materials tells only part of the story of public libraries. They also must respond to intense interest in e-books and other digital content. Toronto Public Library, for example, conducted over 3 million e-book lending transactions in 2015. These libraries must also provide a digital presence that reflects the many events and other services they offer. Public libraries deliver a variety of services that meet a diverse set of informational, cultural, and logistical needs of their patrons, which generally fosters engagement with the communities they serve.

The ILS continues to stand as the dominant force of automation for public libraries, often supplemented by a variety of additional technology components and interfaces. In the United States, products such as SirsiDynix Symphony and Horizon; Innovative's Sierra, Millennium, and Polaris; Library.Solution and Carl.X from The Library Corporation; and Koha and Evergreen as open source options all are based on products launched from 15 to 25 years ago and follow the long established functional model of the ILS. Each has evolved to adapt to more current technological underpinnings and new functionality, but much of the print-based orientation of the ILS remains intact, evoking the need to handle electronic and digital services in other ways.

These ILS products commonly used in public libraries also retain the client-server architecture. They reside on physical or virtual servers, where individual instances of the software serve each library or consortium. Most public libraries continue to rely on graphical client software that must be installed on the computer of each staff member or each service desk. There is considerable movement afoot to create web-based interfaces that obviate the need for client software, though they remain server oriented. Of this group of products, only Koha was created from the beginning with webbased interfaces.

Apollo from Biblionix stands apart as a public library system delivered via a modern multi-tenant platform with its capabilities provided through web-based interfaces. Its functionality is designed for very small public libraries and offers traditional print-oriented workflows. Apollo has been exceptionally well received among small public libraries. Much of that success can be attributed to staying true to the features that matter most to them and not venturing into the complex functionality needed by large public libraries. Apollo, for example, provides integration for the major e-book providers, but doesn't aim to be a comprehensive digital platform. In broad terms, public library automation is dominated by a set of well-established and evolving ILSs. With Apollo as an exception, no entirely new product has been created for public libraries in the last decade. This pattern contrasts to the academic sphere which has seen three new platforms: Ex Libris Alma, OCLC WorldShare Management Services, and the recent EBSCO-sponsored open source initiative.

It is in this context that Axiell, a major company providing technology products to libraries, archives, and museums, has launched an effort to develop a library services platform designed specifically for public libraries. This new product, Axiell's Quria, has been designed with a digital-first vision of functionality and delivered through a multitenant web-native platform. Not unlike the technological approach articulated for the new EBSCO-sponsored library services platform for academic libraries, Quria will be based on a light-weight framework for common services and upon which pluggable application modules can reside. It is notable that two independent projects have landed on similar technical architectures.

It is naturally premature to make any predictions of any product, however promising, at its initial launch. Quria remains in its design and early development phase, with early versions expected to be available in 2017. Its position bears some resemblance to that of Alma in 2009 when it was announced as a new conceptual product at a time when academic libraries were mostly involved with print-oriented products with older technical architectures. It will be interesting to see how Quria fares as a product developed entirely from scratch in a library sector that until now has relied on longstanding and evolved automation products. Though not well known in the United States, Axiell is a major technology company oriented to libraries and similar organizations with considerable development capacity. This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter provides a glimpse at the product characteristics and development agenda for Quria. Expect future coverage on whether the product is able to live up to Axiell's expectations.

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Publication Year:2016
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 36 Number 07
Issue:July 2016
Page(s):1-3
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
ISSN:1541-8820
Record Number:22244
Last Update:2022-11-29 00:36:28
Date Created:2017-02-15 10:08:43
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