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Smarter Libraries Through Technology: Ten Technology Trends for 2017

Smart Libraries Newsletter [June 2017]

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As we approach the mid-point of 2017, it seems like a good time to write about some of the important trends playing out in the library technology sector. Most of these trends are not necessarily breaking news but represent areas of critical concern or opportunity for libraries. This list of trends focuses on the technologies within the scope of the newsletter, primarily the strategic resource management and discovery systems used by libraries. These trends represent important context for the individual events and developments that transpire within the sphere of library technology.

Proprietary Versus Open Source Software

Products based on proprietary software continue to hold overwhelming dominance in the high end of the library technology sector. Library services platforms, especially Ex Libris Alma and OCLC's WorldShare Management Services and integrated library systems (ILSs) such as those from Innovative Interfaces and SirsiDynix continue to stand as the preferred products for mid-sized to large academic and public libraries. Products based on open source software have been routinely implemented by many libraries of varying types and sizes, though with less penetration into the tier of those with the largest collections and user populations. The open source Koha ILS has been adopted by an ever-growing community of libraries and is one of the most widely implemented systems globally. In the United States, it has become a popular choice for small to mid-sized libraries, with its reach gradually extending upward. Evergreen likewise earned a strong position among consortia comprised mostly of public libraries. A new wave of interest has been sparked by the recently launched FOLIO project to create an open source library services platform. Coming on the heels of the demise of the Kuali OLE project, FOLIO has gained attention due to its strong backing by EBSCO Information Services, the involvement of Index Data as a well-regarded software development firm, a fresh technology architecture, and an ambitious development agenda. Open source alternatives can also be found in almost every other genre of library software, including repository platforms, archives management systems, and discovery interfaces. Open source software provides an important competitive element to the dynamics of the industry, raising the bar on innovation and flexibility. It also may serve as a moderating factor in pricing. Many libraries remain agnostic relative to software licenses, implementing a mix of open source and proprietary solutions.

Consolidated and Convergent Business Environment

One of the key observations reported in the 2017 Library Systems Report involves the ever-deepening consolidation of the library technology industry. The previous phase of the industry saw aggressive consolidation among the companies specializing in core library services, resulting in the formation of companies such as SirsiDynix, Innovative Interfaces, Ex Libris, Lucidea, and Axiell. Much of the recent business activity involves the absorption of technology-focused companies or projects into the top-tier of library services companies. These diversified giants increasingly include strategic library management or discovery technologies as elements of a business portfolio centered on content products. This growing industry dynamic can be seen in ProQuest via its acquisition of Ex Libris, in EBSCO Information Services in its launch and backing of FOLIO, and Follett's acquisition of Baker & Taylor. Some of the same undertones are present in Axiell's diverse portfolio assembled from a long spree of acquisitions spanning technologies for library management, archives, and museums; digital media management and lending; and its role as a major provider of e-books and other digital media in Scandinavia. This trend for convergence means that libraries need to be vigilant to ensure that the technology is independent and unbiased in relation to content offerings from the same vendor, and vice versa.

Growth of Software-as-a-Service

Libraries are not only accepting but are also increasingly requiring that the new products they procure be deployed via some flavor of software-as-a-service (SaaS) or hosted solution. The diminishing cost of cloud-based infrastructure and the scarcity of personnel with deep expertise to implement and maintain locally managed servers and applications have driven libraries past the tipping point were most procurement processes specify a preference or requirement for hosted services. Some products categories, such as library services platforms and index-based discovery services, are deployed almost entirely via SaaS. In the ILSs arena where local hosting may be more of a possibility, most new implementations now specify a preference for vendor hosting. Companies that have traditionally derived most of their revenue from content are increasingly expanding their involvement in services delivered through SaaS technologies. Publishing giants, such as Elsevier, seem to be gravitating to these services to reduce their dependence on subscription-based content. The ability to monetize content may diminish over time due to increasing mandates by universities, funding agencies, and governments for open access content.

Rural Areas and Small Communities Remain Underserved

Access to technology continues to be unevenly distributed among libraries based on their size and geography. Many libraries serving small and rural areas find effective and engaging technologies to be beyond their reach, both in terms of cost and technical expertise. Technology products and services are often scaled according to the size and complexity of a library. The cost formulas involved unfortunately do not scale downward enough to reach the very modest budgets of small libraries. In some areas, small libraries gain access to highquality automation systems by participating in a consortium. But many of these small public libraries may not be automated at all or may operate on an outdated PC-based system. These libraries also often lack a modern website or other technologies taken for granted by their larger peers. Providing more equitable access to technology remains a longstanding and unresolved concern.

Library Services Platforms

The genre of library services platforms has become well established among academic and research libraries that manage collections where investments in electronic and digital materials far outpace that of print. These libraries were increasingly stymied by systems still mostly oriented around print. In recent years, most new procurements by libraries in this sector result in the selection of a library services platform. A critical mass of these implementations may now be in place, accelerating the movement of academic libraries that remain on legacy systems.

Public libraries continue to rely on ILSs. These libraries have not seen the same patterns away from involvement in print and continue to need systems able to support the management and circulation of high volumes of physical materials. Until recently, no library services platform had been developed specifically for public libraries. It will be interesting to see how much traction Axiell's new Quria platform receives once its development is complete.

Privacy and Security

Libraries voice great concern for technologies that safeguard the privacy of their users and that remain secure to unauthorized access. Yet, progress in the implementation of these safeguards remains very weak within the library community. As demonstrated by last month's issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, the vast majority of libraries do not implement readily available and affordable mechanisms to encrypt their webbased services to protect the online activity of their patrons from third-party interception. I hope for more rapid adoption of privacy-enhancing technologies, but it is hard to be optimistic given the current sluggish momentum. Concern for security and data protection has been greatly heightened as a result of the massive ransomware attacks in recent days. It has become even more evident that not installing system updates as they are made available is dangerous and irresponsible. As these kinds of attacks become more pervasive, libraries will need to up their game in terms of the security precautions or move to SaaS solutions, where the brunt of responsibility for network and infrastructure security falls on the shoulders of the vendor.

Support for Mobile

Society has passed the tipping point where more access to services takes place via smartphones than it does though desktop or laptop computers with larger screens. Social networks, e-commerce sites, news and media outlets, and other major web destinations on the web offer apps or responsive websites optimized for access via mobile devices. Support for mobile in the library arena continues to lag behind. Many libraries do not yet offer mobile-friendly, patron-facing services. The sluggish progress can be seen both in librarymanaged websites as well as vendor-provided catalogs or discovery services. I anticipate an accelerated development in this area as trends skew even further toward the dominance of mobile access.

Discoverability Versus Discovery

The library community has been involved with developing and implementing new discovery interfaces for the last decade or so. The traditional library catalog is increasingly supplemented or displaced by discovery tools implementing interfaces more consistent with mainstream search engines. The genre of index-based discovery services has expanded the scope of search to a broad universe of content that libraries deem as reliable and trustworthy. These new search tools have become an essential component of library technology infrastructure. Even though these tools have become more powerful and flexible, they can work only if library users opt to use them. In most cases, patrons search general search engines and expect to find the materials they need in the library. In order to increase the likelihood that patrons will find results for library materials when they search Google Scholar, the basic Google search engine, or Microsoft Bing, techniques need to be devised and implemented that improve discoverability beyond the library-provided interfaces. There has been much recent interest in taking advantage of semantic web technologies to improve the performance of library materials in the broader web ecosystem. These techniques include encoding library-provided resource pages to include semantic markup based on or BIBFRAME.

Tech Companies Seek Wider Presence in Communities

The organizations that have traditionally created products specifically for libraries have expanded their sites to find new opportunities in the broader organizations or communities served by the libraries. Such a strategy enables developers to leverage the technologies they have created for the library to expand the reach of library content and services. In the academic arena, for example, there is great interest in products that may not be operated directly by the library but are operated by other members of the academic institution. The genre of reading list management systems, such as Talis Aspire, the open source Rebus:list, and Ex Libris Leganto, operate alongside the learning management environment of the campus to help instructors create lists that provide access to supplemental reading materials for each course. Libraries have an interest in these products since they optimize the use of their content in the curriculum. Products such as SIPX add an additional layer of cost savings and copyright compliance for materials assembled for course packs. In the K-12 school arena, companies such as Follett work to create a broad field of products of interest to the entire district and not just its libraries.

Divergence among Library Sectors

The work accomplished by public, academic, school, and special libraries has become increasingly distinct in recent years, though each type embraces many common values and core areas of expertise. The deep transformation of academic library collections toward electronic resources and the ongoing reliance of public libraries on physical formats is a theme that continually arises in Smart Libraries Newsletter. School libraries likewise have to manage collections with a strong emphasis on reading level and age appropriateness relative to community values. These differences mean that it is increasingly difficult to create technology products that serve all types of libraries well. This trend has resulted in increased specialization in the companies that produce library technologies. For example, Ex Libris works primarily with academic and research libraries, Follett with the K-12 sector, and Axiell with public libraries. Those companies such as SirsiDynix and Innovative that have historically been involved with libraries of different types face a more difficult challenge than might have been the case a decade or so ago. These companies have seen a drift in their customer base toward the public library sector, though they continue to retain and even recruit new customers in other sectors.

View Citation
Publication Year:2017
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 37 Number 06
Issue:June 2017
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
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Record Number:22740
Last Update:2023-01-19 23:09:44
Date Created:2017-07-01 14:23:48