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FOLIO: Advancing from Vision to Software

Smart Libraries Newsletter [January 2018]

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Copyright (c) 2018 ALA TechSource

Abstract: The open source FOLIO project to create a new library services platform continues to see progress in its development timeline. Since the project was launched in late 2015, the project has crossed a number of significant milestones in its technical development, community-building, outreach, and in support structures. Project documentation posits the end of 2018 for the availability of its initial version able to replace a library's existing ILS. This three-year development effort from project launch to a minimally viable product can be seen as ambitious but reasonably consistent with the timelines of other products.


The open source FOLIO project to create a new library services platform continues to see progress in its development timeline. Since the project was launched in late 2015, the project has crossed a number of significant milestones in its technical development, community-building, outreach, and in support structures. Project documentation posits the end of 2018 for the availability of its initial version able to replace a library's existing ILS. This three-year development effort from project launch to a minimally viable product can be seen as ambitious but reasonably consistent with the timelines of other products. Figure 1 illustrates the development and production timelines for the successful and failed initiatives to develop library services platforms (Available on Library Technology Guides: https://library technology.org/chron/libraryservicesplatforms.pl/).

Index Data was commissioned to perform the development of the core infrastructure components of FOLIO beginning in late 2015. One of the early software development goals involved the creation of the initial version of the microservices infrastructure components (OKAPI) and user-interface toolkit (Stripes). This work was completed by Index Data and made available in August 2016. The completion of these components paved the way for other organizations and individuals to begin the work of creating the functional modules that would eventually comprise the FOLIO library services platform.

Most of the current efforts focus on creating the functionality that will enable libraries to migrate away from their existing ILSs and electronic resource management systems. This development is taking place through more than a dozen development teams, each working independently on a specific module or infrastructure component. Several commercial software development companies are contributing personnel to these teams. Several libraries are also directly involved in software development, including those associated with the Open Library Environment as well as others that have engaged with FOLIO independently.

Some of the commercial organizations involved in the development of FOLIO include:

  • Index Data, a well-established, though modestly-sized development firm specializing in open source software components for libraries. The company has previously developed infrastructure components used within commercial and open source library systems to implement standard protocols such as Z39.50 and MARC-oriented search and retrieval engines. The FOLIO directory of developers currently lists 13 personnel from Index Data, more than any other organization.

  • Qulto, a company that offers the Monguz ILS product, which has been adopted by libraries in Hungary and other parts of Eastern Europe, currently contributes three personnel to FOLIO development.
  • @Cult Srl, a technology consulting firm based in Rome, Italy, which offers the OLISuite ILS and is involved with open linked data and semantic web technologies. This firm participates in at least one FOLIO development team.
  • Stacks, an offshoot of the Hybrid Forge company specializing in custom implementations of Drupal for libraries, has partnered with EBSCO for the development of Stacks as a content management system for libraries (see the November 2016 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter) and is also contributing three personnel to FOLIO.
  • EBSCO Information Services has four personnel listed on software development teams. In addition to these developers, many other executives, directors, managers, and sales personnel are involved with articulating the vision behind FOLIO and advancing it into the library marketplace.
  • Frontside Software, a company based in Austin, TX, specializing in user interface technologies, has four personnel participating in the FOLIO development.
  • Samhaeng, a small software development firm in Copenhagen, contributes to FOLIO development.

In addition to the personnel from commercial software development firms, 13 individuals from libraries involved with the Open Library Environment as well as two from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México participate in software development teams.

According to FOLIO project documents, as of December 2016, at least 62 persons are actively involved in the development of FOLIO. In addition to this technical work, another 149 persons participate in the Special Interest Groups helping to create requirements, design the functionality of modules, and perform testing and quality assurance.

At this point when the software remains in the development stage, projections regarding when libraries might adopt the software and their implementation dates remain somewhat speculative. A cadre of libraries have dedicated resources to the project and intend to use the software as it becomes viable for their requirements.

Libraries in the United States engaged with FOLIO include Texas A&M Universities, University of Chicago, North Carolina State University, Auburn University, Fenway Libraries Online, Villanova University, Duke University, and Cornell University.

International libraries participating in the project include UNAM, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; North Rhine-Westphalian Library Service Center (hbz); Northern Germany Library Service (GBV); Chalmers University; University of Sydney; University of Aberdeen; SOAS, University of London; and China Academic Library and Information System.

Besides the hands-on technical work, EBSCO, the Open Library Foundation, and others have been very active in promoting FOLIO in almost all regions of the globe. In addition to webinars and other virtual events, in-person events have been organized to provide information to those with potential interest in FOLIO and to enable those already involved to share their perspective.

Open Source: A Services-Based Economy

Open source projects allow—and often encourage—organizations to provide fee-based services. Although the software itself must be made available without licensing fees, any organization can charge for hosting instances of the software and providing services for activities such as implementation, conversion, support, and custom development. The Apache 2 license under which FOLIO has been developed offers terms especially conducive for commercial activities.

Deployment Options

As an open source project, the FOLIO software will be available to any organization. Some institutions may opt for a local installation that they support independently. Other organizations may provide commercial hosting and support services. FOLIO has been designed as a multi-tenant platform to enable each instance to support multiple libraries.

This approach contrasts with the existing library services platforms Ex Libris Alma and OCLC WorldShare Management Services, where a single global instance of the platform supports all the libraries using the products on a unified codebase. Neither Alma or WorldShare have yet been offered for local institutional installations.

EBSCO's Commercial FOLIO Services

It's no secret that EBSCO Information Services has been one of the major forces behind FOLIO. The company launched the vision of the project, which it has supported with funding, project management, advocacy, and promotion. EBSCO Information Services has devoted resources to the establishment of the FOLIO project, its technical development, and to promoting the project globally. Since FOLIO is being developed as open source software, EBSCO will not have exclusive access to the software but intends to be one of many organizations supporting instances of the product.

Although the company has no exclusive ownership or control of the FOLIO software, it plans to become one of multiple organizations offering services in support of the software. EBSCO has implemented an instance of FOLIO using Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure and will provide commercial hosting and support services. Offering commercial services for FOLIO falls within the company's growing number of software as a service (SaaS) offerings. In preparation for delivery of FOLIO services, EBSCO has created a new team, initially populated with four new employees. This team will be increased over time as the initial version of the product approaches completion and additional libraries contract for its services.

EBSCO brings considerable assets to the table for its FOLIO services. The company has deep expertise in hosting and infrastructure through its existing global platforms, such as EBSCOhost, EBSCO Discovery Service, Full Text Finder, and a growing array of other SaaS offerings. EBSCO will also be able to provide its FOLIO customers access to is knowledge base and discovery service.

In November 2017, Chalmers University of Technology became the first institution to publicly announce it has engaged with EBSCO as a FOLIO beta partner for its hosting and support services. Based in Gothenburg, Sweden, the library currently uses a Sierra ILS and intends to deploy FOLIO to provide a less cumbersome way to manage its resources and to launch new services. Although other libraries have expressed a commitment to eventually deploy FOLIO, Chalmers University of Technology is the first to partner with EBSCO for its hosting and support services.

EBSCO's Edge: Knowledge Base and Discovery Indexes

FOLIO has been developed primarily for academic libraries, which devote most of their collection budgets to subscriptions to electronic resources. Given the proportions of these investments, FOLIO will need to provide strong functionality for the management of electronic resources and for their discovery and access. The current paradigm of effective electronic resource management depends on a knowledge base of holdings representing the vast number of products and portfolios available to libraries. In the present environment, only three organizations have developed full-fledged e-resource knowledge bases: EBSCO, ProQuest, and OCLC. For both ProQuest and OCLC, the knowledge base is largely tied to their own products. EBSCO has focused more on providing linkages to its knowledge base and discovery services to other resource management products, including FOLIO. EBSCO will be able to distinguish its FOLIO services by integrating knowledge base and discovery services. The Global Open Knowledge Base (GOKb) was initially posited as a likely component for FOLIO, but this project seems to be on hiatus and has not been populated with data approaching the scale of the three commercial global products.

EBSCO does not make either its e-resource knowledge base or EBSCO Discovery Service available for free but offers them as licensed products. Libraries that have already purchased EBSCO Discovery Service or Full Text Finder can integrate them into their existing ILS or discovery interface. EBSCO has worked with most ILS vendors and open source projects to facilitate the technical integration mechanisms. EBSCO has likewise facilitated integration of its knowledgebase and discovery service into FOLIO. The open and modular architecture of FOLIO would likewise support integration with other knowledge bases and discovery services. The current market dynamics will likely reinforce an affinity between FOLIO and EBSCO Discovery Service despite the technical possibility of other options. Some implementations may involve open source discovery interfaces, such as Blacklight or VuFind, but relying on the EDS index for article-level discovery.

Open Library Foundation

Open Library Foundation was formed as a non-profit organization to facilitate open source projects and to serve as the entity to provide legal governance. Current projects affiliated with the Open Library Foundation include FOLIO and GOKb. The Open Library Foundation was founded by EBSCO Information Services and the Open Library Environment. The Open Library Environment, the group which was originally formed to build the Kuali OLE software with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has shifted its focus to the FOLIO project and is organizationally affiliated with the Open Library Foundation.

The Open Library Foundation issued a statement in November 2017 listing its current board members:

  • David Carlson: Dean of Libraries and Provost, Texas A&M University (President)
  • Deborah Jakubs: University Librarian & Vice Provost for Library Affairs, Duke University
  • Kristin Antelman: University Librarian, California Institute of Technology
  • Qiang Zhu: Library Director at Peking University and Deputy Director of CALIS (China)
  • Ross MacIntyre: Head of Library Analytics Services at Jisc (U.K.)
  • Sam Brooks: Executive Vice President, EBSCO Information Services

See http://www.openlibraryfoundation.org/ for more information on the Open Library Foundation. Although the software remains in the development phase, the FOLIO project has made substantial progress toward completing an initial version of its software according to its planned development timeline. The project has also jelled organizationally as seen though a network of decentralized though coordinated development teams. The work of the project is documented on its wiki (https://wiki.folio .org/), and the software is shared on github (https://github .com/folio-org).

Smart Libraries Newsletter has followed each of the other library services platforms from the point of the articulation of their product vision through the development of software and eventual adoption. FOLIO has reached the point where the software is beginning to take form but has not yet been completed or implemented in libraries. Upcoming issues of Smart Libraries Newsletter will continue to track major milestones or events related to this latest initiative in the library services platform arena.

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Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 01
Issue:January 2018
Page(s):2-5
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Products: FOLIO
ISSN:1541-8820
Record Number:23155
Last Update:2019-08-02 07:31:46
Date Created:2018-01-17 12:15:03