What is the state of the art of integration between new integrated services platforms, OPACs, institutional repositories, open access journal portals, and discovery services?
Libraries today generally have a very high expectation that the technical platforms they use work well together, both in how they are managed and from the perspective of their users. But while seamless interoperability is held as an ideal, many challenges remain. These challenges can be seen both in the technical options for connecting systems together and in the realm of the competitive business environment.
On the technical front, system developers have made great strides in providing APIs (application programming interfaces) and other mechanisms for exchange of data and services among diverse applications and services. Most library-oriented products readily work with centralized authentication services for single sign-on using standard protocols like SAML and services including Kerberos or Open Athens. APIs provide the primary mechanism for interoperability among diverse systems and for enabling libraries to create new features, services, or interfaces regardless whether the underlying product is available as open source or proprietary software.
In a more complex set of interactions, most online catalogs and discovery services now offer relatively seamless integration with external digital lending forms such as those from OverDrive and bibliotheca CloudLibrary. Expected functionality includes the inclusion of e-book and audiobook content in search results through MARC record ingestion, the ability to check out and download items via API transactions between the online catalog and external content platform, and the inclusion of digital checkouts along with physical materials in the patron account. This nicely integrated approach represents an incredible improvement beyond the early days of library e-book lending, which was a very fragmented and cumbersome process for library users.
It is also common for libraries to implement discovery interfaces other than the online catalog provided with their ILS. Many libraries have deployed open source discovery interfaces such as VuFind or Blacklight as a more userfriendly alternative than built-in online catalogs. The ILS-DI specification (integrated library system – discovery interface) describes the specific functionality and technical mechanisms to enable a discovery interface to displace most, or all, of the functionality related to search and retrieval of content and for patron profile and personalization features. All of the major ILSs support separate discovery interfaces, using standard protocols such as SIP, NCIP, Z39.50, as well as system-specific APIs. Connector packages have been developed for Blacklight and VuFind to latch onto any of the major ILS products. Proprietary discovery services, such as BiblioCore from Biblio- Commons likewise include connectors and APIs able to fully replace the native catalog of an ILS.
We also see a trend of broader consolidation of services into product platforms. The genre of library services platforms, for example, brings together aspects of resource management previously implemented among separate products.
OCLC's WorldShare Management Services and Ex Libris Alma, for example, enable a library to manage multiple formats of resources together instead of relying on both an ILS and an electronic resource management tool. These products also contain internal knowledge bases and link resolvers to further strengthen built-in interoperability. Further expanding the scope of functionality, Ex Libris Alma also includes some capabilities for managing digital collections, including the use of Dublin Core metadata. Ex Libris supports the use of Alma with open source discovery interfaces, including VuFind and Blacklight, as well as with Summon, though the vast majority of Alma installations are paired with Primo, the company's flagship discovery service. In another move toward consolidated platforms, Ex Libris has recently launched Primo VE, a version of the discovery service fully managed through the Alma back office rather than its own management console.
Content from institutional repositories and other sources of open access content can also be incorporated into a library's discovery environment relatively easily. Protocols such as OAIPMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) and other content transfer methods enable a library to index these resources and link to articles and other open access resources. Open access content can also be expected to be included in the indexes of discovery services and citation databases. Even when searching through Google Scholar or other tools outside the library environment, researchers can take advantage of browser plug-ins such as Unpaywall, Kopernio, or Lean Library to easily view the PDF of subscribed or open access articles, using transparent search and authentication mechanisms as needed.
Almost all genres of library systems can be implemented using open source software. Major open source ILSs include Koha and Evergreen; VuFind and Blacklight were noted above as open source discovery interfaces; and the dominant institutional repositories that are open source are DSpace, Fedora, Samvera, and eprints. These open source tools enable libraries to work with vendors or their own developers to create well integrated environments and to solve interoperability issues.
Yet, many gaps in interoperability remain in the library technology and content ecosystem. Even when technical solutions are possible, competitive business issues can impede interoperability. Rivals such as Ex Libris and EBSCO Information Services have yet to resolve some core issues in the realm of discovery and resource management systems. To date, EBSCO Discovery Services cannot be used as a supported front-end discovery environment for Alma, and critical resources from EBSCO are not available through Primo or Summon discovery services due to the longstanding absence of business agreements between these two organizations. I'm optimistic that these issues will be resolved at some point, but they illustrate the importance of cooperative business relationships in addition to technical mechanisms to achieve full interoperability among diverse systems and content resources.