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Smarter Libraries Through Technology: Itís Time to Focus on User-Facing Technologies

Smart Libraries Newsletter [August 2010]

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It's clear that in today's library technology scene, the products and services that impact library users directly attract strategic interest more than those directed toward behind-the-scenes functions. The realities of the current economic situation dictate that librarians have far fewer resources than we need to invest in all of the technologies necessary to support all the varied aspects of library operations. More than ever, we have to make difficult choices about what we choose to fund and what to defer when it comes to technology infrastructure. At least for the short term, user-facing technologies take precedence over back-room automation.

These circumstances paint the context for the key trend playing out today in the library automation industry: products and services that face the public users of the library attract intense interest in terms of development initiatives, new products, and adoption by libraries. I'm finding that more of the industry news in recent times involves discovery services and other products that enhance the experience of the library's end-users.

Core library automation products such as the ILS continue to be essential and today's deferrals may turn into a surge of activity down the road. In addition to the continuous improvement of the mainstay ILS products, I see some interesting projects brewingó products like Kuali OLE and Ex Libris URM, that work toward a long term goal of providing a infrastructure that will help library staff operate in a way more in tune with the essence of libraries today and the future, where the management of digital resources will represent increasing proportions of our work. OCLC's Webscale Management System, mentioned in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, also presents a new conceptual approach to library automation under development. We will be in trouble if we don't eventually gain transformational improvements to the automation support libraries dealing with ever diminishing physical resources require.

Still, the demands of the public are increasing, with ever higher expectations set by the broader realm of today's Web environment. A web dominated by highly interactive and collaborative destinations makes the need to offer library services to our users in radically better ways an urgent one. While it would be great to refresh both the tools used by library staff and the customerfacing interfaces, I'm fine with deferring advancements that benefit the former for the latter when resources aren't available to do everything on the library's technology wish list.

My observations of the technologies showcased at the ALA Annual Conference held in Washington DC support this trend. To me it seemed like the majority of the new products and services emphasized involve some aspect of customer-facing functionality. Examples include LS2 PAC from The Library Corporation; SirsiDynix Enterprise; Primo, Primo Central, and bX recommender service from Ex Libris; Summon and AquaBrowser from Serials Solutions; Cognite, a new learning management system for K-12 Schools; and Encore Synergy from Innovative Interfaces. While I don't follow the publishing industry as closely, I noticed several new interface platforms, including a new consolidated platform from ProQuest and the new Wiley Online Library.

I'm delighted to see significant advancements in the state of the art of library resource discovery and other user-oriented technologies. This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter highlights some of them. As an example in this area, it's interesting to watch the formidable competition in play between Primo from Ex Libris and Summon from Serials Solutions in creating the best technology platforms and most comprehensive indexes for academic and research libraries. Both companies seem to embrace a similar vision of what a discovery service for a research library should deliver, though their respective products employ quite different strategies and technologies.

I hope that brighter days lie ahead when libraries have more abundant resources to build up or refresh all their strategic technology components. But in these times of sparse resources, libraries need to make targeted strategic investments, which today tend to be skewed toward revitalization of the technologies that directly engage our patrons.

View Citation
Publication Year:2010
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 30 Number 08
Issue:August 2010
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:25160
Last Update:2022-11-25 18:13:51
Date Created:2020-05-17 08:30:28