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Smart Libraries Q&A: Differences between ILS and LSP

Smart Libraries Newsletter [October 2020]


What are the main differences between an ILS and an LSP?

Many of the stories published in Smart Libraries Newsletter address ongoing developments of products belonging to the key categories of library software, known as integrated library systems and library services platforms. This question gives a timely prompt to discuss their differences and similarities. Integrated library systems and library services platforms fall within the more general type of technology used by libraries to manage their internal work and external services. In other industries, these would be considered business process automation systems. These processes in the library context relate to acquiring and describing collection resources, making those resources available to their users through appropriate channels, and other areas of their operations. Business process automation software provides the interfaces and business logic to help an organization efficiently carry out their work. Reports or analytics assess efficiency and inform operational and strategic planning.

Historically, the term library automation system described this type of software, though its use is not as prevalent today. I also consider resource management system as a suitable term for the different types of technology applications libraries use to manage and provide access to collections. Examples of these product types would include institutional repositories, electronic resource management systems, archive management systems, digital asset management tools, as well as integrated library systems and library services platforms.

Integrated library systems and library services platforms embody many overlapping characteristics. Both are types of resource management systems and can serve as the primary business process automation environment for a library. Library services platforms might reasonably be considered just the next round of integrated library systems with expanded functionality and newer technology. I see more fundamental differences and consider these to be distinct genres. Despite many areas of overlap, a single category does not adequately characterize the library services platforms relative to the previously established field of integrated library systems.

Integrated Library System

The integrated library system is the long-established model of consolidated functionality for libraries. These products emerged following the pioneering era of library automation characterized by computer systems dedicated to a specific area of library operations. Early computerization efforts resulted in separate systems specifically to manage circulation, acquisitions, cataloging, serials processing, or patron access catalogs. These specialized automation systems were consistent with the capabilities of computing of that era and of the resources available in the library sector for programming and equipment.

As computer resources evolved and expanded, more powerful library automation systems emerged addressing a wider set of activities. The integrated library system emerged, either through fresh development or by building out the existing single-function programs. The mold of the integrated library system was cast at this time. Though this model of automation has evolved somewhat, its basic characteristics have remained intact ever since.

The integration of the integrated library system comes through database structures shared throughout the software application. The primary areas of library work are addressed by a set of programs organized into modules that share common databases. The modules of an integrated library system run on the same computing environment and share programming libraries, interface frameworks, and other technical components.

From its historic roots through today, the integrated library system has had an interesting history, and many products within this genre have come and gone over the last four decades. The integrated library systems currently available can be seen as the survivors of a linear evolutionary path. The products are mature, stable, and rich in features. The integrated library system, implemented in many tens of thousands of libraries around the globe, continues to thrive. Some of the basic characteristics of the integrated library systems in use today include:

  • Modular functional design:
    • Cataloging (usually based on MARC bibliographic records)
    • Acquisitions
    • Serials Management
    • Circulation
    • Reports or analytics
    • Online catalog
  • Focus on print, though with increasing capabilities for electronic resources
    • No fully integrated module for electronic resource management
    • No built-in knowledge base of e-resource holdings
    • No linking services
    • Catalog addresses content directly managed in the ILS, though not the articles, chapters, or other electronic resources available through subscriptions or open access
    • Libraries using an ILS may also have a separate electronic resource management system, though interoperability capabilities have not been well developed.
  • Replacement of the online catalog module of an integrated library system by a discovery interface with enhanced search or user interface features. Typical arrangements include:
    • A premium discovery interface provided by the vendor of the integrated library system, such as Encore from Innovative Interfaces or Enterprise from SirsiDynix
    • A premium discovery interface from a third-party vendor, such as BiblioCore from BiblioCommons, Primo from Ex Libris, and EBSCO Discovery Service
    • Open source discovery interfaces, such as the variants of VuFind and Blacklight
  • Based on single-tenant software
    • Operates on a single server or cluster.
    • Serves a single organization, such as a single library, a multibranch system, or consortium.
    • Usually in a client/server architecture. Workstation clients are generally being replaced by web interfaces.
    • Multiple possibilities for server hosting: by the library if it has its own data center; by the parent institution of the library (university or municipal data center); by the vendor, through hosting hundreds or thousands of instances of a system for customers, gaining substantial efficiencies and cost savings through automation of administrative routines, virtualization, and other processes.
    • Because the server (or virtual server) is dedicated to a single installation, it is possible to enable access to the native database engines or operating systems. Many vendor-hosted and managed systems do not permit such access to ensure a well-controlled environment and to alleviate the organization's need for technical expertise.

The technology and functional scope of an integrated library system should not be considered obsolete. The products are generally reliable, stable, and can scale to support large organizations. They can include native or layered-on APIs, enabling smooth integration with external systems, discovery interfaces, reporting or analytics frameworks, or other scenarios. The integrated library system will likely continue its evolutionary development trajectory for decades to come.

The integrated library system continues as a viable and appropriate automation model for many libraries. It thrives especially in the public library sector, in which lending of physical materials continues as its primary service, supplemented by increasing proportions of audiobooks, ebooks, and streaming audio and video. Integrated library systems and their associated catalogs and discovery interfaces have evolved and adapted to accommodate these digital services.

Not all integrated library systems are based on outdated technology architectures. The Apollo ILS from Biblionix, for example, delivers features consistent with the model of the integrated library system through a modern multitenant platform. Designed for small public libraries, Apollo does not need to bring in the additional capabilities and components needed to manage complex multiformat collections.

Library Services Platform

About a decade ago, a new type of library resource management application emerged. OCLC, Ex Libris, and ProQuest launched products significantly divergent from the existing functional model and technical design of the established integrated library systems. These products were introduced in about 2011, following a phase of functional design and technical development beginning in about 2009. Their scope of functionality aimed to address the fundamental disconnect in academic libraries between the dominance of electronic resources in collections and the integrated library systems' inherent focus on print materials. Rather than bridging the disconnect through a next step in evolution of the integrated library system, these new products reflected an ambitious effort to start fresh. By making a new start, development projects were able to take advantage of current software architectures and components without the constraints of the outdated technologies intrinsic to the legacy products.

The three products introduced at that time, Ex Libris Alma, OCLC WorldShare Management Services, and ProQuest's Intota, had distinctive features but shared in common fundamental characteristics that set them apart from the legacy ILS products and constituted a new category of library technology. Each vendor posted their own terminology to characterize this new breed of system. OCLC referred to their products as web-scale management services; ProQuest called their proposed product a web-scale management solution; and Ex Libris preferred the phrase unified resource management framework. Rather than adopt any of these vendor-specific terms, I suggested library services platform to name this new category of systems (see August 2011 Smart Libraries Newsletter). This term has since been generally adopted by the library and vendor community.

The functional scope and design of the library services platforms address the complex multiformat collections that libraries now manage, requiring an expanded set of business processes, metadata formats, business models, and access scenarios. Especially for academic and research libraries, electronic resources represent the highest proportion of new content added to their collections, though almost all manage extensive legacy print collections and continue to purchase print materials. Library services platforms have been designed with capabilities oriented to these complex collections, many of which would not be feasible to accomplish through evolution of an integrated library system.

The functional characteristics of the library services platform include:

  • Flexible metadata structures able to describe different formats of content
  • Acquisitions and cataloging workflows that accommodate electronic and print resources and their associated business and legal frameworks
  • Integrated knowledge bases for the managing electronic resources at the product or portfolio level rather than as individual journal titles
  • Workflows following multiple procurement models:
    • Subscriptions to electronic resources
    • Selection of open access materials
    • Management of article payment charges
    • Demand-driven acquisitions
    • Purchase of physical materials
  • The technical architecture of library services platforms follows the modern approach of software-as-a-service with the following characteristics. (Note that while many vendors promote their hosting services for legacy systems as SaaS, there are important technical distinctions.)
  • Mutlitenant platform able to support all libraries using the product on a single instance of the system (though, under special circumstances, separate instances of the platform support specific communities of libraries apart from the primary instance)
  • A single code-base so that all organizations use the same version of the software
    • Activation or deactivation of features accomplished through configuration options by site or individual users
  • Software updates are deployed at regular intervals with no technical installation routines required by users. There may be processes where new features are tested and deployed for individual institutions or users.
  • Native web interfaces for all staff and patron features
  • Application programming interfaces (APIs) exposed for all or at least most system functions and data elements
  • Usually will be hosted by the vendor or (or its hosting provider)
  • Access to native database tables is generally not permitted in mutlitenant environments (use APIs instead).
  • Access to operating systems or other underlying components not provided to non-developers
  • Ability to separate institutional data as needed
    • User data
    • Financial records
    • Local collection data
  • Ability to aggregate data as needed
    • Shared knowledge bases
    • Discovery indexes
    • Social or community resources

Library services platforms support the work of library personnel and do not directly provide interfaces for library users, which are provided by discovery services. The library services platform provides APIs and other technical capabilities in support of discovery interfaces. While in theory, it is possible to user library services platforms and discovery services from different vendors, in practice most implementations bundle products from the same vendor.

The initial set of products designed according to the library services platform model were mostly oriented to academic, research, and national libraries. These libraries were overdue for a better way to manage their complex collections with growing proportions of electronic and digital content. This product category has recently expanded with a public library twist to include Axiell's Quria, a digital-first functional design for public libraries.

Hybrid Products

In addition to products that neatly fit into the categories of integrated library systems or library services platforms, others have followed a hybrid model. These products embody a subset of the qualities associated with the library services platforms, though still rely on a foundation of the integrated library system. Prominent examples are the BLUEcloud platform from SirsiDynix and OCLC Wise.

BlueCloud is a mutlitenant platform interoperable with SirsiDynix's Symphony and Horizon, providing web interfaces, streamlined workflows, and new layers of functionality. Bibliographic and operational data and core business logic resides in an instance of Symphony or Horizon. As such, BLUEcloud lacks the complete set of characteristics to be considered a full library services platform, but can be seen as a hybrid environment that bridges the benefits of a modern, web-native, mutlitenant platform with the mature capabilities of a legacy ILS. Once the development of BLUEcloud reaches completion, the presence of the legacy ILS will become increasingly transparent.

OCLC Wise, established in Europe and more recently introduced in the United States, layers a modern set of patronfacing services on top of a core integrated library system. Positioned as a patron engagement system, this combination of patron-facing interfaces, multiple communications channels, and targeted marketing features delivered via a modern technology platform complements the underlying ILS modules.

View Citation
Publication Year:2020
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 40 Number 10
Issue:October 2020
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:25609
Last Update:2022-12-06 16:31:36
Date Created:2020-10-19 15:47:31