The priorities of public libraries increasingly diverge from other kinds of libraries. Public libraries serve diverse communities including individuals of all ages, economic scenarios, ethnicities, and educational levels. Academic libraries address a narrower audience defined as the faculty, students, and staff members of a higher educational institution. Though some academic libraries may also be open to the general public, their collections and services are shaped according to their primary constituents.
More than ever, each category of library requires distinctive technologies. Previous times saw much more common ground in technology requirements. The business processes for acquisition, cataloging, and lending of materials were quite similar back when all types of libraries collected mostly print or other physical materials. During that period, libraries of all sorts could use the same supporting technologies, especially integrated library systems, quite successfully. During the past two decades, each type of library have followed different trajectories. Academic libraries have shifted priorities toward electronic access to scholarly articles with a smaller remnant of print. Public libraries thrive on the lending of physical materials, supplemented by increasing interest in downloadable ebooks and audiobooks. The business and technology tools required by these two types of libraries has never been more different. These differences can be seen in the transitions each has made in the products used to manage their collections. Publics have mostly held on to the model of the integrated library system. Academic libraries are adopting library services platforms, which are better able to manage complex multi-format collections dominated by electronic content.
The requirements for technologies supporting patron services diverge even more than those relating to collection management. Academic libraries invest in discovery services to provide access to their collections, with special emphasis on article- level indexing of scholarly journals. They also work to provide access to materials of interest to academic courses through products that integrate with institutional learning management systems.
Public libraries are working through a different progression of technologies for their patron-oriented services. The online catalog component of the ILS has long been the mainstay for providing access to public library collections. In the past decade or so, public libraries have implemented discovery interfaces to complement or replace their online catalogs. Products such as Encore from Innovative, Enterprise from SirsiDynix, or the open source VuFind have stepped in to provide a more modern interface offering relevancy ranked results, navigation facets, and enhanced displays with cover art, item summaries, and other content. Once considered “next-generation library catalogs,” these discovery interfaces struggle today to keep pace with modern expectations. BiblioCommons introduced its BiblioCore discovery interface more recently, raising the bar of expectations for public library discovery.
Discovery represents only one layer of services that public libraries need to fulfill the expectations of their patrons. A suite of additional components fills other needs, either as separate products or packaged as integrated suites. Public libraries are interested in tools to help them manage their events and programs, showcase featured resources, deliver interactive research services, and to help manage their entire web presence. Many want help in managing their outreach and marketing efforts. Public libraries increasingly want to be able to promote their programs, collections, and other services using modern marketing methodologies. Although many business-to-business marketing tools are available, libraries may prefer specialized products more aligned with their community focus.
Heightened interest in these areas is driving a new cycle of technology in the public library sector. The last year or so has seen the launch of many new offerings. BiblioCommons has built out is product suite to address web content management (BiblioWeb), events (BiblioEvents), and automated marketing (BiblioEmail). SirsiDynix launched its Community Engagement Platform. Since 2017 Patron Point has offered its marketing automation solution specifically designed for public libraries.
This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter features the new Vega platform launched by Innovative Interfaces. Now that Innovative is settling in under its new ownership arrangement under ProQuest, Vega represents its major product initiative to strengthen its position in public libraries. While beginning with the delivery of a new discovery environment, additional components of Vega are anticipated to address a broad range of patron-oriented services to support public libraries.