Innovative Interfaces, following its acquisition by ProQuest, has begun to articulate and execute new product strategies to strengthen its position in the industry. The company aims to move forward following a period of under-investment in product development, as seen in recent years. Polaris and Sierra will continue as strategic ILS products, complemented by new patron-facing interfaces and services.
Libraries of all types use Innovative's products. Polaris is used mostly by public libraries, and its PowerPAC patron interface has steadily evolved. Sierra has been implemented by academic libraries serving higher educational institutions, by public libraries, and by some law, medical, or other special libraries. As the requirements of each library segment have become more distinctive, Innovative faces the need to refine its product strategies. For public libraries, the company has launched a development initiative, branded as Vega, to create a suite of new patron services. For its academic customers, Innovative has integrated the Summon discovery service with Encore and will begin offering electronic resource management components from ProQuest.
Vega: New Technology for Public Libraries
The integrated library system continues to be reasonably effective for managing the collections and operations of public libraries, unlike academic libraries which have required a more fundamental change in technology. But even if the ILS performs well for the acquisition, processing, and circulation of materials, public libraries increasingly demand dramatically better interfaces for their patron services and more sophisticated technologies to support their outreach and marketing initiatives. Many public libraries see improving patron services and engagement as an existential priority needed to maintain and advance their position in their communities. They need to deliver their services in ways that will be appreciated in this time when current social networks, ecommerce destinations, and consumer media outlets set a high bar for personalized services. Libraries need to move beyond outdated interfaces and simplistic patron features. Other library technology vendors, especially BiblioCommons, have already moved into this space, and are making inroads into the customer base of the ILS vendors. For Innovative, these are some of the factors that drive its ambitious effort to develop a new set of advanced patron services.
With the launch of the Vega platform, Innovative deploys a new set of patron services for public libraries using Sierra or Polaris. This new multi-tenant platform is based on modern technology architecture and components. It provides a foundation for a suite of applications and services in tune with current needs for modern interfaces, personalization, and outreach.
The Vega product will be built out incrementally. The current phase focuses on a core discovery interface that meets and exceeds the features and user experience available through other options.
Successor to Inspire
In the waning years of the company's previous ownership, Innovative had begun the development of a new discovery environment branded as Inspire Discovery. This product was based on a modern technology platform and was designed mostly for academic libraries. The development initiative was announced in April 2019. Several development partners and early implementation sites were announced up through November 2019.
Inspire Discovery was featured in the May 2019 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.
Once Innovative was acquired by ProQuest, the ongoing development and marketing of Inspire was halted. The discontinuation of Inspire did not violate the stated commitments of Ex Libris and ProQuest to not withdraw products in production use upon which libraries depend. Some libraries, including Hillsdale College and Cairn University, had implemented an early version of Inspire Discovery, but none had fully migrated from their incumbent discovery products.
Although Innovative did not take Inspire forward as a product for academic libraries, it was able to leverage some of its components into a new suite of products for public libraries. Vega, for example, includes the Context Engine to deliver search results and recommendations. Some of the ideas of the Context Engine were carried forward from Inspire, reworked and optimized for public libraries. The technical development for Inspire generally informed the development of Vega, enabling a faster launch of the product relative to starting completely from scratch.
Vega Discover also provides a forward migration path for Encore. Originally introduced in 2006, Encore has steadily evolved as a discovery interface and continues to be used widely by public and academic libraries using Sierra. Based on aging technologies, Encore cannot be further extended or developed to meet Innovative's vision for public library services. Innovative continues to provide support for libraries currently using Encore but does not market it for new sales.
Vega was developed as a modern suite of cloud-based services implemented though software-as-a-service. It follows patterns of software development for current-day projects, not tied to legacy architectures. It is deployed through Amazon Web Services and a technology stack based on industrystandard components able scale to meet the performance demands of a global customer base and to support rapid product development.
Aaron Terrell, Innovative's vice president of engineering, describes the general technical design of Vega:
Vega's architecture implements a tiered microservice architecture with separation between user interfaces (UI) and business logic. Web applications are designed to be responsive, with user testing and accessibility sourced requirements incorporated into designs. Data access is controlled by APIs across Vega's multiple services. Each service has a dedicated database. An API gateway unifies the programmatic interface to Vega, with authentication and authorization controls implemented at the gateway and within services. Vega has tight integrations with the supported underlying ILS systems (Polaris and Sierra), emphasizing strong interoperability without tight coupling where possible. This allows the ILS to maintain authority on system objects while Vega focuses on new and rich experiences.
Though Vega itself has been built as a modern multi-tenant platform, it interfaces with ILS implementations based on legacy architectures. Libraries do not need to migrate away from their Polaris or Sierra ILS to take advantage of Vega's modern patron services. This bifurcated model of modern platforms overlaying local legacy systems has multiple precedents in the library technology arena. For example, the SirsiDynix BLUEcloud suite operates with Symphony and Horizon, and the suite of products from BiblioCommons has been layered on top of most major ILS products.
Vega Discover is the initial application in Innovative's strategy to provide immediate relief to libraries needing to replace outdated patron interfaces. Vega Discover completely replaces the classic online catalog associated with the library's ILS, and it will be followed by a suite of additional services. Any remaining gaps in functionality will close as Vega development continues.
Innovative positions Vega Discover as its strategic patron interface for public libraries. It provides a modern replacement for its other patron facing interfaces including the classic online catalogs of Sierra (WebPAC Pro), Polaris (PowerPAC), or Encore.
Vega Discover provides a modern approach for finding and exploring the library's physical and digital resources. It delivers a clean and easily understood interface and embodies modern web design concepts such as responsive layout, supporting devices of all sizes, and adherence to accessibility standards.
A key aspect of its simple presentation can be seen in its concept of “roll-ups,” consolidating multiple representations into a title, avoiding the cluttered and confusing results when each version is listed separately. Public libraries offer any given work in multiple formats and editions. A popular title, for example, will be available in hard bound, paperback, or large format print, as ebooks, or as audiobooks. This consolidated approach enables a patron to view a title of interest, and then select among the available formats and editions.
Digital content, especially ebooks and audiobooks, have become a growing part of public library lending services. Any discovery environment for public libraries must integrate well with the major library-oriented digital platforms. Patrons expect to check-out digital titles as easily as print. Vega Discover supports selection, check-out, and downloading of ebooks from OverDrive and audiobooks from Hoopla.
The underlying data models of Vega bring together multiple types of data to drive patron experience. These data components include:
- MARC bibliographic records, transformed into BIBFRAME linked data format,
- library holdings data mined from the library's ILS,
- global name and subject authority records, and
- bibliographic enrichment resources such as Syndetics Unbound, Content Café, or EBSCO NoveList.
This component of the Vega platform leverages these integrated data sources to drive search, enrich the presentation of materials, and enable exploration of related resources. It powers such features as related search recommendations, concept cards, and author pages.
The textual data encoded in MARC records represents only the skeleton of what is needed for search and presentation in a modern interface. Public libraries usually subscribe to additional services for enriched content that can be layered on top of the basic MARC record data. Vega draws enriched content from Syndetics Unbound from ProQuest and Content Café from Baker & Taylor for the presentation of cover art, author images, and biography summaries.
In addition to the Context Engine, which optimizes use of library resources, the vision of Vega also includes a community management engine to drive personalization and communications with library patrons. The community-oriented capabilities in the forthcoming applications of the Vega platform are geared especially to patron engagement. Vega Discover integrates with the patron management module of the ILS, enabling patrons to view account details, make updates, and adjust their privacy settings.
Features planned or in development include such capabilities for patrons as:
- opting to save their reading history through an optional setting that is disabled by default.
- paying fines directly in Vega.
- placing holds on items on order, but not yet available.
- saving previous search terms.
Integration with Polaris is underway, including MARC record ingest and all patron functions.
Vega Connect: Platform Interoperability
Vega Connect is a key part of the technical infrastructure for this new platform. It houses data stores as well as software to support the new Vega applications and manage interoperability with the library's ILS, whether Sierra or Polaris. Its connectivity layer harvests data as needed to populate indexes and uses APIs for dynamic interactions between the ILS and discovery layer. Vega Connect also manages the interactions among the applications residing on the platform. The Context Engine, patron messaging, and other functionality reside within Vega Connect.
Current Status and Implementations
The initial version of the Vega platform, including Vega Discover and Vega Connect, has been completed for libraries using Sierra. Interoperability with Polaris is nearing completion and will be generally available in March or April 2021. Support for consortia using INN-Reach is also underway.
To date, 17 libraries have purchased Vega. New York Public Library and the Miami-Dade County Public Library System are working with Innovative as development partners for Vega. Vega Discover has been implemented by early adopter libraries, with live previews available to their patrons. These libraries include the MIdPointe Library System in Ohio, the Ferguson Library in Connecticut, and the Jefferson County Library System in Alabama.
- Jan 2020: ProQuest acquires Innovative Interfaces.
- Aug 2020: Vega Development begins.
- Dec 2020: Vega Discover available in General Release for Sierra.
- Apr 2021: Vega Discover available in General Release for Polaris.
Innovative plans an additional set of applications for the Vega platform. Forthcoming modules include:
- Interact: Enables the library to communicate directly to patrons through notifications and alerts. This messaging would be triggered by temporal circumstances, such as initial registration or renewal, or generated according to areas of interest.
- Promote: Supports a library's marketing campaigns through the generation of messaging to selected groups of patrons. A library would take advantage of these automated marketing capabilities to promote events, highlight collections, engage in fundraising, or other activities.
- Program: Features an event management and room booking module with integrated patron communications and streamlined workflows for scheduling, program descriptions, and promotion.
- Analyze: Provides the statistics, reports, and analytics libraries need to assess the effectiveness of its programs, collections, and other services.
In the current competitive environment, public libraries have a high interest in technologies able to improve the digital experiences for patrons and to improve their ability to connect with them. The current marketplace offers multiple alternatives, ranging from add-on marketing components to comprehensive systems.
OCLC Wise takes a comprehensive approach that encompasses a full integrated library system and layers of patron engagement services, including an enriched discovery layer, integrated event management, and marketing automation. This product, established in The Netherlands, was introduced in the United States in 2018. OCLC has garnered a handful of sales in the US, drawn from sites using Symphony, Horizon, Polaris, and Sierra. Vega can be seen as a defensive measure to avoid future defections.
BiblioCommons has made much deeper inroads into public libraries in the United States and Canada for its suite of patron-facing applications. More than 45 institutions using Sierra and 22 using Polaris have implemented BiblioCore. BiblioCommons does not offer its own ILS and therefore does not represent a major threat to Polaris and Sierra. However, BiblioCore's customer base means important lost opportunities for Innovative in critical patron services, which may in the longer term weaken its competitive position.
SirsiDynix launched its Community Engagement Platform in August 2020 with a similar vision of event management, marketing automation, and analytics. SirsiDynix competes directly with Innovative in the public library sector. Vega is vital in that competitive dynamic.
Patron Point offers a marketing automation solution that operates with the library's existing ILS and discovery environment. The company has announced implementations in over 80 public libraries, reflecting strong demand for more powerful messaging and marketing technologies.
The next few years will be an important period for public library technologies. Decisions to remain with current vendors or move to other providers will increasingly be driven by frontend services more than back office automation. The turnover in this sector has been especially light in recent years. Few libraries are opting to make lateral moves between vendors with limited points of differentiation. Multiple initiatives are underway that may change the dynamics of this sector. Innovative, with the backing of ProQuest, has begun to strengthen its competitive position with its new Vega platform. Time will tell how these efforts will play out in the marketplace.