Librarians have yet to see widespread adoption ofWeb services in library-oriented technology products. Rather, its adoption has been tentative and gradual. Recent events, however, reflect continued interest and steady movement toward wider acceptance.
Software developers are looking at addressing data in XML-based structures and the use of the Web services architecture for communicating with external systems. Many of the system-to-system protocols that have been developed for library automation predate XML and Web services and are based on different technologies. Z39.50, NCIP, and ISO ILL fall into this category of protocols that predate Web services.
Another relevant set of standards relating to business-to-business transactions between libraries and their suppliers are EDI (electronic document interchange) and X.12 (an U.S. implementation of the EDI messaging protocols). Library automation vendors have been struggling since the late 1980s to automate routine financial transactions using these protocols. Although EDI is now supported in many automation systems, it has proven to be complex and difficult to implement.
The use of Web services is becoming standard practice in e-commerce business sectors. Some key concepts of the services-oriented architecture include:
- SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) for the transfer of information
- XML for structuring it
- WSDL (Web services definition language) to describe and define the service
- UDDI (universal description, discovery, and integration) to provide a directory of the services available within a given context
The number of library automation vendors interested in Web services continues to expand. As reported in the previous issue of SLN, a group of vendors involved with library automation and services have formed a group named the Vendor Initiative for Enabling Web Services, or VIEWS, as a forum for discussing, testing, and implementing Web services. VIEWS was initially convened in June 2004, was chaired by VTLS COO Carl Grant, and included representatives from Dynix Corp.; Fretwell-Downing, Inc.; Index Data; MuseGlobal; OCLC; VTLS Inc. The group has since expanded with Endeavor Information Systems Inc. joining in July, Talis in August, and most recently The Library Corp. in September 2004. National Information Standards Organization (NISO) monitors the group and plays a role and keeps its members informed on its progress, but VIEWS itself is not an official NISO initiative.
Streamlining ordering & acquisitions
Library software developer Innovative Interfaces, Inc., makes the most recent product that uses Web services, but it is not involved with VIEWS. In mid- September, Innovative implemented Inventory Express, which allows a library using the Millennium automation system to connect to the systems of book vendors to streamline ordering and acquisitions.
Using Web services, Inventory Express makes this process more interactive through real-time communication between the library's automation system and the vendor's database. The product operates with two of the key library book suppliers, Baker and Taylor and BWI. Work is underway to expand the vendors systems it supports and to extend the functionality to Amazon. com, Brodart, and Ingram Library Services. Innovative is working on many Web services-based initiatives that will help make Millennium a more open automation system.
The Westerville Public Library in Ohio was the first to implement Web Express. The library serves 80,000 patrons with a collection of more than 300,000 items and conducts more than 1.2 million circulation transactions annually. Westerville was the beta test site for Innovative's Millennium Access Plus (MAP) product in August 2001. The library, an early adopter of technologies, has consistently placed near the top in the Hennen's American Public Library Rating Index, ranking first in 1999 and second in 2003 among libraries of its size.
Automating book supplier workflow
The first library vendor to announce strategic interest in Web services for automating the workflow with book suppliers was Dynix. Dynix' vision of technology is being increasingly focused on broad industry standards, such as Web services, rather than on library-specific protocols.
In June 2003, Dynix published its Vendor Integration Protocol (VIP), proposing it as a standard that could be adopted by any library automation vendor or supplier. VIP provides system-to-system communication with external vendors using XML and SOAP. Using Web services a library staff member can check the availability of an item in the vendor's system and transfer the bibliographic and pricing data automatically.
Dynix has implemented VIP between its Horizon system and many library book suppliers including Baker and Taylor, BWI, and Ingram Library Services. In August 2004, the list of supported vendors expanded to include the Lighthouse collection development utility from United Library Services (ULS).
Talis, a U.K.-based library automation company has adopted Web services as a key technology underlying its suite of products. The company views Web services, implemented in Java and XML as providing the underlying fabric for its Talis Information Environment, consisting of its suite of products and external information.
The Talis Prism product, a next-generation library interface, goes beyond traditional OPAC features, including broadcast search capabilities, personalization features, and integration with courseware and other external systems. The Talis Prism architecture includes support for both Web services using SOAP and traditional library standards such as Z39.50.
As noted in the July 2004 issue of SLN, Web services also finds use in metasearching. The Search and Retrieve Web Service (SRW) as well as specialized XML gateways also are beginning to play a larger role in the technologies that underlie metasearch environments. Library software increasingly is part of an information infrastructure where it must co-exist and intercommunicate with systems from other industries. To thrive in a complex environment of multiple business systems, the ability to communicate through Web services in addition to library-specific protocols benefits libraries. Nonlibrary interfaces can help facilitate integration and increase opportunities to provide content to users.