Addressing the need to create mobile-friendly websites that can be managed without technical expertise and can provide a complete set of features, a new company called Stacks has launched a web content management system designed specifically for libraries. Some features of the system include integrated discovery and access to library services and information. The product, with the same name as the company, is offered through software-as-a-service via a redundant and scalable platform, requiring no local web server or other technical components. Stacks has a close business relationship with EBSCO Information Services as its exclusive distribution and support channel.
The Stacks service enables a library to develop a full website adhering to modern design principles, including all of the common components and elements, and managed through a non-technical console interface. The product provides tools that focus on the content and presentation of each element without the need to have detailed skills in the underlying coding. Library personnel overseeing their site manage each configuration element or content component through tiles on its administrative interface, called the Dashboard, which prompts for any needed details or content.
According to Stacks President and Chief Executive Officer Kristin Delwo, “Our focus continues to be driven by our belief in the value of a meaningful user experience; not just for the patron, but also the librarian. We've made it our mission to give the librarian ultimate control and ease-of-use with the end goal of providing superior digital library experiences.” Stacks can provide libraries more freedom in how they develop their websites than might be possible when hosted by local IT departments. Sites hosted locally may exert limitations in the design or functionality of a site and may not be able perform regular updates in design.
Deployed via Software-as-a-Service
The product is deployed through a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription. Libraries using Stacks do not need to operate their own web server since Stacks is a fully hosted service. The Stacks platform operates on hardware and software maintained by the company, with redundant components deployed that are able to achieve high availability. Despite being hosted on an external platform, a library's implementation of Stacks can be configured to use its own domain name. The link address of an organization ranks as one of the most important elements of an organization's identity and branding, so deploying the Stacks-based website via the library's domain name is an important feature.
Delwo states that “Stacks is the first true SaaS web solution for libraries that boasts the configurability to suit any combination of core business tools and subscription services a library may have, while offering rich functionality like event registrations and room booking in one easy-to-use platform.”
Turnkey Platform Replaces Custom Development
The individuals behind Stacks have been working with libraries and other organizations to create customized websites based on Drupal and related technologies for a number of years. Building on this body of expertise and experience with previous clients, Stacks has been created as a turnkey platform that aims to deliver much of the same type of results through a fully hosted service, without the need for local hardware and software or the need to have design or development personnel on staff or as external contractors.
Features and Functionality
The Stacks product includes two interwoven levels of functionality— that of a discovery interface and that of a full library website replacement. This approach results in the search and patron services functionality being thoroughly blended into the website as a whole, unlike the traditional model where the online catalog is deployed separately. Libraries using Stacks manage their website via a web-based administrative interface.
Discovery Interface Functionality
Stacks functions as a discovery interface, providing a complete environment for search and retrieval, including user account and online self-service features. Discovery functionality is carried out via a set of APIs that interact with the organization's ILS. As with other discovery interfaces, queries and search results are conveyed through its own presentational skin rather than that of the native online catalog module. The Stacks platform maintains full patron account functionality, based on data resident in the ILS, but presented through its own interface. The MyAccount function, linked to the patron record and circulation module of the ILS, enables patrons to login to the site and perform self-service activities. Patrons are able to carry out activities such as view their profile details, list items charged, renew materials, place or cancel holds, view fines or fees, or create and manage lists of items of interest. This account functionality is implemented via connectors to the library's ILS. This integrated discovery aspect of Stacks replaces all of the functionality that would otherwise reside in the library's online catalog.
Supported ILSs currently include Symphony and Horizon from SirsiDynix; Polaris, Millennium, and Sierra from Innovative Interfaces; and Invenio from TIND Technologies. Additional ILSs will be supported as needed. Stacks makes use of the types of connectors with ILSs that have become routine in the implementation of third-party discovery interfaces. The search functionality of Stacks can be configured to address the content of interest to the library. As with any third-party discovery tool, queries entered through Stacks will return results from the library's online catalog. Stacks has also been optimized to work with EBSCO Discovery Service, integrating article-level search results either blended with those from the ILS or presented separately according to the Bento Box model. Libraries can also include institutional repositories, digital collections, or data sets in search results, as well as content from their website, events, and other local information. A login function enables patrons to perform self-service tasks to view restricted subscriber resources. The login credentials can be derived from the local ILS or a campus authentication service. Stacks can present cover art, reviews, and other content enhancements for libraries that have subscriptions to those types of services from providers such as ChiliFresh, Baker & Taylor, or Syndetic Solutions. Part of the configuration of Stacks includes a tile for integrations access through the staff interface that prompts the library to enter the relevant details for their subscription to activate their display in search results.
Comprehensive Website Functionality
The Stacks platform not only provides a new interface for discovery, but also serves as a fully functional website. The platform provides a content management system specifically designed for libraries, with tools to create content or services blocks that can be assembled into a coherent design. Websites produced through Stacks feature a search box optimized for EBSCO Discovery Service and their local online catalog, but it also delivers all the other website content and features via a consistent set of presentational styles. The content and functional modules are activated, populated, and displayed according to selections that the library makes in the staff administrative console.
The staff dashboard interface includes tools for creating many of the features common on library websites. The branches or facilities can be defined in order to offer listings or maps. Taking advantage of the Google Places API, addresses and coordinates of the branches can be quickly captured without having to manually type each address element. To use the locational features, libraries will need to obtain a Google Places API Key, available for limited use without cost.
Other website features that can be created include a directory of library personnel, programs or events, and news articles. Visual elements include sliders or carousels of images that link to featured services or content. The administrative console also prompts libraries to enter the links for each of the social media networks that they use to provide link-outs on page footers. The administrative interface can be used to construct multilevel drop-down menus without the need to work with complex coding details.
The presentational look of the site is controlled through themes that can be selected or customized using the staff interface and then are applied consistently throughout the site. The platform automatically propagates these changes to the underlying coding and style sheets.
Training videos have been produced that provide an overview of the features of the product and step-by-step instructions for library staff members describing how to set up and manage the website with Stacks. Support for the product is provided both directly through the Stacks customer support desk and through EBSCO Customer Service.
Optimized for Mobile
The Stacks service has been designed to work well for mobile users, incorporating a responsive web design that detects and adjusts to the display size and capabilities of the device. The concept of responsive web design is a fundamental tenant of the Stacks platform. The layout, content, and component choices are automatically adjusted to appropriately display for all types of devices. No separate effort is required to provide a site for mobile access. Mobile design has been a core aspect of Stacks and its antecedent organizations.
Stacks can also facilitate the development of mobile apps with similar scope and functionality. For libraries that subscribe to this optional service, their patrons with iOS or Android devices would visit their respective app store to download and install the app branded for their library. Stacks manages the process of compiling the app and submitting it to the app store. The apps extend the content and functionality of the responsive website with some additional capabilities, such as using the camera of the mobile device to scan barcodes.
Stacks is based on a hosted hardware and software platform, with little need for libraries to interact with or be aware of the details of the specific underlying components. This platform has been deployed with redundant components scaled for fast performance and high availability. The product makes use of a variety of current web technologies, standards, and frameworks such as HTML5, CSS, and jquery. Aspects of its functionality are based on Drupal 7, though libraries need not maintain a Drupal installation locally or have any technical training. All interactions with the platform are mediated via the forms and widgets presented in the staff interface. Interactions between Stacks and the organization's ILS, external services, or content providers are conducted via representational state transfer (REST) APIs.
By October 2016, Stacks was approaching completion of its initial production release and in its early phase of marketing and adoption. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) Library has been involved as an early adopter and development partner. Stacks is also working with a number of other libraries, not yet named, which anticipate implementation of the product during 2016.
Caltech has worked closely with Stacks to refine its functionality for academic libraries and plans to use the platform beyond its turnkey features. According to University Librarian Kristin Antelman, “Because we have local expertise and unique needs, we are doing some additional custom development that is likely to continue. Hybrid Forge has been very receptive to us using Stacks as more of a framework to meet our needs within the environment of their product.”
Stacks falls into a category of library technology that might be termed a comprehensive web portal, providing a managed website with integrated discovery functionality. These products aim to provide better user experience for patrons by creating a more seamless environment spanning multiple areas of functionality and managed through a non-technical staff interface. Other products with similar ambitions include BIblioCMS paired with BiblioCore from BiblioCommons, Iguana from Infor Libraries, and Arena from Axiell. Like Stacks, the BiblioCommons products are designed to operate in tandem with any major ILS. Those from Axiell and Infor must be paired with one of their own ILS products. SirsiDynix Enterprise or the Polaris PowerPAC are discovery environments that can also be implemented to provide some broader website capabilities, but are designed to link with only their own automation products.
This discovery component of Stacks bears similarity to open source discovery interfaces, such as Blacklight or VuFind, or proprietary offerings, including Primo from Ex Libris or Encore from Innovative Interfaces. All of these tools are able to present search results from their native catalogs or other discovery environments through a new interface, with customized presentation elements and features not necessarily available in the native environment. These discovery interfaces require technical implementation, customization, and configuration processes, in contrast to Stacks, which is administered via a non-technical dashboard.
Stacks Company Background
Stacks is a relatively new startup spun out of Hybrid Ventures, a digital consultancy based in Alberta that provides funding and resources to incubate new companies and products. This organization established Hybrid Forge in 2006 as a company specializing in Drupal technologies, which was rebranded as Hybrid Global in August 2016. Hybrid Global has provided customized web development services, primarily based on Drupal technologies for organizations in a variety of business and government services sectors, including libraries. This latest venture, Stacks, is entirely devoted to the library sector and builds on many of the technologies and tools created by Hybrid Global. This set of companies is based in the Canadian province of Alberta, with offices in Calgary and Edmonton.
Hybrid Forge, sister organization for Stacks, provides development services for websites for libraries in addition to their work in other sectors. Experience with these organizations informed the creation of Stacks. A sample of these library organizations includes:
- The Yellowhead Regional Library, which became part of the TRAC Consortium in Alberta
- MacEwan University Library: Hybrid Forge developed both a website and a mobile app that integrates with the libraries' SirsiDynix Symphony ILS, EBSCO Discovery Service, and other campus systems.
- University of Lethbridge
- Microsoft Faculty Library
- Fayetteville Public Library
Hybrid Forge's work with libraries included custom consultation services for website design and deployment as well as the creation of customized Drupal-based content management systems.
Stacks was founded and is led by an overlapping set of principles with Hybrid Global. Kristin Delwo is a principal of Hybrid Ventures and has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Stacks since its founding in August 2015. Delwo brings a library perspective to the company having served as a systems manager and consultant for TRAC Consortium in Alberta prior to partnering with Hybrid Forge. She was also previously the Manager and Head Librarian of Millett Public Library, a member of the Yellowhead Regional Library. Chad Smith is a founding partner for both Stacks and Hybrid Global and serves as the Chief Technical Officer of Stacks. Dennis Bridges, also a co-founder, serves as product manager for Stacks. Kevin Horek, also a partner in Hybrid Ventures, is the Creative Director for Stacks.
Those individuals involved in this set of related endeavors each bring different aspects of expertise in user interface design, mobile, and enterprise applications. While Hybrid Global provides a range of services to organizations in developing customized websites and mobile apps, Stacks brings together a variety of the tools and technologies underlying those services into a consolidated platform offered as a turnkey service. The Stacks content management system avoids the need for expensive customized custom development by incorporating tools that can be configured and populated by libraries themselves to produce a customized website.
Relationship with EBSCO Information Services
Stacks works in close partnership with EBSCO Information Services, which serves as the exclusive distribution and support partner for the product. Stacks works with a variety of other partners to integrate their services into the platform. EBSCO has facilitated the integration with Stacks to ILSs and the EBSCO Discovery Service. This integration leverages the same connectors and mechanisms EBSCO has developed for direct integration between those ILS platforms and EBSCO Discovery Service.
EBSCO does not have an ownership stake in Stacks, which is entirely owned by its founders. EBSCO's involvement with Stacks seems consistent with an important dimension of its strategy in the library technology arena to engender an ecosystem of interoperability between EBSCO Discovery Service and a wide range of ILSs and other relevant applications.
Stacks is offered via an all-inclusive annual subscription fee, which is scaled according to the size of the library. No upfront fees are charged for the initial setup and configuration. Since the product is deployed via SaaS, the organization does not incur local technology expenses, including local server hardware or hosting fees, systems administrators, personal costs, or consulting fees associated with the design and development involved in traditional website implementations.
For more information, see stacksdiscovery.com.