PTFS Europe held their annual Customer Day on December 2, 2021. They graciously invited ByWater Solutions to be a part of the event and featured an interview with Mark Noble as one of the day's sessions.
Here is the published interview between Andrew Auld, Commercial Director at PTFS Europe and Mark Noble, Aspen Discovery Lead Developer.
What first started you on the journey to developing Aspen? What were the needs in libraries that you were trying to satisfy?
I've been working on open source discovery for about 12 years at various companies and on my own independently. In 2019, Aspen Discovery was officially launched. Usability studies from patrons and staff over the course of 12 years informed the direction of Aspen development both on the patron and staff side.
The first Aspen Discovery installation was Basin County Libraries, a consortium of libraries in Utah. They had been looking for better discovery for a number of years, but other solutions were either two expensive or vendors refused to even give them a quote! With Aspen, we wanted to make first class discovery available and affordable for libraries of all sizes to make discovery functionality available to more libraries and more users.
With Aspen we have 4 main goals that we set at the beginning of Aspen:
- Maximize patron usage of ALL library materials
- Complete integration with the underlying ILS and eContent providers
- Make it easy for patrons to use Aspen
- Make it easy for library administrators to customize and maintain Aspen
We think these goals help us to stay focused on building Aspen in a way that makes Aspen most useful for libraries and patrons.
In the last year, our libraries said that they wanted a mobile application available for their patrons and we were able to create Aspen LiDA based on those same set of development goals on an expedited timeline for our library partners.
In the USA, what are you finding that libraries most like about Aspen? Why is it doing so well?
Our library partners have shared that Aspen is more fully featured than other the discovery layers available and our support costs are very competitive. The first thing users notice about Aspen Discovery is the way it groups records, which combines all formats together into one search result. This allows patrons to easily find all of the different formats that a library owns without searching pages of results.
With that, we integrate with all the popular eContent sources in the US including OverDrive, Hoopla, cloudLibrary, and Axis 360. Our libraries love having this content fully integrated into both Aspen Discovery and Aspen LiDA so users can browse, check out, place holds and access econtent all from Aspen.
We also created Aspen to be ILS agnostic so that no matter what ILS a library uses, they can expand their catalog offering by adding Aspen.
Since one of our goals of Aspen is to maximize patron usage of ALL library materials, Aspen has added functionality beyond traditional discovery focused solely on promoting collections, to give libraries ways to promote events, databases, community resources, and digital archives right within Aspen.
Similarly, Aspen has a built-in Web Builder functionality that allows libraries to use Aspen for their entire web presence by creating web pages, forms, and menus directly within it.
Finally, our libraries love the frequency of releases. We release updated code monthly so libraries never have to wait long for new functionality. Because Aspen is open source, library staff and patrons directly drive these developments and their voices and suggestions are essential to the enhancements added to Aspen.
At ByWater, we pride ourselves on our support so we work very closely with new libraries during the implementation process to make sure that libraries understand all the functionality within Aspen Discovery and customize it to match how their library operates. After a library is fully live, we continue to work with them on answering questions and helping them with new features. Our library partners like the open communication between us available via Zoom meetings, email and Slack chat.
What makes Aspen a great front end for Koha?
Although Aspen works well with nearly any ILS, using Koha for the ILS gives the most functionality because it is also very customizable. Using Koha, the setup of Aspen is much easier than with other ILSs. We also utilize many of the settings within Koha so libraries don't need to configure things in two places.
Aspen Discovery also gives libraries a more modern front end with a lot of features that patrons love. Over the years, the main thing that I've learned about libraries is that everyone does things just a little bit differently so we work hard to ensure that Aspen can be customized to adapt to each libraries unique needs.
Aspen is an open source platform - what are your hopes for the Aspen developer community? How can libraries adopting Aspen contribute to the community?
In December, we had a meeting of support companies for Aspen Discovery from four different continents, all of whom will be supporting libraries in their regions and contributing to Aspen. We're thrilled to have so many people interested in Aspen Discovery and to see its usage expand globally.
One of the first impacts is translating Aspen into different languages. One of the groups we work with recently finished translating Aspen into Arabic and adding right to left support. We're also looking forward to seeing support all of the different eContent sources and regional differences for libraries in other countries.
We actively solicit library feedback on new features to build for Aspen and ask libraries to help test new releases of Aspen. We host a monthly community meeting that all libraries are welcome to attend. During that meeting we talk about different aspects of Aspen and talk to libraries about their priorities.
Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing these collaborations continue and new libraries adopt Aspen Discovery and Aspen LiDA in more places. I'm excited for a time when we have Aspen Discovery conferences in both the U.S. and other countries where libraries and developers can get together to work on Aspen Discovery in a collaborative environment.
What are the current top roadmap goals for Aspen?
Here are some of the things coming in 2022:
- Evergreen integration and FOLIO integration - these are the last major ILSs that Aspen Discovery needs to integrate with and we have a lot of interest from libraries using these platforms.
- Our libraries have wide adoption of EBSCOhost so we would like to add EBSCOhost integration in addition to EBSCO EDS.
- Making Aspen LiDA available as a branded app specific to an individual library. This will allow libraries to continue to best communicate directly with their patrons.
- Integration of additional eCommerce platforms to give more flexibility of payment methods.
- Integration of additional Events platforms. Right now we integrate with Library Market's Library Calendar but we want to give libraries the ability to use additional providers like LibCal to promote their events in Aspen.
- Sharing content like Placards, Translations, and Browse Categories between Aspen libraries. This will help make Aspen even easier to configure and will encourage additional collaboration between libraries.
- Within Aspen LiDA we will be adding additional functionality that works best in a mobile app like self checkout and patron notifications.
As we look at these and other features, we'll be working closely with our partners and the community to ensure they are always the "right" thing to work on as our library's needs evolve.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you. I'm very excited to see the community grow and evolve!