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BiblioCommons Forges Path to Innovation

Smart Libraries Newsletter [April 2015]

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Copyright (c) 2015 ALA TechSource

Abstract: BiblioCommons, a company known for providing its BiblioCore discovery interface for major public libraries, has received a variety of awards engagements in recent months. These projects include engagement by the Council of Chief Librarians to help design and plan a new digital platform for all of the public libraries in England, receipt of a Knight News Challenge grant to develop a mobile app to enhance in-library patron experience, and participation in a major IMLS grant to develop a library-oriented digital badge system. BiblioCommons has also received direct financial investments from libraries or their foundations to support its development capacity.


BiblioCommons, a company known for providing its BiblioCore discovery interface for major public libraries, has received a variety of awards engagements in recent months. These projects include engagement by the Council of Chief Librarians to help design and plan a new digital platform for all of the public libraries in England, receipt of a Knight News Challenge grant to develop a mobile app to enhance in-library patron experience, and participation in a major IMLS grant to develop a library-oriented digital badge system. BiblioCommons has also received direct financial investments from libraries or their foundations to support its development capacity.

English Public Libraries Engage BiblioCommons for New Digital Platform

BiblioCommons has been selected to assist in the design of a new platform for digital services that will be created for all of the public libraries in England. This platform will provide a unified end-user interface that will be created and available for all of the public libraries in England. The strategy for the project also includes a comprehensive catalog of all of the holdings of the public libraries in the country as well as access to a broad array of digital resources and information describing the programs and services of each library.

This project is part of a set of initiatives that follow the publication of the “Independent Library Report for England” compiled by William Sieghart with the support of an advisory panel composed of other prominent librarians, business leaders, and government officials. The creation of a national digital resource for libraries headed the list of three key recommendations. The report briefly characterized the platform: “This digital network could include a single library platform and a national library card and catalogue.” Another component of the report recommended the provision of wi-fi by each library in the country, a service which currently is not universally available.

To more fully develop the concept the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) sought and received a £30,000 grant from the Arts Council England (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk) and issued a public tender in December 2014, subsequently awarded to BiblioCommons, seeking a firm to assist with its planning and design. SCL is an association comprising the leadership of the public library services in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (http://www.goscl.com). This project falls in the context of SCL's recently launched set of initiatives for “Universal Offers,” defining essential services that should be available in four categories: this “digital offer,” as well as access to information, reading services, and health.

Public libraries in England find themselves in difficult times. Facing reductions in funding in recent years, many library facilities have been closed and the number of personnel reduced. Some facilities are now run by community volunteers instead of trained librarians, a practice that has been met by considerable resistance by many library advocates. A statement issued by Martyn Wade, chair of the board of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in response to the Independent Library Report for England quantifies the concern: “Compared to five years ago across the UK there are 337 fewer libraries and nearly 5,500 fewer staff. Library opening hours and visits to libraries have also declined” (http://goo .gl/qLt3Az). The Universal Offers and related programs provide one channel of response to the challenges faced by public libraries in the region.

This phase of the project, as funded by the grant, was scheduled for completion by the end of March 2015. The project aims to produce a high-level design and to further define the strategies for this unified platform for public libraries. With its relatively modest budget, this planning and design phase does not include the creation and deployment of the platform, which will be addressed in a subsequent project.

The proposed platform will provide access to a broad range of components, including access to library catalogs and digital resources, opening hours of local libraries, information about programs and technology training, and many other resources for public library patrons. According to the press release, “The platform will be designed to improve how patrons can discover, access, and engage with the resources that public libraries provide, including books, media, digital articles, journals, library programs, events, and much more. The platform will be designed to bring people into public libraries – both virtually and physically.”

The new digital platform will supersede an earlier initiative called “Bookmark Your Library” (http://www.bookmarkyour library.org.uk) as noted in the “Invitation for Tender: Universal Digital Platform: Concept Development and Test.” Bookmark Your Library was developed in partnership with OCLC as a portal that provided a variety of resources, including access to the national union catalog, map locations and listings to local libraries, information about community events, reading groups, and links to a wide variety of reference and genealogy resources. The document states, “In June this year, SCL decided that, given the pace of change, the growing profile and potential value of the Universal Offers and increasing public expectations, it had a preference for undertaking a fundamental review of its digital presence needs and specifically the needs of library customers rather than continuing to develop Bookmark Your Library, at this stage.”

The new digital platform has the potential to provide a national public interface for public libraries, but it is not intended as a comprehensive technical infrastructure for the libraries. It will not replace the integrated library systems implemented to support operations such as collection management and circulation. Smaller countries such as Ireland and Northern Ireland have recently implemented national library management infrastructure to support all their public library services. Wales issued a tender for a similar project in January 2015. The idea of a single integrated library system to serve the more than 4,000 public libraries in England would be extraordinary ambitious, despite the trend seen in many states and smaller countries toward shared infrastructure.

The research and analysis performed by BiblioCommons includes working with a variety of stakeholders and partners. BiblioCommons expects to have submitted its report to the Society of Chief Librarians by the end of March 2015.

Knight News Challenge Award

BiblioCommons was one of the recipients of the Knight News Challenge grants, receiving $35,000 in support of “Making the Invisible Visible,” led by Ian Lowe, product lead for BiblioCore. This project aims to create technologies that enhance awareness of resources and programs for library visitors. It involves the development of a mobile app to promote library resources to patrons as they walk through the library according to their location and interests. The app will use such technologies as NFC beacons, geolocation, and the BiblioCommons software.

Other partners include the Boston Public Library and the New York-based Local Projects media design firm. The technology created through this grant will be incorporated into the renovation underway for Boston's Central Library.

The BiblioCommons submission was one of 22 proposals funded in the latest round of the Knight News Challenge that distributed a total of $3 million in awards.

Partner in IMLS grant for Digital Badges

In March 2014 the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded $250,000 to the Brooklyn Public Library to work with BiblioCommons to develop a digital badging system for libraries. The general concept involves the ability to award badges to library patrons for acquiring specific skills or accomplishing specified tasks. The system was created with Mozilla Open Badges (openbadges.org), which provides open source software and a technical standard. With support from the grant, BiblioCommons developed the technical infrastructure, including an authentication mechanism tied to the patron's library card, to support a trusted environment that will also interoperate with other third parties that issue badges. Because of the possibility of children may participating in the programs that award badges, the system must pay careful attention to privacy and security and comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (http://goo.gl/8a4z16). In addition to Brooklyn Public Library, the lead partner, Seattle Public Library, Omaha Public Library, and Tulsa City-County Library are participating.

BiblioCommons completed the work and released it through Biblio Summer Sites, a set of tools that a library with BiblioCommons can use to deliver online programs and activities, especially for children and young adults. Based on the ability to easily access materials via BiblioCommons, Summer Site provides features to interact with the system by contributing comments, tags, or summaries, to record reading times, take quizzes created by the library, and to earn digital badges or printed certificates.

Investment from Libraries

BiblioCommons has also been able to attract investments by libraries. Some of the initial funding for the company came from provincial libraries in Canada that shared its interest in developing a new platform to replace traditional library catalogs. The company saw early funding through advance two-year subscriptions for province-wide licenses in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia in addition to other private investors.

In 2011 New York Public Library not only opted to implement BiblioCore, but also made an additional investment of around $1 million in the company to help strengthen its capacity for future development. As stated in a press release, the the investment would “help accelerate the development of additional features central to the Library's long-term digital strategy.” NYPL continues to retain a stake in the ownership of the company.

Chicago Public Library implemented BiblioCore in 2013 and invested $1 million in a three-year partnership to support further development of BiblioCMS, a comprehensive platform that delivers the entire web presence for a library. While BiblioCore provides an alternative for the online catalog module of its integrated library system, BiblioCMS replaces the entire web site with a fully managed platform. It enables libraries to control the presentation and populate the content of its website through a managed environment that is fully integrated with BiblioCore.

Chicago Public Library' website based on BiblioCMS launched in April 2014. Other libraries to subsequently implement BiblioCMS include Pima County Public Library and Calgary Public Library.

BiblioCommons Background and Products

Beth Jefferson and Patrick Kennedy co-founded BiblioCommons in 2007, to create technology products that would provide new models of access to the collections of public libraries. Prior to co-founding BiblioCommons, Jefferson was involved in a non-profit initiative exploring online teen literacy, called the Perfink Project, in partnership with Toronto Public Library. BiblioCore, the company's primary product, provides a discovery environment for public libraries that entirely replaces the online catalog of the integrated library system. It features relevancy-based search and retrieval, a rich interface with faceted navigation, and functions for social engagement between patrons and with the library. BiblioCore is deployed through a multi-tenant platform that provides a patron interface that integrates with the library's integrated library system. Records are exported from the ILS to populate the library's instance of BiblioCommons. Current availability status and patron record features are provided through BiblioCommons using APIs or page parsing conducted with the ILS. The library's patrons can be organized separately, or they can be enabled to interact with those of other organizations that have implemented BiblioCommons.

The initial prototype of BiblioCore was launched in July 2008 for the Oakville Public Library in Ontario. Based on feedback from the prototype, the interface was refined and the platform re-engineered with new implementation in libraries beginning by around 2010. The company has more than tripled its size since 2010 to its current workforce of more than 50 personnel.

BiblioCommons has since been adopted by more than 200 libraries, primarily in the United States and Canada. Prominent clients include New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, Boston Public Library, Seattle Public Library, King County Library System, San Francisco Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Multnomah County Library, as well as many mid-sized libraries and consortia. The Christchurch City Libraries and the Yarra Plenty Regional Library in New Zealand have also implemented BiblioCommons.

BiblioCommons competes directly with the vendors of the integrated library systems. Even though the company does not offer its own ILS, it displaces existing or potential sales for discovery products. Libraries that implement BiblioCommons, for example, would use it instead of products such as SirsiDynix Enterprise, Innovative's Encore, or the online catalog module of any ILS. BiblioCommons has developed connectors that enable the interoperability of BiblioCore with the major ILS products and does not necessarily require the cooperation of their providers. BiblioCommons provides strong competitive motivation for ILS vendors to create compelling public interfaces. Despite improvements made in the patron-oriented products offered by the ILS vendors in recent years, BiblioCommons continues to see a steady flow of new implementations.

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Publication Year:2015
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 35 Number 04
Issue:April 2015
Page(s):4-7
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
ISSN:1541-8820
Record Number:20602
Last Update:2016-04-06 12:12:00
Date Created:2015-05-08 12:35:51