As 2016 winds down, let's review some of the major events within the library-technology industry over the past year and anticipate what might be in store for the next. 2016 has seen a series of major events that have indelibly altered the landscape of organizations and their products, offering strategic technology advantages to libraries.
Ex Libris Acquisition and ProQuest Merger
Ex Libris Group has become fully integrated into ProQuest following the major business acquisition announced in the last part of 2015. During the year, the company executed a product strategy that has remained true to what was announced at the time of the acquisition. There have been no unanticipated product casualties as a result of the merger. Intota had its demise before it was completed or put into use in any library.
The adoption of Alma moves along a steady course, continuing a pattern in which academic libraries selecting Alma as their resource management environment pair it with Ex Libris Primo for discovery. This pattern isn't absolute. Ex Libris has also committed to extending Summon, the discovery service created by ProQuest, so that it can be offered as a front-end discovery interface for Alma. I'm confident that this development is underway and will be fulfilled, but I am not aware of libraries implementing this configuration. Another important event in loosening the bond between Alma and Primo is the University of Pennsylvania Libraries selecting Alma, not acquiring Primo, and instead planning to use a customized Blacklight interface.
Developments in Open Source
This has been an interesting period for the open source library software arena. The development and adoption of Koha continues on a steady course. Koha has become ever richer in functionality, and its technical underpinnings have become stronger. The ability to use Elasticsearch and the Plack framework are a couple of examples of development work to enhance the performance and scalability of the system. Likewise, Evergreen continues to see incremental improvements in functionality and a steady number of new libraries-primarily in the form of additions to existing consortial implementations. Open source ILSs have become a routine segment of the library-technology industry and represent important competition to the proprietary products, driving improvements and innovation on both fronts.
EBSCO Information Services helped launch FOLIO, an open source initiative to create a new style of library services platform. This new product will differ not only in its open source development model, but also in its overall design and technical architecture. Those involved with the project describe it as a lightweight platform designed to support a microservices environment in which diverse types of modules can be created to address specific areas of functionality. This approach differs from existing library services platforms, such as Alma and WorldShare Management Services, which provide a platform that offers a more comprehensive approach to functionality. FOLIO stands out as an important initiative worth following given its backing from EBSCO and initial signs of interest in at least some sectors of the library development community.
This year saw the unravelling of the Kuali OLE project to develop an open source library services platform for academic libraries. Underway since 2008, with the support of multiple rounds of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Kuali OLE software faced insurmountable obstacles in its ongoing development, primarily due to business events, leading to the establishment of KualiCo as a new commercial company. It assumed a position as the primary developer for the Kuali projects. KualiCo's decision not to continue development of Kuali Rice-the critical business infrastructure supporting Kuali OLE-represented a major blow to the project. The three libraries that had implemented Kuali OLE were using it only for print resource management. These circumstances drove what has been characterized as a pivot of the Kuali OLE organization from developing its own software to supporting the FOLIO project through advocacy, education, and evangelization.
The development time line of the FOLIO project forecasts the completion of software that will be ready for use in some libraries in 2017. Meeting that goal can be seen as an important milestone and essential to bolster confidence. The folding of the Kuali OLE project was a setback in the progress toward the creation of an open source, community-built library services platform, and FOLIO will need to demonstrate rapid progress in order to overcome it.
Another open source project saw a major transition this year. Simon Fraser University (SFU) announced that it will sunset its involvement with the reSearch suite it has developed and maintained for almost 20 years, including an open access knowledgebase of eresource holdings, the Godot open source link resolver, and CUFTS e-resource management software. Rather than continue reSearcher, the SFU Library has purchased Alma, which comes with these capabilities.
More Acquisitions and Mergers
Follett's acquisition of Baker & Taylor stands out as another of the major events of the library-technology industry. So far, this business deal has not caused major change within either organization, but I would anticipate an impact over the next year or so as these businesses become more integrated.
In recent days, Axiell has made another strategic expansion of its library business, acquiring BiBer GmbH, which provides Bibliothekssystems BIBDIA to public libraries in Germany and Switzerland. Although it does not have a major presence in the library-technology industry in North America, Axiell is a major international player and has an ongoing course of strategic acquisitions. In the mid-2000s, Axiell acquired many of the companies producing automation systems for libraries in Scandinavia, including one of the main players in the U.K. It has both gained and lost ground in the library-technology arena, but Axiell has seen major expansion in its business that's oriented to museums and archives. The news that Axiell will develop a new library services platform designed specifically for public libraries should not be underestimated as a potential game changer.
The library-technology industry has become even more consolidated through the latest round of acquisitions. It is also reasonable to expect additional business changes in the next year or so. New business deals could result in a simple hand-off to new investors, or they might take the form of strategic acquisitions, resulting in some type of merger with an existing organization. While I am not aware of any such change underway, a long-term view of the industry would suggest that the current patterns of ownership transitions and consolidation will continue.
Regardless of the business transitions that may or may not take place, we can also anticipate trends in the technologydriven products and services for libraries. Many of these trends are already underway, but should see more aggressive movement.
Momentum has increased to evolve established systems away from staff clients based on software that's resident on local computers to fully webbased interfaces. We are seeing a longoverdue departure away from graphical interfaces developed for many ILSs created prior to the advent of web-based interfaces that were able to handle the complexity of detailed tasks performed by library personnel. Examples of products adopting web-based interfaces include the BLUEcloud suite from SirsiDynix, the new Leap interfaces for Innovative's Polaris and Sierra products, as well as the open source Evergreen ILS.
Libraries are now at a time in which any patron-facing interface must be designed primarily for mobile devices. Desktops and laptops will continue to be used for more advanced research and writing tasks, but an increasing amount of the preliminary research and routine online catalog tasks will be performed through smartphones and tablets. The use of responsive web design able to accommodate all types and sizes of devices is no longer optional. Instead, it is a strategic technology essential for the success of the library. The urgency to catch up with mobile technologies will accelerate development in this area for all patron-facing library products and services.
The coming year will see a stronger emphasis on privacy and security. The security of web-based library services will be greatly improved as they become increasingly deployed via the encrypted HTTPS protocol. This shift is driven by rising concern to protect the privacy of the interactions of patrons with the library-provided products from being captured by third parties, but also by the prevailing expectation for encryption as the preferred transmission method. Google Chrome, the most popular web browser, will begin designating unencrypted websites as less-trusted beginning in January 2017.
We can also expect to see some normalization of hyped technologies. QR codes captivated the attention of libraries a few years ago, but have since faded out of the limelight due to the lack of compelling use cases. More recently, many libraries acquired 3D printers as part of their makerspace initiatives. By now, these devices have moved more into the realm of routine technology and away from being considered novel or innovative. It is important for libraries to continue to experiment with the adoption of new technologies, but to also expect that some will not necessarily live up to expectations and that others may succeed, but not necessarily find a strategic place in libraries.
Linked data will continue to rise as a critical information infrastructure. Given its current momentum, it seems almost inevitable that libraries will increasingly incorporate some form of linked data into the way that they describe and provide access to resources. These efforts have initially been channeled more for discovery, especially in exposing library resources to improve the way that they are accessed via general web search engines. The next phase of development may involve creating better tools within the primary resource management tools to work with BIBFRAME or other linkeddata constructs.
Progress will continue in developing technologies to connect library content more deeply to external systems and services. The reading list management systems that emerged in recent years represent an initial foray into this area. Other services will hopefully be imagined to deliver library collections and services within the virtual environments inhabited by users.
It will be important to make further advancements in digital preservation technologies and strategies. The plummeting costs of cloud-based storage have opened opportunities to create better infrastructure to ensure the preservation of digital assets. The softening of these barriers should enable libraries to improve their efforts for more resilient operational storage of digital assets and for long-term preservation strategies.
The realm of technology products and services oriented to libraries continues to be interesting and dynamic. Given the deep reliance that libraries have on technology, it is important to keep a close eye on key events as they happen and to anticipate upcoming trends or changes as much as possible. While looking forward is naturally a bit speculative, thinking about some of the possible directions is a key element in forming long-term technology strategies.