THE SYSTEMS LIBRARIAN
Tech Review and Forecast for 2013
by Marshall Breeding
Independent Consultant and Founder of Library Technology Guides
As another year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the trends in play related to library technologies and attempt to anticipate their trajectory going forward. We are in an incredibly interesting period in the realm of library technologies. Rather than just refining and rebuilding products on models of functionality that have been in place since the early decades of library automation, many efforts are under way to break free from well-established historical approaches and create new products better aligned with the multifaceted realities of libraries in their collections and services and that embrace current technology architectures. Other threads of activity include the ongoing enhancement and redevelopment of existing products. The library tech scene has historically been one of evolution, but the current cycle includes some uncharacteristically revolutionary tracks.
| I believe there is considerable pent-up demand for better tools to help manage library collections and operations.
Strategic Technology for a Lean Economy
The library economy has not necessarily achieved full recovery from the recent downturn. Nevertheless, I expect that investments in technology will expand next year. I’m not, however, especially optimistic about the library budgets in general. Many will never fully be restored to levels in place prior to the economic downturn. Even though the economic climate isn’t ideal, I anticipate that the spending on technology will increase at a modest level.
Many libraries that have put technology upgrades on hold will move forward with technologies that can help them maintain their strategic position. Cuts in library budgets have hit both collections and operations—especially personnel. As libraries have fewer staff members, they will invest in technology solutions that enable more efficient operations and improved services to their clientele. I see this as relatively good news for some of the strategic technology products that I follow, including discovery services, integrated library systems and library services platforms, and those technologies related to self-service or automated materials handling.
Discovery Services Continue to Mature
For the past few years, libraries have invested most heavily on products and services with direct end-user impact. Discovery services have represented a large proportion of the revenues in the library automation economy as sales of new products for management of behind-the-scenes operations generally have been on a downward slope. The four major web-scale discovery products, WorldCat Local, EBSCO Discovery Service, Serials Solutions Summon, and Primo Central from Ex Libris, have each achieved high levels of maturity, each well past the stage of appealing mostly to early adopters, and they should be considered safe bets for most academic libraries. They have expanded the quantity and quality of content represented within their indexes, continue to refine their interfaces, enable greater interoperability with the library’s ILS, and continue to improve the algorithms for calculating the relevancy ordering of search results.
Innovative Interfaces, Inc.’s Encore Synergy differs from the other competitors in this group, providing access to article-level material without the construction of a central index but through real-time connections with selected content resources. Innovative has joined the index-based discovery league, through a deal with EBSCO to integrate results from EBSCO Discovery Service into Encore. EBSCO has formed similar arrangements with SirsiDynix and OCLC.
In the coming year, I expect to see further advancements in the realm of library discovery services. Even though each of the index-based discovery products now addresses a critical mass of the resources that comprise a library’s collection, none can claim complete comprehensive coverage. Gaps remain, primarily due to some publishers not yet being willing to make their resources available to the discovery service providers for indexing. I remain ever hopeful that these gaps will continue to narrow. As the number of libraries implementing these discovery services reaches a critical mass, participation by content providers will be increasingly important to libraries. If use of a given resource declines due to its absence in their discovery service, libraries may reconsider renewal and subscribe instead to alternative content products. An even more effective strategy would involve libraries including terms in their licenses for content products that require content providers to participate in discovery services.
The basic model of web-scale discovery involves publishers of primary materials and aggregated content packages providers making the content available to the creators of discovery services for the inclusion in their indexes. The content providers require a high level of trust that their contributed materials will not be redistributed, but used only for the benefit of the libraries with current subscriptions. The discovery service ecosystem currently is complicated by the fact that some of the major publishers of electronic resources also offer discovery services but do not necessarily contribute content to competing discovery products. Other publishers continue to hold back their content from discovery services providers out of other concerns. The realization of the vision of comprehensive resource discovery spanning the entire spectrum of library collections will not be realized without universal participation of content providers with the creators of discovery services.
The Open Discovery Initiative (ODI), a work group of the National Information Standards Organization, aims to create a set of recommended practices in the realm of discovery services that will lower the barriers that prevent publisher participation and provide more transparency, giving libraries the means to better assess the level of participation of publishers with the discovery services. This initiative was launched in 2012 and is scheduled to complete its work by about April 2013. If successful, the ODI should result in some additional clarity and transparency in the discovery services ecosystem, including content providers, discovery service creators, and libraries that might expand publisher participation and close the gaps in coverage. (See http://niso.org/workrooms/odi.)
I expect that many more libraries will adopt discovery services in the coming year. Especially for academic libraries that have made large investments in scholarly electronic resources, it’s becoming essential to deploy services that provide easier and more efficient ways for patrons to make use of these materials. As these products have become more mature and approach more comprehensive coverage, libraries that have, until now, put off investments in these tools will take the plunge.
Library Services Platforms
This year has also seen a great deal of activity on the rollout of a new slate of what I call “library services platforms,” a new generation of products with advancements beyond the traditional integrated library systems (ILSs).These products are designed to manage both print and digital content, tend to be deployed using cloud computing technologies, and make more use of knowledgebases for more efficient resource management.
Three of these library services platforms have seen their initial general release, with libraries now using them in production. Ex Libris has completed the first version of Alma, its new platform based on the concepts of unified resource management. This effort came to fruition with several libraries, including those at Boston College, Fort Hays State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University among the libraries successfully placing the software into production in 2012. OCLC launched the initial version of its WorldShare Management Services in 2010 for early adopters. Through the course of 2012, many additional libraries shifted away from traditional ILS products in favor of relying on OCLC’s cloud-based services for the automation of their operations. Innovative Interfaces launched its new Sierra Services Platform in April 2011; about a year later, the Westerville Public Library in Ohio became the first to place it into production. Innovative is now busy bringing up additional installations of Sierra. A record 238 libraries signed contracts for this product in 2011, not to mention more sales made in early 2012.
Other entrants in the library services platform genre remain in development. Serials Solutions, the company that launched the web-scale discovery genre with the introduction of Summon in 2009, has also begun the development of Intota, a new product that will expand beyond the company’s established capabilities in the management of electronic materials to a comprehensive approach that also includes print. The year 2012 has been a year of intense development for Intota, with involvement of partner libraries, but production use of Intota isn’t expected until 2014. Kuali OLE, the project developing a community-source, enterprise-oriented library services platform, will complete its initial version by late this year, with some migrations expected in 2013.
I believe there is considerable pent-up demand for better tools to help manage library collections and operations. In reviewing my database of libraries and ILS implementations, it seems to reflect an inordinate number of automation systems in major libraries that have been in place since the mid-1990s. The era of discovery services allowed libraries to defer replacing their integrated library systems, but the time will soon come where continuing to operate obsolete products will impede strategic progress.
I anticipate that next year will be one of intense activity for these new library services platforms. The companies that have completed these products will aim to capitalize on that advantage.
Early success will help build library confidence and momentum for new procurement. Likewise, if these systems don’t fully deliver on the new vision and promise, libraries may choose to wait until the new systems become more mature. The products still in development will likely elevate their visibility, hoping to convince procrastinating libraries to wait a bit longer until their offerings are ready.
It’s beyond obvious that mobile technologies have become pervasive. Smartphones, tablets, and e-readers are making rapid gains over notebook and desktop computers. Most major web destinations now have a specially designed mobile version of their sites or offer an app for each mobile platform or device. Libraries continue to struggle in this area and, it seems to me, lag behind the sophistication seen in the broader techno sphere. By now, most of the ILS and discovery products offer mobile capabilities, with at least some subset of the functionality seen in their full web-based products. A few libraries have built quite impressive mobile sites, but most haven’t. I expect that 2013 will see a great surge of activity in the mobile arena, where libraries realize a sense of urgency to respond to the dramatic shift in the way that patrons expect to access library services.
New Procurement Patterns
In the coming years, I expect that libraries will acquire fewer automation components à la carte, but they will rather shift to more comprehensive product suites. It is increasingly less attractive to acquire link resolvers, electronic resource management tools, and discovery tools from different vendors given their increasing interdependencies. These products are increasingly tied to a knowledgebase of e-resource holdings, which bring together products that may have previously been acquired individually into a more tightly knit suite of functionality.
In some cases, the end of an era has arrived. Take, for example, the acquisition of link resolvers as a separate product. Link resolvers now constitute a key infrastructural component of the broader tasks of discovery or electronic resource management. Going forward, libraries will acquire link resolvers mostly as part of more strategic projects, such as through the implementation of a discovery service or library services platform. Link resolvers inherently depend on knowledgebases of the titles and coverage held within the many content products to which libraries subscribe. These knowledgebases are now deeply integrated into the discovery and automation products, making it difficult to mix and match among components from competing vendors.
I also see an increased affinity between discovery services and the library services platforms offered by each of the vendors. Again, it’s the knowledgebase that provides the glue. The new models of automation depend more on the same knowledgebases associated with the discovery services. While it will be technically possible to mix and match discovery services from one vendor with library services platforms from another, the work involved to integrate them and synchronize knowledgebases will be worthwhile only in special circumstances.
I also believe that we have arrived at the end of the line for electronic resource management tools as a discrete product category. The genre of library automation software dedicated to the management of electronic resources has proven largely unsuccessful. Despite the near-complete transition of academic libraries acquiring scholarly articles from print to electronic subscriptions, the products specialized in the management of these resources as a discrete activity never gained significant traction. After almost a decade on the market, the numbers of installations of these products remains only in the hundreds, compared to tens or even hundreds of thousands of ILS implementations. Going forward, the functionality of electronic resource management will be integrated within library services platforms rather than as separate products. Each of the current electronic resource management products, including Verde from Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces’ Electronic Resource Management, and 360 Resource Manager from Serials Solutions, has been absorbed within their new, more comprehensive products.
Open Source Alternatives
Although interest in open source library automation products continues to represent a significant component of the industry, interest seems to have plateaued. This represents a more mature approach as libraries routinely consider automation products offered under either proprietary or open source licenses. Libraries with a strong philosophical preference for open source may have made this move in recent years, with all products now competing more on their merits of functionality, alignment with strategic priorities, quality of service, and economic value. That said, the proportion of open source integrated library systems in the U.S. will continue to be substantial, representing about 12% of new public library ILS contracts in 2011. I anticipate similar levels when the numbers are final for 2012. When open source ILS products entered the U.S. library automation scene in earnest about 2005, I watched with great interest to see if the adoption rates would spike upward or follow a more gentle slope. It turned out to be a fairly aggressive rise initially, which has moderated a bit subsequently. Today I see an interesting competition among the products offered with open source or proprietary licenses, competing primarily on the quality of service and breadth of functionality.
We can anticipate ongoing activity related to investments in and ownership of the major companies involved in providing technology products and services to libraries. Private equity firms now control a significant proportion of the larger companies in the industry. The business strategies executed by these owing investors are a major factor in shaping the overall industry.
This has been an interesting year in the mergers and acquisitions arena. It saw a major consolidation in the radio-frequency identification component of the industry, with a private equity firm bringing together three companies with regional impact into a single global enterprise. Innovative Interfaces, long a holdout away from founder ownership, was acquired by a pair of private equity firms, Huntsman Gay Global Capital, LLC and JMI Equity, with Jerry Kline retaining a minority stake and turning over the management of the company to new hands. Under the direction of the newly constituted board, a new executive team, led by CEO Kim Massana, now directs the company. Other changes in ownership of major companies are anticipated in the remainder of 2012, with some of the existing investors ready for the next handoff. For the next year or so, I do expect some ongoing shifts in the ownership of the companies involved in this industry. I think that there is only an outside chance that any upcoming business transitions will lead to further consolidation.
While the major companies involved in proprietary products have seen consolidation over the years, the open source support arena is currently fractured, with several small companies offering overlapping services for a limited set of market opportunities. Firms in the U.S. and Canada providing support for Koha include PTFS LibLime, ByWater Solutions, Amigos, and Equinox Software; those with business interests in Evergreen include Equinox Software, Lyrasis, and PALS. Just as in the broader industry, it will be difficult to sustain a number of smaller organizations each with limited resources, supporting a finite pool of potential library clients adopting open source library management products. In the longer term, I expect that the open source arena will likewise see a transition to a smaller number of larger players with more resources to provide the development and support resources needed to sustain this segment of the industry.
Here’s to 2013
So as we turn another page of the calendar, I’m looking forward to another interesting and productive year. In times past, I’ve been frustrated that development was slow and stagnant.
It seems like the competition has now become more vigorous, with intense research and development leading to ever more innovative technology products. Lots of wheels are in motion, with libraries facing ever new challenges in the ebook arena, in competition from commercial services, and in the struggle for adequate financial resources. While it’s never enough, I see that the technology tools emerging offer increasing promise to help libraries meet these formidable challenges.