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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > December 2023

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Vol. 43 No. 10 — December 2023

Library Tech Trends 2024
by Marshall Breeding

The next cycle of change may come upon libraries quite rapidly.
Libraries continue to steadily advance through a number of long-standing technology trends, but we should anticipate disruption from fast-moving technologies such as generative AI. Many of the trends involving library management systems and discovery services have played out over the course of years or even decades. ChatGPT, a service based on generative AI that was developed by OpenAI, was launched just a year ago and has already made a massive impact on education, business, and society. The next cycle of change may come upon libraries quite rapidly.

Each type of library drives distinct trends. While all libraries share some core services and values, public, academic, and school libraries each follow distinctive paths related to their main technology infrastructure. The differing characteristics that each of these library types take for managing collection resources and providing services demand specific technology infrastructure. As such, a different set of technology trends can be seen in each of the subsectors of the library community.

Trends in Academic Libraries

Collections dominated by e-resources—Over the last couple of decades, academic libraries have seen their collections become dominated by e-resources, including subscription-based and OA materials, while their involvement with print resources has diminished. A look at the circulation statistics for ARL member libraries reveals that the number of circulation statistics for print materials in 2020 is about 5% of the figures seen in 2000. Recent interlibrary loan activity has dropped to about a third of the levels seen in 2012. Spending on e-resources has steadily climbed over the last 2 decades and now represents about 80% of the collection budget of a typical large academic library.

Technical infrastructure for complex multiformat collections—These trends drive the need for technology applications with more advanced capabilities for managing and providing access to e-resources, while also providing adequate support for print materials, which remain important for academic libraries.

The 2012 emergence of library services platforms addressed this scenario. Products such as Ex Libris Alma, OCLC WorldShare Management Services (WMS), and FOLIO aim to deliver comprehensive resource management for the complex multiformat collections of academic libraries. Large portions of these libraries have migrated from ILSs, which manage print materials well but have limited capabilities for e-resources. Ex Libris Alma gained the largest share of the academic library market between 2012 and 2020, with OCLC WMS attracting a smaller number of libraries.

Proprietary and open source options—In the context of the competition between these two proprietary library services platforms, development of FOLIO as an OS alternative has been underway since about 2016, led by a community of libraries and vendors with significant financial support from EBSCO Information Services. Since about 2019, FOLIO has attained a level of maturity that qualifies it for use in large academic libraries. It stands as a formidable competitor to Alma. Many large libraries have implemented FOLIO, including Stanford University, Cornell University, the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado–Boulder, and Texas A&M University. More than 180 libraries have selected or announced their selection of EBSCO as its partner for developing and implementing FOLIO.

The rise of FOLIO does not mean the demise of Alma. Alma has been implemented by more than 2,150 libraries and continues to see new sales. Duke University, a longtime participant in the FOLIO development community, made a dramatic turnaround by announcing its intentions to implement Alma. Yale University recently stated that it will migrate from Voyager to Alma.

In the library systems arena for academic libraries, the main competitors now include library services platforms from a large for-profit corporation, one from a nonprofit organization, and an OS product with commercial and community support. These generally come bundled with discovery services from the same organization, with Primo, WorldCat Discovery Service, and EBSCO Discovery Service all providing sophisticated capabilities to search the broad range of scholarly content.

Management of subject guides—Other technology trends in academic libraries include investing in platforms for providing structured resources for library users on specific subject areas. The LibGuides products from Springshare have been implemented by a very large portion of academic libraries. This does not make headlines, but these products are mainstays for academic libraries and are also seeing increased use in public libraries.

Authentication trends for e-resource access—Academic libraries also require technologies for authentication and authorization of users for access to restricted e-resources and services. Access based on IP addresses has been a long-standing technology, but this approach may be less viable. Not only does IP address recognition fail to work well in many scenarios, but the transition to a new version of the protocol, IPv6, means some reconfiguration for institutions and services providers. SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language) provides a more modern framework for local and federated authentication. One of the trends in this area involves adopting OpenAthens and SeamlessAccess as SAML-based services and some movement away from OCLC’s EZproxy. EZproxy is the most implemented authentication service for libraries and will continue to be a viable option for the long term.

Public Library Technologies

On the public library front, the ILS continues as the standard automation infrastructure. Its capabilities for the management of print and ebooks align well with the operational needs of public libraries. The lending of print materials continues as a principal service, although the volume of ebook lending keeps increasing. The major ILS products deliver mature functionality for the management and lending of print materials, and they have reliable integrations with digital lending services such as OverDrive, Bibliotheca’s cloudLibrary, and hoopla. In the U.S. and Canada, proprietary ILS products such as SirsiDynix’s Symphony and Horizon, Polaris and Sierra from Innovative (now part of Clarivate), and Library•Solution and Carl•X are well-established and well-appreciated by public libraries.

Open source ILSs increase in popularity—Interest in OS solutions has steadily grown in the public library sector, beginning in the mid-2000s with the introduction of Koha. Since that time, Koha has continually become more functionally complete and now has capabilities similar to the proprietary ILS products. ByWater Solutions has become the dominant provider of support services for Koha in the U.S. and Canada and has been very successful in attracting ever larger numbers of libraries away from proprietary ILS products to adopt Koha. In the U.S., the number of public libraries migrating to Koha exceeds those acquiring new proprietary ILS products. Evergreen, an OS ILS designed for public library consortia, has been implemented by about 5% of U.S. public libraries and has seen a gradual increase in adoption. Just more than 8% of U.S. public libraries now use Koha.

Patron-centered technologies at the forefront—Public libraries generally prioritize technologies that interact with their patrons over those used by their staff members. This perspective has driven increased interest in new discovery interfaces, event or program management, and website design and deployment. Public libraries may be willing to tolerate flaws or inefficiencies in their ILS, but have much higher expectations for the components that deliver services to their patrons.

For more than a decade, BiblioCommons has specialized in patron-facing technologies that can be used with any major ILS, including the BiblioCore discovery interface and BiblioWeb website management service. OCLC offers Wise as a patron-centered automation tool to public libraries in the U.S. This product includes traditional ILS capabilities in addition to components focused on patron engagement. Wise has been quite popular in the Netherlands and the Flanders region of Belgium, but it has not gained traction in the U.S. following its launch in 2018.

Components extend ILS patron-facing services—Rather than implementing a new system spanning functionality and patron engagement, the trend in the U.S. has been for public libraries to invest in components that integrate with their existing ILS. These components include replacement catalogs or discovery services, automated marketing and messaging platforms, website management tools, and other applications that improve interactions with patrons.

Patron Point has attracted significant interest among public libraries for its patron engagement services, including automated marketing messaging, online patron registration, and related activities. Launched in 2005, Patron Point has been implemented by hundreds of libraries and was acquired by Springshare in August 2023.

Innovative has developed a suite of patron-oriented applications as part of its Vega Library Experience (LX), including Vega Discover as a new discovery interface for Polaris and Sierra, Vega Program for event and program management, Vega Promote for programmatic engagement and messaging, and Vega Promote Web for website management.

Open source components are viable options—OS patron-facing services have also attracted interest. Aspen Discovery, an OS discovery interface, can be used with Koha or some of the major proprietary ILS products. ByWater Solutions began supporting Aspen Discovery in 2019. Since that time, ByWater Solutions has been very successful in marketing Aspen Discovery. Many of its new public library clients contract for both Koha and Aspen Discovery, and many of its existing clients have opted to enhance their Koha implementation with Aspen Discovery. As an OS solution, several other vendors now also offer commercial hosting and support services for Aspen Discovery.

Generative AI in Library Platforms

Since the launch of ChatGPT, interest in generative AI technologies has exploded through both the consumer and business worlds. These technologies have already had a major impact on educational institutions. Libraries have begun to adapt to the reality of generative AI as part of the information ecosystem. Not only are they incorporating guidance on the acceptable use of AI in their bibliographic instruction and outreach efforts, but many are establishing AI labs in which they can experiment with these technologies and create services incorporating their use.

Library vendors have also begun to develop and deploy new services based on AI. LibraryThing made an early foray with Talpa Search as an experimental catalog incorporating AI to enhance retrieval with natural language queries and improved capabilities for finding items by concept or topic. OCLC has launched a beta version of an AI-powered search in WorldCat. Clarivate has made a strategic partnership with AI21 Labs, which has developed a suite of tools and applications based on AI. In September 2023, Clarivate acquired Alethea, which developed a student engagement system with AI-powered capabilities. EBSCO has announced its intentions to add AI capabilities to many of its products and services. Given the current momentum, we can anticipate a rapid adoption of AI technologies in the products and services used by libraries.
Marshall Breeding Marshall Breeding is an independent consultant, writer, and frequent library conference speaker. He is the founder of Library Technology Guides ( His email address is