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Smarter Libraries Through Technology: Reshaping Academic Library Systems

Smart Libraries Newsletter [January 2018]

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The last five years have brought substantial change in the realm of resource management and discovery services for academic libraries. Key drivers to these changes relate to the urgent need to have workflow tools for library personnel more in tune with the shape of their collections, to provide effective tools for discovery, and to provide the infrastructure for supporting library activities beyond traditional areas of service.

The increasing dominance of electronic resources and digital collections created tension with the longstanding integrated library systems (ILSs) in place that were designed to manage print materials and were not especially well suited for managing complex collections of electronic resources. The business processes for licensing packages of content, managing access to open access materials, and other workflows are entirely different from purchasing print materials.

An early wave of change began in around 2009 with the introduction of index-based discovery services able to search and retrieve material within a library's subscriptions at the article level. These products, including Serials Solutions Summon, Ex Libris Primo, WorldCat Local, and EBSCO Discovery service, have become very widely adopted. Although exact statistics are not available, most major academic libraries in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and other developed countries have adopted some form of index-based, article-level discovery. Given the costly investments academic libraries make, it has been viewed as important to provide patron-facing interfaces able to fully exploit their collections of electronic scholarly resources. These index-based discovery services represent only one flavor of access. Many—if not most—users do not make use of the interfaces provided by the library, but instead conduct their research via Google Scholar, other general web search engines, or discipline-specific tools. This reality drives interest in implementing mechanisms that improve the discoverability of library resources through these web search engines, often based on semantic web or linked data technologies.

Another key strategy for improving access to library collections can be seen in reading list applications that can be embedded in learning management systems. These products, such as Talis Aspire, Rebus:list, EBSCO's Curriculum Builder, and Ex Libris Leganto, enable course instructors to select reading materials within the library's collection or to obtain materials and manage copyright issues for those not already held.

We can expect further development on the discovery front. New products such as Yewno Discover have come out in the last year or so that take advantage of machine learning and other concepts related to artificial intelligence. These technologies may eventually provide comprehensive tools for accessing library collections beyond what has so far been possible through full-text indexing and linked data.

Library services platforms have been on the rise since about 2011 to help library staff manage complex collections spanning electronic, digital, and print formats. Ex Libris and OCLC both launched development efforts at that time, which have resulted in products that have been subsequently implemented by a large portion of academic libraries. Ex Libris Alma has been especially popular among large academic libraries, multi-campus systems, and consortia. Alma was originally designed to work with Primo as its patron interface. However, in recent years, support has been extended to Summon and open source interfaces like Blacklight and VuFind. OCLC has likewise been quite successful with its WorldShare Management Services, though its customer base is skewed more toward mid-sized libraries than the larger tier. Two initiatives to create library services platforms did not result in completed products—ProQuest Intota and Kuali OLE.

In the six years that Ex Libris Alma and OCLC World- Share Management Services have been available, they have captured a substantial portion of the academic libraries seeking to migrate from legacy ILSs. The momentum of Alma seems especially strong, winning the majority of deals involving large libraries and consortia. Ex Libris has continued to enhance Alma and expand its capabilities into new areas.

Despite strong momentum, the shift of academic libraries from ILSs to Alma and WorldShare is far from universal. The FOLIO project posits that time remains for the introduction of a new option. FOLIO has been positioned to attract libraries interested in a different approach relative to the prevailing options. It appeals to the interest in open source rather than proprietary software, to modular design rather than comprehensive platforms, to software development that includes libraries as well as vendors, and a fresh approach to technical infrastructure based on microservices.

The next year or so will be a critical time for FOLIO. The existing library services platforms, Alma and WorldShare, continue to gain in strength and have reached a level of maturity that many libraries wait for rather than join an early adoption cycle. Another segment of academic libraries may remain with their current ILS vendor, anticipating new developments oriented to improve their ability to support academic libraries. Companies like SirsiDynix and Innovative have a lot at stake in retaining their academic library customers. FOLIO likewise has its sights set on the academic library front. Although the clock is advancing rapidly, the FOLIO project has set out on an aggressive agenda and is backed by EBSCO, which brings substantial resources to the project. Time will tell whether FOLIO will disrupt the momentum of Alma and become established as another major option in the library services platform genre. This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter features a new look at FOLIO and the major milestones it has accomplished since our last look at the project.

View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 01
Issue:January 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:23154
Last Update:2024-04-20 16:13:46
Date Created:2018-01-17 12:08:43