The Library Services Platform; a step change in Library Automation

I was in Sheffield recently for a conference run by MMIT; the CILIP special interest group for Multi Media & IT in Libraries. The theme for the day was “Reduced budgets – increased impact” and the event featured a couple of keynote speakers, a selection of workshops,  a set of 5 minute “fixes”, a Q&A session with the speakers and presenters, and an interactive voting session during which we used some rather slick technology to vote in real-time on thoughts about the future of MMIT. It was a packed day with a lot going on and in this post I’m going to focus on the main keynote presentation, delivered by Marshall Breeding, who recently left his post as Director for Innovative Technology & Research at Vanderbilt University in Nashville to concentrate on writing and speaking.

“Paradigm Shift: a Slate of New Automation Platforms Address Current and Future Library Realities”; was the somewhat daunting title for a fascinating insight into the present and future of Library management systems. It’s now clear that current Library automation products are out of line with current realities because what we are doing in Libraries is changing so rapidly; influenced most notably by the shift from print to electronic formats, and the expectation of Library users for more engaging interfaces to resources and services, delivered via the web to a variety of platforms and devices.

What we currently have is effectively a historical accident; a collection of separate systems that don’t work well together and are inefficient. The current Library Management Systems are good at dealing with tangible assets, but much less so at managing digital resources, so to handle these we need separate Electronic Resource Management systems for our subscription resources, Digital Asset Management systems for our own digital content, Link Resolvers, Discovery Layers and so on. What’s really needed now is a new, more flexible model to provide comprehensive resource management.

Marshall has coined the term “Library Services Platform” to describe the systems currently under development that will automate the Library’s internal operations, manage collections, fulfill requests and deliver services. Marshall predicts that they will be subscription based, hosted and managed remotely by the vendors and delivered to us as Software as a Service. SaaS enables the idea of Data as a Service, so these systems will be based around what Marshall called a “knowledgebase architecture”; a highly scaleable globally shared model through which we can use our combined efforts to build large scale systems around collaborative knowledge bases. They will support new and existing metadata structures, and, crucially, have open APIs that we will be able to exploit to do more with our data.

Marshall suggested that we are now in the early phase of a 10 year cycle that will see our existing legacy products gradually being replaced by these emerging Library Services Platforms. There are already early examples available now, or due to be launched shortly; look out for Worldshare from OCLC, Alma from ExLibris, Intota from Serials Solutions, and Sierra from Innovative. The Open Source version to keep an eye on is Kuali from Kuali OLE.

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