Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Marshall Breeding on the future of web-scale library systems

Every information management business seems to be moving “to the cloud”.  Over the past few years, a variety of library software providers have been applying this model to a rapidly growing segment of the library community.  The technology that libraries use to manage their operations is undergoing significant change and transformation.  Marshall Breeding, Director for Innovative Technology and Research at Vanderbilt University Library, presented during the second plenary session on The Evolving Library.  Breeding’s talk “The web-scale library – a global approach” focused on the opportunities that this move could include.
Breeding's Slide of current LMS/ERMs

Beginning with the observation that current library management systems are overly print-focused, siloed and suffer from a lack of interoperability. In addition, the online catalog – as a module of most ILS – is a bad interface for most of the resources that patrons are most interested in.  For example, an OPAC’s scope doesn’t include articles, book chapter, or digital objects.  The fact that libraries don’t have the appropriate automation infrastructure and while this creates significant challenges, it also presents an opportunity for libraries to rethink their entire technology stack related to resource management. 

Moving library information from in-house servers to a cloud solution provides a variety of benefits and cost savings.  There are the obvious benefits, such as hardware purchases, regular maintenance, power, and system updates and patches.  However, this really not the core benefit of a cloud solution.  Breeding described simply having data hosted on the network, provided only the simplest and least interesting benefits.  Breeding focused more on the potential benefits and efficiencies of having a single application instance and a cooperatively collected and curated data set

Breeding's vision of how new Library Management Systems will be integrated
In Breeding’s view, the future consideration of which systems to select will not be based upon features or services.  All systems providers will end up concentrating on a similar set of services.  What will distinguish and differentiate product will be how open the systems are.  Of course, as many of these systems move increasingly to an integrated service suite, fewer libraries will want to or need to patch some other service onto the system.  He also made an interesting note that since the launch of these new systems, the pace of implementations has skyrocketed.

Breeding covered a tremendous range in his talk, so one can’t be critical of what wasn’t included.  That said, here are some questions this move will elicit eventually: Who can claim ownership of data that is collectively gathered and curated?  What is specifically one institution’s versus another?  Once an institution moves into a web-scale system that is based on a collective knowledgebase, how might an institution transfer to a new provider and what data would be taken with them to a new provider?  A great deal of these issues will be the focus of many conversations and best practice developments over the coming years as libraries work to deal with these new systems.

Marshall tweets @mbreeding and blogs regularly on library technology issues at http://www.librarytechnology.org.

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