Enabling Access, Engagement, and Efficiency

Posted Tuesday, July 30, 2013 - 18:08
Technologies on the exhibit floor reflected subtle changes
Exhibit Hall floor

Technology, as always, was on display at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. Consistent with the strong attendance figures, activity in the exhibit hall seemed especially brisk this year. As the largest exhibition of library-oriented technology and content products worldwide, ALA Annual offers librarians a unique opportunity to review the latest offerings from nearly every significant vendor in North America. US libraries spend $450 million annually on technology products or services, so setting aside some time in the exhibit hall helps buyers make wise investment decisions.

As a general trend, technologies for standard operations seemed a bit more in tune with current needs this year. Library management systems now handle many types of materials, from ebooks to electronic scholarly content. Current tools for patron access go beyond a flat discovery-and-presentation style and include results more tailored to users comfortable with social media. Many of the products and services are taking advantage of the expansive capabilities of cloud-based technologies and breaking free from the constraints of local databases and information silos.

It was a conference absent major or surprising announcements. Rather than news of mergers and acquisitions, more subtle changes were apparent. Transitions made in previous years continued to evolve, as evidenced by increased business integration, brand consolidation, and more unified product development strategies.

Library management and discovery

At the SirsiDynix booth, the main attraction was its new BLUEcloud suite of products including eResource Central, which was just put into general release as a product to manage and access electronic resources, especially ebooks, from multiple vendors. The BLUEcloud PAC will provide a new web-based interface for those libraries not yet interested in its premium Enterprise and Portfolio discovery products. These web-based applications operate in tandem with its longstanding Symphony and Horizon ILS products, enabled through a layer of web services for interoperability. The core message from SirsiDynix emphasizes its commitment to the Horizon and Symphony systems on its development agenda, both in enhancements as well as support for the new interfaces. The forthcoming BLUEcloud Analytics will provide additional reporting, statistics, and other indicators of library performance.

Innovative Interfaces new library services platform Sierra has seen phenomenal adoption, primarily among libraries already using its Millennium ILS, but also by new customers. More than 450 libraries have committed to Sierra, with Brooklyn Public Library among the most recent. Following the company reorganization that brought SkyRiver Technologies from a separate organization to a unit within Innovative, its bibliographic services continue to attract interest; Black Gold Cooperative Library System in San Luis Obispo, California, recently opted to move from OCLC to SkyRiver for cataloging services. In the now-hot genre of products to support data-driven collection management, Innovative has released Decision Center. New ownership has brought to Innovative a spirit of partnership with other vendors that contrasts with its previous more self-reliant stance. Its new Encore ES discovery service layers in the EBSCO Discovery Service index as well as integrated ebook discovery and lending enabled through new partnerships with 3M Cloud Library and OverDrive. The company also renewed its relationship with Bowker, a business unit of ProQuest, for integrated images and other content from Syndetic Solutions through an Encore interface.

VTLS came to the conference with news about its second phase of Virtua ILS implementation at the Hong Kong Public Library, one of the world’s largest and busiest systems. The company is also preparing to roll out its new Open Skies library services platform, offering functionality for the management of both digital and physical materials. Reflecting its emphasis on emerging library standards, it had on hand demo versions of its products displaying BibFrame representations of bibliographic data.

Ex Libris highlighted its progress on the development and deployment of Alma, now in production in handful of libraries, including Purdue University. In the genre of library services platforms, Alma incorporates the functionality of ILS products (such as its own Aleph and Voyager), as well as electronic resource managers, link resolvers, and other library management components. With the initial version of Alma complete and its discovery solution Primo now in its fourth major release, Ex Libris is positioned to pull out all the stops in marketing its products to research and academic libraries worldwide. The company also promoted Rosetta, one of the few commercial products to help libraries with the long-term preservation of their digital collections.

Serials Solutions products were included this year in the booth of its parent company ProQuest, a noticeable shift in branding emphasis relative to previous conferences, with Matthew Brine appointed vice president and general manager of the division. Summon 2.0 was on display as a major set of enhancements to the web-scale discovery service first released at the 2009 ALA Annual Conference. Its new three-column display offers a variety of new features that enhance its search capabilities with additional tools and utilities for exploring and extending results. Recent libraries moving to Summon include Yale University and the University of Arizona. Progress toward development of Intota, the company’s announced library services platform, was seen in announcements of Intota Assessment, a service bringing together local usage data with ProQuest content components, including Books in Print, Ulrich’s, and its e-resource knowledgebase to provide a framework for data-driven collection management spanning print and digital materials. Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, is currently working with Serials Solutions and Intota Assessment as a beta test partner, to be followed by another five additional institutions.

The latest developments at Polaris Library Systems include a new Community Profiles add-on for its PowerPAC online catalog that searches for and displays events, programs, and information about local businesses or organizations within its search results. The company demonstrated the latest release of the Polaris ILS that has more than 100 new features bundled with it. Polaris is one of the first ILS vendors to fully integrate ebook discovery and lending into its catalog, beginning with a partnership with 3M Cloud Library; similar capabilities are planned for Baker & Taylor Axis 360 and other ebook providers. Other big news included the implementation of Polaris on the Illinois Heartland Library System, the largest consortium in North America.

The Library Corporation (TLC), in addition to ongoing development of its Library.Solution ILS sold primarily for public libraries, showed off enhancements to its LS2 PAC public catalog interface. A new partnership with EBSCO Information Services enables it to add enriched content through NoveList Select. A new spin-off of TLC, boundless (boundless.ly), demonstrated its services for helping libraries with a fully integrated and managed web presence.

EBSCO Information Services stands as a major provider of content products and subscription services, and its Discovery Service is one of the four major index-based discovery products. A recent reorganization combined EBSCO Information Services and EBSCO Publishing into a single company. It launched EBSCONET Analytics at the conference, an initial phase of an upgrade of its e-journal subscription management platform that focuses on producing metrics in support of collection development. In an interesting foray into the open-source arena, EBSCO has become a Kuali Commercial Affiliate so that it can integrate the EBSCO Discovery Service into Kuali OLE as one of its patron-interface options.

The conference provided a venue for the public changing of the guard for leadership at OCLC. Skip Prichard assumed responsibility for the organization as its new president and CEO as Jay Jordon belatedly stepped into retirement. OCLC continues to conduct research and development surrounding linked data, a topic frequently mentioned in its conference presentations. The roll-out of products based on its WorldShare Platform continues. OCLC reports that over 120 libraries on three continents now live on WorldShare Management Services; since the beginning of 2013, more than 50 libraries have signed on. In addition to products that OCLC develops on its platform directly, it encourages third-party development. In this vein, a new WorldCat Metadata API was released to enable the creation of new cataloging tools. Work is underway at OCLC to create WorldShare Metadata Record Manager as part of its suite of productivity tools based on the WorldShare Platform.

Noticeably missing at ALA were library automation vendors focused on the special library arena, such as EOS International, SydneyPLUS, or Soutron International.

Ebook lending services

Overdrive at 2013 Exhibit HallAlso a key player in ebook delivery, The Library Corporation reports that it is the first company to fully integrate its services with Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 ebook lending platform, available through the LS2 PAC interface for its Library.Solution and Carl.X ILS products. The company is extending its reach beyond libraries that use one of its ILS products through its eBiblioFile service, which delivers high-quality MARC records for a library’s ebook collections.

The library ebook arena was an area of special interest at the conference. All ebook offerings are now seen through the lens of ReadersFirst (readersfirst.org), a library initiative with the goal of ensuring that public library users have the same open, easy, and free access to ebooks as they do with print books. 

OverDrive, still the dominant force, faces ever more competition in content provision and technical integration. As the pioneer of library ebook lending, its early products offered many titles, but they were only available through a proprietary lending platform that was universally perceived as overly cumbersome. OverDrive has committed to the release of a comprehensive set of APIs that will allow developers to integrate its content and lending transactions through outside discovery and catalog interfaces. OverDrive has also made remarkable progress on its own platform by reducing the ebook lending process to one or two clicks.

3M Library Services announced the 3M Cloud Library only two years ago at the 2011 ALA Annual Conference and has rapidly grown to be a major competitor in ebook lending. It is an eager partner in the catalog-integration arena, working initially with Polaris and subsequently with Innovative Interfaces and The Library Corporation. At this year’s conference, the company launched a new subscription program that offers new customers a money-back guarantee, refunding the platform fee after the first year if the library is dissatisfied with the service. 3M also announced the 3M Private Cloud, allowing libraries within a consortium to purchase additional titles and prioritize content according to local preferences.

First-time exhibitor OdiloTID, a technology firm based in Spain, has developed a platform that allows libraries to manage and access their print and ebook collections. The high-profile Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries partnered with the company as part of its ebook delivery environment. OdiloTID offers a library automation product, OdiloTT, which includes ebook support as well as traditional functionality for print collections. This also includes the OdiloTK ebook lending platform and OdiloPlace, a platform for publishing digital content based on Adobe Content Server technology. OdiloTID recently opened a new facility in Miami as it expands its operations to the Americas (see http://www.odilotid.com/).

Social engagement

BibliothecaAnother area of special interest includes any technology that offers libraries the ability to add a social dimension to its services. BiblioCommons, through its socially enabled discovery service, has been adopted by major public library systems in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and many others. It enables patrons to develop and share reading lists and integrates ebook discovery and lending functionality. King County (Wash.) Public Library recently opted to implement BiblioCommons with its Evergreen ILS. 

Rather than delivering a separate catalog interface, ChiliFresh provides its suite of social features through integration with all the major discovery or catalog interfaces. Its partnership with Polaris fully integrates its Social Connections technology and Patron Book Review Engine as a package that Polaris markets as a Social PAC to mutual customer libraries.

LibraryThing for Libraries allows libraries to enhance their catalogs with the tags, reviews, and other metacontent contributed by LibraryThing users, in addition to virtual shelf browsing, stack maps, and other features. The company also offers Library Anywhere, a mobile catalog that operates with all major ILS products.

A number of vendors offered products to help libraries handle their physical collections more efficiently. In addition to its full line of self-service products, 3M Library Systems demonstrated its new SelfCheck QuickConnect, an attractive and content-laden interface for library patrons performing self-service activities. For libraries where self-service dominates circulation transactions, those kiosks represent a crucial point of contact and opportunities for enhanced engagement. Through a partnership with EBSCO, content from NoveList Select offers book recommendations and the ability to place holds on titles of interest when items are returned.

Bibliotheca, the largest company in the RFID sector globally, had on display its wide array of products for self-service and automated material handling. Missing were any traces of the ebook project announced at last year’s conference. TechLogic brought a variety of its self-service products and automated sorting systems. Also attracting interest was MediaSurfer, a self-service lending system for e-readers or tablets. UK-based D-Tech International, known primarily in Europe, demonstrated its self-service and RFID-based technologies to an American library audience. Vendors of larger-scale material handling equipment included Lyngsoe Systems and Mk Sorting Systems.

This sampling of technology on display at  the 2013 ALA Annual Conference is by no means intended as comprehensive. At best, it aims to capture some of the key trends and themes in play in the library technology arena. 

MARSHALL BREEDING is an independent consultant, researcher, and author.