In an article in the latest issue of the Library Journal Netconnect supplement, Library Web Services, Richard Akerman highlights the importance of Web Services for the future evolution of library services.
No library can afford to be an information island in the modern world. Resource sharing can extend beyond the exchange of books to the exchange of software. Just as sharing books enables many people to benefit from the same knowledge, sharing services enables many libraries to gain capabilities that otherwise would be out of reach. By consuming services and perhaps even developing your own, ideally all within the context of a larger library service–oriented architecture, libraries will be able collectively to provide their patrons with the rich web experiences they have come to expect.
Richard identifies the role Google and Amazon have played in shaping these expectations of library users, causing them to be more demanding of the library web presence, but “libraries, constrained by catalog vendor offerings, have struggled to advance their online visibility and capabilities”
He uses the analogy of Inter Library Loan to emphasize the point that web services are not very different to what libraries have been doing for years.
Web services let your organization reach out to other libraries, enabling better technology tools for library interconnection, going beyond basic interlibrary loan (ILL) to more advanced types of search and data combination.
To many the tools and terminology of the Web 2.0, Web Services, world is unfamiliar, so he points to some useful briefing papers to fill in the background. Having said that, the concepts are probably simpler than getting your head around Z39.50.
The difference, for the library community, is that the web service standards have come from the wider world as backed by the W3C and can be used for any sort of interaction, they are not just for libraries. This is a challenge, not just for the libraries, but also for the system vendors who do not have a great track record in opening up their systems with industry standard APIs or web services.
It is in recognition of this that we at Talis have produced Talis Keystone. Keystone uses web services to liberate the data and functionality of a library system so that it is easily consumed by non-library systems. Keystone is already delivering live borrower/patron information injected in to campus portals (Queens University, University of Greenwich, University College Dublin, University of Manchester) – check-out the video to see how [because of the use of Web Services, and having a sandbox development area] Keystone has opened up opportunities for delivering library functionally across the Queens University Campus. With implementers preparing to, open source, share their portal integration work (JSR168 – for those that are interested) it will be even simpler for others to follow their lead.
It is by exposing library data for use in systems far beyond the library walls, for purposes that librarians probably will not currently envisage, its true value to the wider community will be realized.
In the article Richard provides some examples:
Library web services explode catalog modules to make dynamic content available in catalogs and where patrons live online. For example, with existing library web services, you can get a list of ISBNs that match a particular book (OCLC’s xISBN service or LibraryThing’s functionally similar ThingISBN), install Amazon’s SimilarityLookup, or find information from Talis on library branches that actually hold a copy. You can pull in all sorts of additional functionality that you may have neither the time nor the capability to develop locally.
Those using web services require some technical sophistication but often not much beyond what’s needed to put together a complex web site. As consistent—and documented—sets of web services become more widely available, the barriers to use get lower all the time.
With its work building a library platform, for example, the UK-based Talis has created a set of interconnecting and documented web services suitable for use in enriching existing applications or in creating wholly new applications such as its proof of concept Project Cenote. Paul Miller, Talis senior manager and technology evangelist, says, “Web services offer all of us a long overdue opportunity to break apart the monolithic library system, permitting its reassembly from best-of-breed components drawn from across the industry.”
U.S. and UK developers have used the Talis Platform to make new catalog views available in quick order. Ross Singer, an LJ 2007 Mover & Shaker and a developer at Georgia Tech, says, “Overall, I’m really impressed with the Talis API. It is a lot easier to use than, say, Z39.50.”
The Talis Platform and the Talis Developer Network, its open development community, stand as the company’s technical, social, and business vision of the future. Talis currently claims to serve about 25 percent of the library market in the UK but does not have products for sale in the United States.
Its great that he uses The Talis Platform as an example – there again, it is such an obvious one. I must pick him up on a couple of points though.
Firstly, he gives the impression that Talis is a UK only organization. It is true we are based in the UK, and our traditional ILS/LMS application is a UK & Ireland only product, but the Talis Platform is a Web-scale product and therefore by definition geography is not a restriction to its availability – as proven by one of the early adopters being in Georgia USA.
Secondly, you could be forgiven for believing that the Talis Platform is only for library application builders. This is far from the truth – the Platform is a generic platform suitable any sector dealing with information-rich applications.
For the library world we do nevertheless have a version of the Platform specialized for libraries – the Talis Library Platform that has built in awareness of library formats such as MARC, ISO2709, Dublin Core etc.
Nevertheless, despite these couple of clarifications, this is an excellent article and well worth a read.
For those that want to know more about the Talis Library Platform, and Keystone developments, we have recently launched the Talis Library Platform News, a monthly newsletter to keep you up to date with developments around the Platform of specific interest to the library community. – Take a look and subscribe to the monthly updates.