Panlibus Blog

Opening the Walls of the Library – SOA & web services

It doesn’t happen often, but it is really nice when when you receive something produced for one purpose to find that it has been produced so well that it is good for so much more.  Let me explain….

My colleague Andy Latham has been pulling together a white paper Opening the Walls of the Library – SOA and web services at Talis[pdf].  It’s main purpose is to support the marketing effort behind Talis Keystone, our SOA platform that underpins Talis Library Integration Services.  To help explain those services, to the not necessarily technical people in library and other departments considering integration, he needed to explore the history, principles, and practical considerations of this approach.  It is in this explanation, I believe that he has produced a document that is a great introduction to the application of SOA and library web services in general.

Because of it’s original purpose, and the fact that for obvious reasons the examples and case studies come from Talis products and customers, the document could be considered by some as being a bit marketingy.  Nevertheless, if you want an overview of real-world issues (many of which are to do with people not technology), or business models, or web service functions, or why choose REST in favour of SOAP, in library SOA I can recommend this White Paper as an informative easy way in.

As Andy says in the conclusion:

SOA is not all about technology; SOA is a business journey that needs to follow a path with small commercial and technical steps towards a known vision of business maturity. Commercial and Open Source technology has paved a way for businesses to begin introducing an SOA strategy. Introducing an SOA strategy is as much of a technical challenge as it is an operational challenge as the technology will break down silos between teams, departments and organisations and conflicting business processes which worked well in the silo will need to be redeveloped to meet the new needs of the more agile business.

The release of the OLE’s report, which I commented upon previously, plus vendor initiatives such as OCLC’s Web Services and Ex Libris’ URM, have served to raise the prominence of web services in the world of libraries.  On a recent Library 2.0 Gang show about the OLE project it was clear, in the discussions between Andy, OLE’s Tim McGeary, Marshall Breeding and Ex Libris’ Oren Beit-Arie, that there is much more to integration than just technology.

I think it is fair to say that Libraries as a sector have not been at the leading edge of the SOA/web services debate.  It is also fair to say that for whatever reason the UK seems to been a few years ahead of some areas in reaping the benefits of such integration in libraries.  As Andy’s document shows, there is the potential for significant financial and organisational benefits when undertaking integration in this way.

“The 25,000 students at one of the largest Universities in the UK are now able to pay their library charges online using either debit or credit cards, enabling further efficiency savings for library staff and improving student services.”

“Getting relevant information from Voyager into personalised portal sites has been a key requirement for the University for some time…..  By building a SharePoint integration we are maximising the positive impact of our new VLE and enhancing elements of the Library service.”

“The University of Salford is in the process of transforming the way that the identities of its entire user population are managed across all key systems in the organisation. An essential part of the solution employed (using Sun Microsystems’ IdM suite) is the transition and management of up to 23,000 Talis LMS borrower identities via Talis Keystone.”

To reap these sort of benefits in a sustainable way a library has to be aware of, and have, a SOA strategy.  There is much in this white paper that can help those new to the subject to understand the issues.  As someone who thinks he knows about these things, I also found it very useful for checking and clarifying my assumptions.

So as I say, a recommended read….

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