Panlibus Blog

Libraries and the cloud: evolution not revolution

Karen ReecePost from Karen Reece, head of sales at Capita, from the recent issue of Panlibus Magazine (Issue 23).

From reading both the computing and the library press it seems that “cloud computing”, “software as a service” and “hosted services” have become the magic pixie dust that will solve all the library service’s IT problems, and make all of our lives easier. Needless to say, the realists amongst us know to take this with a pinch of salt however. Using the “cloud” does have some real advantages for libraries and like all ‘new’ inventions it’s not as ‘new’ as it portrays itself to be.

One thing is for certain, library users are already taking advantage of the storage that ‘cloud applications’ provide. If you cast your mind back 20 years, storage on floppy discs was the way to safely transport data from one system to another. These were quickly replaced with CDs, then DVDs and finally flash drives as the need for greater amounts of storage and speed of access grew. Now, a number of applications are born in the cloud, services like Flickr, Dropbox and Google Docs, all hosted in the cloud, holding large amounts of data and being accessed by millions of people over the web, all with huge storage capacity compared to those floppy discs 20 years ago.

These new technologies mean that large amounts of data can be used in a library context and some of the social software like Library Thing (the social cataloguing web application) is an example of how apps can be used in a library context. However, I’d argue that Capita’s library business has been using cloud or cloud-like solutions for a number of years. Perhaps the oldest example is Base, the bibliographic database that holds some 30 million bibliographic records. Not only do these hold commercial datasets, but also a large number of records that have been catalogued by staff in libraries and contributed back for the benefit of the library community. It’s also always been a hosted service.

The second example is our resource discovery system – Prism – which is used by over 90 libraries in the UK and Ireland and was launched four years ago. It’s a cloud based system that benefits from regular releases of new features (currently about every six weeks) and libraries can take advantage of these releases immediately. It’s an application that allows library services to benefit from the rich data contained within the modern amazon-like interface as well as mobile phone enabled interfaces. All without the need for any additional hardware or overheads for libraries to manage, allowing the technology to provide your users with an intuitive interface to access resources.

The final piece in the jigsaw has been the release of Chorus, the Capita Library Management System (LMS) as a Service. This has all the benefits that you’d expect from a hosted service, including security, reliability, scaling to meet the requirements of the library service as it grows, and also reducing the overall total cost of ownership in providing the LMS that libraries need. It has removed the need for locally deployed hardware on premise and meets the needs of both individual and consortium based library services. At Capita we see this as the natural evolution of technology which we have been helping our customers with for in excess of 40 years. This isn’t about throwing out the experience and rich data that has built up over time within the LMS, but taking advantage of the way in which cloud services can be applied to the LMS for the benefit of those customers who choose to move to this environment. Cloud computing isn’t a paradigm shift, it’s about evolution and not revolution.

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