Panlibus Blog

A Library SOA example – not just Buzzword Bingo!

The Disruptive Library Technology Jester [Peter Murray] in his post Services in a Service Oriented Architecture(SOA) “the second in a series about the application of the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) system design pattern to library services” uses a Hypothetical Use Case ‘Reflection of Local Library Holdings in Open WorldCat’ to demonstrate how SOA could add great value to Libraries and Library Systems.

For those of you who are not avid players of Buzzword Bingo or who are not familiar with the term SOA, the proceeding paragraph is probably totally obscure, and you are probably wondering what on earth this has got to do with libraries. Stick with me for a while and I will try to explain.

Firstly I would recommend a read of the first post in Peter’s series, ‘Defining “Service Oriented Architecture” by Analogy‘ which uses a transportation scenario to help enlighten the reader about what is meant by a Service Oriented Architecture. – Is it more efficient to just get in your car and drive from your home in Cleveland, Ohio to a hotel in Denver Colorado, or do you use the car, bus, plane, and taxi to achieve your goal. Never having driven that journey (except once in 1976 via Austin Texas, Phoenix, LA, San Fransisco, and Seattle – but that is another story!) I don’t know if that was the right analogy for me, but nevertheless it does work.

Having done that you should have an idea that in the emerging SOA world, bits of functionality will be provided by service providers. What they use, and how the use it, will be hidden from you – all you need to know is how to send a request to their service & the format of the response they will send back, and have the confidence that they are going to do this reliably. There are well know examples of this for all to see:

  • Users of Amazon Web Services(AWS) – send a URL to Amazon containing an ISBN, and get some XML back containing book information, pricing, and a link to a book jacket image.
  • Web site designers send a bit of XML to Google Maps which then pops a very powerful mapping application in to their web page, complete with map pins relevant to their site.
  • Send an ISBN to OCLC’s xISBN service and you receive an XML formatted list of all the FRBR related ISBNs.
  • Send a URL in a standard format containing a Library Code and a search term to the Talis Deep-linking service API and find yourself redirected in to that Library’s OPAC displaying the results of that search

The key for the adoption of SOA in any environment is standards either commercial[Google & Amazon’s standards are just there & published and people are using them] or open. Take for instance PatREST(pdf), the standard being floated by the Mashing up the Library Competition Winner John Blyberg of Ann Arbour District Library.

PatREST (Patron REST) is an XML specification developed at the Ann Arbor District Library for the purpose of providing a simple and easy method of accessing various data and methods.

This is a standard for accessing data from an individual local Library System and using it, like John does in his winning entry, to drive another application. PatREST is the application programmer interface (API) for a library service.

So how does this fit with the WorldCat analogy in Peter’s latest posting? Well, if each Library had got a System Manager who was capable of implementing PatREST on their local system, it fits very well. Unfortunately, the world does not have a massive population of John Blybergs working as Library System Managers.

Those who read Panlibus regularly, and have digested some of our white papers, will know that we are passionate about getting the library’s services and data to where the users ares spending their time – not usually inside a library system interface.

We are already showing the power of this with the Talis Platform and the open Platform APIs which we have released, and will be adding to in the none too distant future. We also recognize that providing APIs to the local library system is the key stone in enabling those systems to become services that can participate in a SOA world. Watch this space for more news soon on this front as well!

We also recognize that no one organization in the library sector can solve the problem, of delivering Library [regardless of vendor, location, or institution] as a service to be consumed by all, on its own. We are doing all we can to promote dialog on this, but to be successful for the benefit of all we need to be joined by the promoters of the technology such as Peter, the likes of OCLC, our fellow system vendors, and the open the source community. We have, and will continue to, invite all of you to join in the duologue with us.

Knock on the door of your local system vendor (as many of them don’t appear to be bloging, except for a few notable and welcome exceptions), and your bibliographic service provider. Ask them how they are going to enable you, your users, and your/their data, to take your rightful place in the open distributed community emerging as a result of SOA being adopted globally.

I could go on about issues around Open Data need to be addressed to facilitate this, but that is a whole other story which I will return to in future postings.

Peter closes his posting with the following:

But What of the “Integrated Library System”?
If you read closely and have your internal sensors calibrated to such things, you may have noticed the juxtaposition of “inventory control system” with “local catalog system” in the descriptions above. That is no mistake — in the next posting of this series we’ll take a look at the disaggregation of the traditional integrated library system in a SOA environment.

Peter, come talk to us – we are not only aware of this but are actively working towards enabling it.
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