Over the last few years OCLC the US based not –for-profit cataloguing cooperative has been acquiring many for-profit organisations from the world of library automation such as PICA, Fretwell-Downing Informatics, and Sisis Information Systems.
About fifteen months ago, Andrew Pace joined OCLC, from North Carolina State University Libraries, and was given the title of Executive Director, Networked Library Services. After joining OCLC Andrew, who had a reputation for promoting change in the library technology sphere, almost disappeared from the radar.
Putting these two things together, it was clear that the folks from Dublin were up to something beyond just owning a few non-US ILS vendors.
From a recent post on Andrew’s Hectic Pace blog, and press releases from OCLC themselves, we now know what that something was. It is actually a few separate things, but the overall approach is to deliver the functionality, traditionally provided by the ILS vendors (Innovative, SirsiDynix, Polaris, Ex Libris, etc., etc.), as services from OCLC’s data centres. This moves the OCLC reach beyond cataloguing in to the realms of acquisitions, license management, and even circulation.
The idea of braking up the monolithic ILS (or LMS as UK libraries refer to it) is not a new one – as followers of Panlibus will know. Equally, delivering functionality as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has been native to the Talis Platform since its inception. It is this that underpins already established SaaS applications Talis Prism, Talis Aspire and Talis Engage.
Both OCLC, with WorldCat Local, and Talis with Prism have been delivering public discovery interfaces (OPACs) as SaaS applications for a while now, ‡biblios.net have recently launched their social cataloguing as a service [check out the podcast with Josh Ferraro], but I think this is the first significant announcement of circulation as a service that I have been aware of.
The move to Cloud Computing, with it’s obvious benefits of economies of scale and the removal of need for libraries to be machine minders and data centre operators, is a reflection a much wider computing industry trend. The increasing customer base of Salesforce.com, the number of organisations letting Google take care of their email, and even their whole office operation (such as the Guardian) are testament to this trend. So the sales pitch from OCLC, and others including ourselves here at Talis, about the total cost of ownership benefits of a Cloud Computing approach are supported and validated industry wide.
So as a long time predictor of computing transforming from a set of locally managed and hosted applications to services delivered as utilities from the cloud, mirroring the same transformation for electricity generation and supply from a century ago, I welcome this initiative by OCLC. That’s not to say that I don’t have reservations. I do.
The rhetoric emanating from OCLC in these announcements is reminiscent of the language of the traditional ILS vendors who are probably very concerned by this new and different encroachment on to their market place. There is an assumption that if you get your OPAC from WorldCat (and as a FirstSearch subscriber, with this on the surface ‘free offer’, you are probably thinking that way), you will get circulation and cataloguing and all the rest from a single supplier – OCLC.
The question that comes to mind, as with all ILS systems, is will you be able to mix and match different modules (or in this case services) from different suppliers, so that libraries can have the choice of what is best for them. Will OCLC open up the protocols (or to be technical for a moment, the hopefully RESTful APIs) to access these application/service modules so that they can not only be used with other OCLC services but with services/applications from Open Source and other commercial vendors. Will they take note of, or even adopt, the recommendations that will come from the OLE group [discussed in last month’s Library 2.0 Gang], that should lead towards such choice.
Some have also expressed concern that a library going down the OCLC cloud services route, will be exposing themselves to the risk of ceding to OCLC control of how all their data is used and shared, not just the bibliographic data that has been at the centre of the recent storm about record reuse policies. Against that background, one can but wonder what OCLC’s reaction to a library’s request to openly share circulation statistics from the use of their OCLC hosted circulation service would be.
This announcement brings to the surface many thoughts, issues, concerns and technological benefits and questions, that will no doubt rattle around the library podcasting and blogosphere for many months to come. I also expect that in the board rooms of the the well known commercial [buy our ILS and a machine to run it on] providers, there will be many searching questions being asked about how they deal with the 500lb [not-for-profit] gorilla that has just moved from the corner of the room to start dining from their [for profit] table.
This will be really interesting to watch…..
The composite image was created using pictures published on Flickr by webhamser and Crystl.