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Perceptions 2009: An international survey of library automation

Marshall BreedingIn the latest Perceptions survey, the most popular library management system is from a relatively new supplier to libraries and is available exclusively on a Software as a Service basis. The survey also reveals that interest in open source library management systems is weak outside the community of libraries that has already adopted one.

The Perceptions series of surveys is three years old now, and is part of Marshall Breeding’s armoury of library technology commentaries, the most well-used of which is Library Technology Guides. Meanwhile, Perceptions 2009: An international survey of library automation,  like its predecessors, aims to ascertain levels of satisfaction within libraries with their library management system and suppliers thereof. Despite disruption in the library software arena, the library management system (LMS), or integrated library system (ILS) as it’s known to Marshall Breeding in the US, remains important:

The integrated library system (ILS) for most libraries represents the most critical component of its technology infrastructure and can do the most to help or hinder a library in fulfilling its mission to serve its patrons and in operating efficiently.

Interest may be waning in open source

One of Marshall’s central aims this year is to gauge interest in open source ILS products, which he describes as “one of the major issues brewing in the industry”.

A key overall finding was that companies supporting proprietary library management systems tend to receive higher satisfaction scores than companies involved with open source library management systems. Marshall notes explicitly that LIbLime received particularly low marks in customer satisfaction, whilst libraries that undertook to implement Koha without external support were highly satisfied with this arrangement.

Respondents who had made use of other support firms such as PTFS, Nusoft and ByWater Solutions (it should be noted that support companies servicing open source products are still not prevalent in the UK) were not sufficiently numerous to be included in the report’s summary tables. Likewise, Talis only had 14 respondents and therefore does not figure in the main tables, although as a UK supplier, we are happy to be positioned in 10th place in terms of satisfaction with LMS in an international survey.

As Marshall told the audience at the SCONUL conference here in the UK in June 2009, there are low levels of interest registered in open source library management systems apart from the community of libraries already using one. Even those libraries that are dissatisfied with their current proprietary system fail to demonstrate interest in open source.

But Software as a Service is top of the pops

Biblionix, described by Marshall as a relatively new company, gained the top satisfaction scores in the following categories – ILS product, company, and support for its product, Apollo. This is interesting not just because it’s a relatively new entrant in the library software marketplace, but because the product is offered exclusively through Software as a Service. As Marshall comments:

The responses for Apollo were overwhelmingly positive, the only product to receive 9 as either the mode or median response. The comments offered gave effusive praise for the company, the product, the ease of migration and for support.

It should be noted that takeup of Apollo is currently limited to small public libraries in the US.

Although UK suppliers don’t feature strongly in this international survey, it remains an important source in terms of looking at the key trends in our world.

LibLime Cause Upset in the Open Source Community

LibLime_logo Roy Tennant, in a blog post with a title you have to read twice, draws our attention to moves from Open Source Library Systems company LibLime which is causing much angst from supporters of Open Source.

He reproduces comments from Joan Ransom on Library Matters:

Horowhenua Library Trust developed Koha, the world’s first open source library management system back in 2000. We gave it to the world in the spirit of community. We are very happy, delighted in fact, for any organisation or individual to take it, improve it and then give their improvements back.

Recipricocity is the keystone which gives strength to the Koha Community.

We do not begrudge vendors taking our gift and building a commercial enterprise out of it, as Liblime, Biblibre and any number of others have done, but the deal is that you give back. This has worked well for a decade and Liblime has been a strong, valued and much appreciated member of the Koha international community over that time.

So it is incredibly sad and disappointing that Liblime has decided to breach the spirit of the Koha project and offer a ‘Liblime clients only’ version of Koha. Let’s call it what it is: vendor lockin and a fork.

Others including Marshall Breeding have also commented.

From the trails of comments around these posts, I get the impression that most of the upset folks are taking offence about the perceived intentions of a previously lauded open source champion who is now grappling with the commercial and operational realities of running a business that provides key services to key customers.

Even if LibLime were to turn their back on the community aspect of Koha today [their press release indicates that they are not doing that], they should still be praised for moving forward that community far further than it would ever have reached without the involvement of such a commercial organisation. 

I would suggest though that, having been immersed in the Open Source world for so long, they should have expected such a backlash of an almost religious nature and handled this much better. 

The world [not just in libraries] is rapidly moving towards Cloud Computing, Software-as-a-service, hosted solutions  There is bound to be a tension between a community mostly made up of people who develop, and often look after there own local copy of, a software instance, and an organisation that aspires to run a service of the same/similar functionality for many customers on a hosted commercial basis.

Local experience here at Talis tells me that the velocity and pattern of development is very different for SaaS applications and services.  One that does not fit in very well with the traditional process of delivering software both open and closed source. 

Open Source is a valuable contribution that must be fostered, encouraged and promoted because the innovation that it generates is a valuable asset for all of us.  Experience with projects such as Juice and Jangle reinforce this. Nevertheless there are commercial and contractual realities that companies such as LinbLime have to take in to account, which may lead to others questioning their motives as we have seen over the last few days.


OLE – $5.2m to get from Diagrams to an ILS Replacement in two Years

The OLE Project I’m currently reading my way through the final draft of the OLE Project Final Report.  The one year Mellon Funded Open Library Environment (OLE) project which “convened a multi-national group of libraries to analyze library business processes and to define a next-generation library technology platform

the project planners produced an OLE design framework that embeds libraries directly in the key processes of scholarship generation, knowledge management, teaching and learning by utilizing existing enterprise systems where appropriate and by delivering new services built on connections between the library’s business systems and other technology systems.

We at Talis, along with some 200 other organisations, participated in the process by feeding back our experiences in implementing live integrations between Library Management Systems and other institutional entities that the report authors recognise as being key to delivering a seamless workflow.  Our experience indicated that successful integration between systems is as much to do with local departmental motivations, understanding, and politics as it is to do with technology. This was discussed in more depth on the March Library 2.0 Gang Show with Tim McGeary from the OLE project and Talis’ Andy Latham  were guests.

The body of the report consists of many process model diagrams, describing the required interactions between library and other processes/components, which when brought together will enable the construction of library associated workflows for the next-generation library service that will utilise this next-generation library technology platform.

This first year project is in it’s own terms a success “The OLE Project met all of its objectives and was completed on time and within budget”.  One cannot deny the thought, effort, commitment and enthusiasm that has gone in to the production of this report.   Without rerunning the analysis they undertook, it would be difficult to criticise the model they have described.  The proof of the pudding of course will come in the next phase, when they move on from describing a new technology platform to start building it.

The planning phase of this project is complete. The next steps are to identify a group of build partners to provide investment funds and to develop and test the initial software. A build partner  can be an individual library, a consortium or a vendor.

The total partnership cost of the OLE Project over two years is projected to be $5.2 million, a figure that includes all programming effort as well as project management and quality assurance staffing. In addition to OLE Project costs, costs of participation would include some local staff, governance and travel funding. Project partners intend to contribute half of the OLE partnership costs and seek the other half from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

ole diag Viewing the process diagrams in the report takes me back to 1990, in a snow covered hut in the grounds of the University of Birmingham.  I shared that hut for several weeks with Talis (then BLCMP) staff and a group of folks from a Dutch library system vendor (long since subsumed in to the OCLC global organisation) with the objective of designing the next-generation library technology platform.  Several years, and a few £ million in investment, led to the development a very successful library system from which the current Talis Library System, Alto, has since evolved.

There are many parallels between that 1990 development process and the road that OLE are about to embark upon, if their bids for continued funding are successful.  Not only that BLCMP was a library cooperative during that period, but also that we had the luxury of being able to step back from previous systems and start with a clean set of library process requirements. 

I wish the OLE project continued success.  Whatever achieved, I believe the exercise they are undertaking is massively valuable to the whole library domain. 

Will they be able to translate their clean [uncluttered by interaction issues with systems over which they have little influence, or uncoloured by local institutional inter-departmental politics, and ‘traditional practices] diagrams in to an installable, manageable, collection of components suitable to deliver format agnostic library services? – possibly.  Will they be able to do it in 2 years for a mere $5.2? – Experience tells me to be a little more sceptical on that last point.

Breaking the Open Source Barriers 2009

openlibraries I seem to be spending lots of time on trains recently.  This time I’m on my way back from the OpenLibraries Open Source Breaking the Barriers 2009 conference held at RIBA in London.

Jointly organised by Ken Chad Consulting and PTFS Europe, this was an interesting day, although I think it would have been better titled the Open Source in Libraries Conference, but that’s probably just me.

The UK library world hasn’t really stepped on the Open Source ILS/LMS band-wagon yet.  At most, interest so far has been of the ‘watching developments across the Atlantic’ type.  So for many, today was the first chance to think about it in a conference setting.  The day was kicked off by a thought provoking Charles Leadbeater who set open source in context with other trends in the web and social spaces.  Conference organiser Ken Chad was about to launch in to his presentation when he was rudely interrupted by a fire alarm.  Six flights of stairs later, we all convened in the street for 15 minutes whilst the cause of the false alarm was tracked down by the fire brigade.  Luckily this unscheduled networking opportunity took place in the sunshine – an hour later and we would have all been drenched.

What felt like far more than six stair flights were then scaled, with Ken’s thoughts on the value that an Open Source approach can provide to our sector, as a reward.

Bob Molyneux of Equinox and Mike Taylor of Index Data gave some different views from companies successfully delivering, and building a business out of, Open Source software.  Bob detailed how much their Evergreen system had developed since its initial deployment for Georgia PINES.  Mike reminded us that many proprietary systems, Talis’ included, use Index Data Open Source components.

They were followed by BibLibre’s Paul Poulain who took us through SOPAC (the subject of a Talking with Talis Podcast with it’s developer and Library 2.0 Gang member, John Blyberg) and how he was linking it with Koha.

Representative of the co-organisers, Nick Dimant then took us through how PTFS Europe, an established company in other associated areas, could support libraries whishing to contemplate either an Evergreen or Koha installation.  He painted a stark picture of what it was like in a proprietary system vendor, short on funds to invest in their products, unable to innovate, cutting back on support where sleeping cats answered the phones.  Although entertaining, and possibly based on experience in some organisations, it was not a picture I recognise from within Talis. 

Mark  Hughes and Paul Johnson of Swansea University later described the why’s when’s and how’s of the choice and implementation (still in progress) of a VuFind based OPAC for the three university consortium in South Wales – SWWHEP.  They were followed by Strathclyde University lecturer, Alan Poulter who described how he used multiple copies of Koha to give students, on his MSc Digital Libraries module, experience of a using a real library system – from creating borrowers  and library rules to cataloguing in Marc.

The last section of the day, described by Ken as the view from the proprietary systems vendors, consisted of Ex Libris’  Director of Marketing, Tamar Sadeh, and myself.

Tamar talked through the Ex Libris open-platform program, (the subject of another Talking with Talis podcast) explaining how openly sharing the documentation of their APIs with their customers, stimulates innovation that can then be shared in that community.  The code being hosted by Ex Libris under the licence of choice from the developer.   Of course most of us in the audience, not being Ex Libris customers with logins to the Ex Libris site, only have her presented screen shots to support her descriptions.  We will have to wait for Ex Libris to open up this open site before we can browse the innovations she was extolling.

It was left to me to bring the presentations to a close with 20 minutes worth on Open Source projects, Jangle and JuiceMy slides are on SlideShare, where you can see the overview I gave of why Jangle in providing a consistent Web Standards based way of connecting to Open Source and Proprietary Library Systems, will enable and stimulate innovation.  I took advantage of one of the better conference wifi connections to demonstrate the power of Juice Project extensions adding to the user experience of Talis Prism, VuFind and discovery interfaces.

Overall a very good, well attended, with something for everyone, day.

Videos from Code4lib 2009 published

The excellent presentations and lightening talks from the Code4lib 2009 Conference held in Providence, Rhode Island in February were videoed for posterity.

With sponsorship help from Talis, these have now been edited and published on the Code4lib 2009 site.

Each presentation is linked from the relevant slot in the conference schedule.

Those that followed the conference will be aware that there were 3 Talis presentations which I recommend for viewing – Ian Davis, Ross Singer and myself.

Juice up your OPAC

prism_mta_screenshot Have you ever looked at the OPAC from another library that sports links to WorldCat, or Copac, or Amazon, or Google Book Search, or, or a shelf mapping program, an author video, or something similar and thought I wish I could have that on our interface!  Have you attended a presentation about next generation OPACs and heard the presenter say “… and I added a link to an external service” and whished you had them on your library staff to be able to do cool things like that. for you?

Even in the so called library-geek community, where they know how to do these kind of things, great ideas for extending their interfaces are only copied between them, each implementing them in their own way for their own application.  Because, until now, there has been no easy way to share the great innovation demonstrated by the few, we are seeing a massive waste of what could benefit the many.

The Juice Project is an open source initiative, which I launched at the recent Code4lib conference, with the specific objectives of making it easy to create extensions for web interfaces such as OPACs and then make it even easier to share those extensions in an open community of those who want to enhance their interfaces but do not have the skill or experience to do so.

Open and easy are two key facets of the approach used for this project.  JavaScript code gurus may find the way Juice is implemented a little over complex, but it is that approach which should make it simple for the non-gurus to adopt and use.  

Duke_icons_screenshotThe design of the extension framework, which is Juice, separates the extension itself from the code that interfaces to a particular web application.  The result being that an extension created to be used on say a VuFind OPAC can be re used to extend a Talis, or a Horizon, or any other OPAC or indeed any other suitable interface.

Obviously if you are going to make changes to your interface, you need some ability to access and change the mark-up that creates the web pages.  Many libraries have staff that are capable and confident enough to make a simple change to an interface – adding a link to another site in the footer, changing a bit of text on the home page etc.  Juice is targeted at exactly those staff.  On the Juice Project site there are simple ‘How-to’ documents, that step you through how to add the couple of lines of code to introduce Juice in to your interface, and then how to copy & paste examples into your version of Juice to add shared extensions.

Visits for all visitors - Google Analytics Juice is already enhancing live library interfaces; for instance we are using it at Talis to introduce Google Analytics site usage monitoring in to our Talis Prism OPAC tenancies, as this Prism Blog post highlights.

Juice is an open source project that I have initiated, which is hosed on Google Code.  Talis are supporting it, by letting me contribute my code and time to kick-start it, and play an active part in it. This kind of initiative, that will benefit all, can only be really successful if is owned by the community that will use and enhance it.

So, calling all those that want to add value to library and other web interfaces, take a look at and join the Juice Project.   It is early days and we haven’t as yet got many interface types identified and supportable in Juice, but the more that join in and share what they know the sooner we will be able to share the innovation between all libraries.

Once you have had a browse around the Juice site, and maybe dipped your toe in to using it, I would love to hear your thoughts either in the comments on this blog, or in the Juice Project Discussion forum.

Code4lib final day in Providence – looking forward to Asheville

As always, a slightly shorter day for the last day of the conference but no less stimulating.  Talis CTO Ian Davis provided the keynote for the day, entitled if you love something…    …set it free.

He provided a broad view of how the linking capability of the web has changed the way things are connected and with participation have caused network effects to result.  But that is still at the level of linking documents together.  The Semantic Web fundamentally changes how information, machines, and people are connected.  Information semantics have been around for a while, but it is this coupling with the web that is the difference.  He conjectured that data outlasts code, meaning that Open Data is more important than Open Source; there is more structured data than unstructured, therefore people that understand structure are important; and most of the value in data is unexpected or unintended, so we should engineer for serendipity. 

He gave a couple warnings about being very clear about how you licence your data so that people know what they can & can’t do with it, and about how you control the use of some of the personal parts of data.  He made it clear that we have barely begun on the road but the goal was not to build a web of data, but to enrich lives through access to information.  Making the world a better place.

Edward M. Corrado of Binghamton University gave us an overview of the Ex Libris Open Platform strategy.  This was the topic of a previous Talking with Talis podcast with Ex Libris CSO  Oren Beit-Arie.  Edward set the scene as to why APIs were important to get data out of a library system He then explained the internal (formalised design, documentation, implementation and publishing of APIs) and external (publish documentation, host community code, provide tools, and opportunities for face to face meetings with customers) initiatives from Ex Libris.  The fact that you needed to log in to an open area raised, as it has before, some comments on the background IRC channel.

The final two full presentations of the day demonstrated two very different results of applying linking data to services. Adam Soroka, of the University of Virginia, showed how Geospatial data could be linked to bibliographic data with fascinating results. Whereas Chris Beer and Courtney Michael, from WGBH Media Library and Archives showed some innovative simple techniques for representing relationships between people and data.

The day was drawn to a close with a set of 5 minute lightening talks, a feature of all three days.  These lightening talks are one of the gems of the Code4lib conference a rapid dip in to what people are doing or thinking about.  They are unstructured and folks put their name on a list to talk about whatever they want.  The vast majority of these are are fascinating to watch.

During the conference the voting for Code4lib 2010 was completed so we now know that it will all take place again next year in Asheville, NC.  From the above picture, I can’t wait.

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Extending the OPAC

GBS embed Every library’s needs are different when it comes to what they want to display to users in their OPAC – beyond the basic bibliographic information that is.  Although I must admit that I’ve been a few mind numbing meetings over the years about the ‘most appropriate’ way to display a record on screen.

Scattered around the web you will find many examples of how OPACs have been extended to enable the user link in to other services such as Amazon, or AbeBoooks, or LibraryThing, or Google Scholar, or Yahoo images, or Google Book Search, or, or … [insert you favourite 3rd party service here].  For most developers in the library code community, adding these extensions to their OPAC is a comparatively simple exercise. 

I believe that in the wider world, most of the folks responsible for an individual library’s OPAC would not consider themselves as coders, and would at most only be comfortable copying and pasting small bits of html in to their interface.  So how do they get these features in to their systems.  It is unlikely that you would get much help from the system vendors, as it would be difficult for them to build a product roadmap around the ever changing multiplicity of extensions and combinations of thereof.  The coding community are good at sharing code with other coders, but not necessarily in a form that is either consistent between extensions or OPACs.

I’m working on a way that will hopefully make it easy for innovators to share what they are doing not only with others in their community, but most importantly with those less code-aware OPAC managers, who may even be using different systems. 

The screen shot above shows Google Book Search preview service embedded in a Talis Prism OPAC.  What is not obvious is the simple way that it was added.  I will be going more in to depth on this open source sharing approach to OPAC extension at Code4Lib 2009 at the end of the month.

‡ – Free Cataloguing. Josh Ferraro Talks with Talis

Josh Ferraro ‡  – Is a free service for librarians to create, edit, and share bibliographic records backed by an equally free and open store of over 30 million library records available for all to access, search and download.

Cataloging LibLime CEO Josh Ferraro joins me in conversation as he launches ‡ at ALA Midwinter in Denver. 

We explore how this is a really free and open service that has been made possible, not only by technology and open source software, but also by the availability of open data licensing in the form of Open Data Commons.  Josh also explains how the core software behind ‡ is itself open source.


Mashed Libraries

I’m sat at the moment amongst such a collection of library UK geekdom that I’ve not experienced the like before.  I’m in the basement of Birkbeck College in London for the Mashed Libraries UK 2008 event sponsored by UKOLN and organised by Owen Stephens.

Apart from the acrobatics of trying to get on to the wifi, which I’m sure could be made more than a little simpler and less frustrating, the day has got off to a great start.  Rob Styles did a great, mostly command line driven, introduction to using Talis Platform stores.  He was followed by Tony Hurst sharing his experiences, tips, and tricks, for using online tools such as Yahoo Pipes and the spreadsheet elements of Google Docs. This was an excellent session – each time I return to Yahoo Pipes I am amazed anew and wondering why I don’t use it more.  

Next we had Timm-Martin Siewert from Ex Libris, who gave an overview of their Open Platform Strategy, and a peek in to EL Commons.  This was the subject of a recent Talking with Talis podcast with Oren Beit-Arie Ex Libris Chief Strategy Officer.  Like myself in the podcast, others today questioned why EL Commons, being  a commons, is not open to all.

A previous colleague of mine from way back, Mark Allcock  now with OCLC then gave us a brief overview of readily available APIs from them.  Finally Ashley Sanders talked about some API work at COPAC.

After an excellent lunch, small groups formed resulting in much chatting and coding.

The afternoon was punctuated by a presentation from Paul Bevan, of the National Library of Wales.  Paul took us through the issues in how they are taking their resources to the majority of visitors – online.

That brought us to the end of the afternoon and some short reports on what people had been working.  Unsurprisingly from the presentations that started the day,  there were several groups who had made great progress using Yahoo Pipes and the Talis Platform and in several cases both of these.  For example via Pipes one group were pulling book records from Amazon, adding Jacket images then augmenting them with holdings data from the Platform. Another plotted library locations for records from the Platform, on a Google Map by again using holdings data and also location data from the Silkworm Directory.

All in all an excellent day enjoyed by thirty plus people interested in using technology to improve libraries.  There is already talk of the next one.  Well done Owen for organising this one.

Update: Dave Pattern has uploaded several photos of the day to Flickr – the image above being one of them.