Vendors respond robustly to critical HE LMS report is the headline on the front of the latest issue of the CILIP Gazette. What follows is the second in a two-part feature on the JISC/SCONUL study, which I have discussed in Panlibus previously, by Gazette contributor Tim Buckley Owen.
In preparation for this second article on the subject, Tim contacted the four vendors (Ex Libris, Innovative, SirsDynix, Talis) who between them provide over 90% of the UK higher education Library Systems, and asked them to comment on the report.
I would have linked to the article if it been available on line. Unfortunately the Gazette’s web page only shows an out of date thumbnail of the latest issue. So, here are some snippets from Tim’s article:
[the vendors] acknowledge that things need to change in university libraries, and are starting to develop new systems as a result – but it’s not always clear yet what those changes actually need to be.
‘We agree that the library management system, with its “traditional” scope and functionality, does not adequately address the expectations of end users,’ says Tamar Sadeh of ExLibris, which has developed its Primo discovery and delivery solution in response. ‘If the LMS does not interoperate with other institutional systems and resources, it deserves to be bypassed and become irrelevant,’ agrees Talis’s Richard Wallis
‘There is no disagreement that users’ demand for information is morphing in new and exciting ways and that the library (and library systems) need to change to meet those needs,’ agrees Gene Shimshock of Innovative. ‘However, interoperability is but a part of a rather complicated puzzle, a means to an end, and is not the sole factor in determining libraries’ relevancy.’
Stephen Abram of SirsiDynix shares this view. ‘You can build all this stuff but you actually have to align it with the way the users are behaving… there is no one right answer right now – and that no one right answer is the challenge for librarians.’
So what’s the solution? Open application programming interfaces (API), says SirsiDynix’s Abram, with the vendor providing the toolkit and the librarians choosing the tools to meet their clients variegated needs.
‘Can we as vendors create appropriate solutions? No,’ he declares. ‘Can our clients, in a collaboration environment, using our tools, create them? Yes.’
Talis’s Wallis agrees that open systems are the way forward. ‘The current monolithic model and a lack of web based APIs and standards has led to an effective vendor lock-in… a lack of real competition, thus a lack of innovation and inevitably frustrated customers.’
The study proposes that JISC & SCONUL are best placed to ensure that the libraries and vendors agree on priorities. As Tim says:
– and vendors are hardly likely to disagree.
‘Any initiative that moves our understanding of the problems (and opportunities) for the library forward in a meaningful way is always welcomed,’ says Innovative’s Shimshock, citing his own company’s work on the emerging Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative (SUSHI). ‘We would welcome the ability to engage at a consortial level with important and influential organizations such as JISC and SCONUL that can work with their constituent members,’ agrees ExLibris’s Sadeh.
But there are some caveats. ‘Looking at the programmes of the recent JISC and upcoming SCONUL conferences the role of vendors seems to be viewed by organizers as sponsors of drinks receptions rather than active participants in the debate,’ declares Richard Wallis of Talis. ‘Our hope is that representative bodies as JISC and SCONUL find a way to constructively and openly collaborate with all stakeholders.’
Libraries, bodies such as JISC & SCONUL, the system vendors, and I would include the open source community, are all important stakeholders in the way libraries and the technologies and services they use develop over the next few years. It is for all these stakeholders to agree in a conversation of equals as to the way forward. The old ways of either libraries broadcasting requirements, or vendors individually coming up with ‘the new way to do things’ in the hope that everyone will move to their systems, did not and even more will not move us forward. What is needed is a requirements, solutions, innovation sharing, and visionary, but also focused on practicalities, conversation – let’s hope it emerges from burst of activity following the publishing of this study.
The vendors, the type of library, and their issues, are not limited to the UK HE community. They are replicated on a global scale. Libraries and other interested parties outside of the UK, should be watching this closely – it could well save time and repetition in their own conversations with the same stakeholders in their locations – hopefully leading to a global conversation.
Egotistical note: Those of you with sharp eyes may have noticed a picture of yours truly on the front cover of this issue of the Gazette. Through a happy coincidence of editorial deadlines, I am not only quoted in Tim’s headline article on page one, but I am also to be found on page two introducing the Library 2.0 Gang. I suppose they will have to name this one the Wallis issue!