In a move that could engender significant innovation for library self-service systems, 3M Library Systems will announce on Friday that it is donating its Standard Interchange Protocol (SIP) to the National Information Standards Organization (NISO), which will now have responsibility for future development and ongoing maintenance of SIP.
SIP is the de facto standard for communication between library self-service devices and the wide variety of integrated library systems (ILS) that libraries use. It provides the crucial common language that makes possible such widespread functions as self checkouts, automated materials handling systems, PC management systems, or fine and fee payment transactions.
“We’re very pleased about the partnership with 3M, a long-term member of NISO,” said Todd Carpenter, NISO’s executive director, adding that the arrangement was a very important sign of the stability of the protocol.
The donation means that 3M will be assigning the copyright for the protocol to NISO and hold no patents regarding SIP.
“SIP has the biggest installed base and it is important that 3M is willing, basically, to let their child run, to let the community take care of it,” Carpenter said. “Now it’s going to be a much more open and engaging process so the community can more actively participate.”
Skip Driessen, 3M’s library systems business manager, said the company had done all it could to develop the standard and educate the library community about its use and now was a propitious moment to hand it over to NISO, which is based in Baltimore, MD.
“We are proud of the contributions SIP has made to the library community over the years,” Driessen said. “While 3M has always sought input from the libraries, developers and interested parties in enhancing the protocol, the time is right for further development of SIP to be done in a more independent, community environment which NISO provides.”
3M approached NISO several months ago, and NISO will be forming a working group in the next month or so that will make a recommendation about how best to adopt the protocol. NISO’s full membership will then vote on the project. Among those who have expressed interest in serving on the NISO SIP working group are Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, OCLC, Polaris, TLC, EnvisionWare, and CCLA.
“The maturity of the SIP protocol and its implementation track record should allow it to move quickly through the NISO standardization process,” Carpenter said. “We anticipate that version 3.0, as it currently stands or with very minor revisions, will be adopted as a standard following a brief period of review within a NISO Working Group.”
SIP has a fairly long history in the library market, with version 1.0 being developed in 1993. 3M published version 3.0 in January 2012. But misperceptions have attended the development, Driessen said, which this donation may help dispel.
“People have felt we profited from driving SIP over the years, but we have never profited from this overall. Libraries have profited immensely from the innovations,” Driessen said. “Other industry players do charge to use SIP but we don’t do that.”
Ted Koppel, the product manager, integrated library system, at Auto-Graphics, Inc., said the fact that 3M will not hold any patents regarding SIP is a big deal.
“It means that any player in the library industry can develop any sort of interoperability software – even if it’s in direct competition to 3M’s—without having to be concerned with being sued,” Koppel said. “That is a positive for innovation of new products by many different vendors—both within and external to the library industry.”
Carpenter of NISO said part of the mission, long term, will be to address the significant overlap and potential conflicts that exist between the SIP protocol and the NCIP protocol. The latter was first proposed about 12 years ago as a replacement for SIP, but, even though it is a credible NISO standard, for various reasons it has never really achieved a critical mass in areas like self-service although it is used for inter-library loans.
At an April meeting of NISO’s NCIP standing committee, the possibility was raised that the new working group could decide, for example, that SIP will be the new standard for self-service circulation or it could decide that this function should remain a facet of NCIP, which would leave a questionable role for SIP within the NISO portfolio (see minutes below).
But providing some clarity about the functions of the two protocols is an important consideration for third-party vendors, such as Envisionware.
“I’m very confident in the outcome from NISO, and I’m always excited when there is going to be more standardization,” said Mike Monk, Envisionware’s CEO. Envisionware is the maintenance agency for NCIP. “It reduces multiple developments, it reduces complexity and cost, and that’s ultimately a benefit to the user.”
Monk said it is now a matter of waiting to see what course NISO decides to pursue with each protocol.
“I would hope NISO will help us clarify what each of those two standards will do and we won’t have overlapping standards,” he said. “That is not against SIP3, rather it means we need clear definitions of purpose and we need to consider emerging applications to ensure that we are not defining these standards in an outdated context. We would not want customers to pay for two protocols when they want to connect a single system.”
Anyone interested in participating in the working group to review SIP 3.0 and prepare it for balloting as a NISO standard can contact NISO at firstname.lastname@example.org.