“I have probably spent a disproportionate amount of time in my working life…being frustrated about library systems,” Sebastian Hammer, president and cofounder of Index Data, said during his “Creative Disintegration” presentation at the 2016 Code4Lib conference in Philadelphia.
Based on the results of LJ’s recent survey of academic libraries (see “Wanting More”), this seems to be a common sentiment. More than 43% of respondents described themselves as somewhat or completely dissatisfied with their current integrated library system (ILS) or library services platform (LSP), compared with 28% dissatisfaction at public libraries in our 2016 survey. These systems are, after all, both complex and expensive, and there are a shrinking number of vendors offering proprietary solutions if a library wants to make a change. Given that such systems are at the core of work flows and many library functions, it’s no wonder that frustrations can build.
Last March at Code4Lib, Hammer proposed an alternative—Index Data, he announced, had been working for the past year on a new type of system that would be cloud-ready, multitenant and scalable, built around an open knowledge base, supportive of linked open data, and capable of both electronic and print resource management. Index Data would create the kernel, a default user interface (UI) and toolkit for customization, the application programming interface (API) gateway, and system layer. Libraries and vendors could then develop and contribute modular applications—both for-fee and free and open source. The system could be hosted by commercial vendors, library networks, or locally.
Although Hammer hesitated to draw an “app store” comparison, perhaps the easiest analogy for the potential of this system might be “Android for libraries.”
“We wanted to not just build another monolithic system based around a known set of requirements for what a library needs to do,” he said. “We wanted an operating system—a platform into which you could plug in functional units that you needed. Something that could be extended over time.”
Within weeks, the project had a name—FOLIO (the Future of Libraries Is Open)—and EBSCO announced that it would be providing substantial financial support to get the project off the ground.
“The work by Index Data is being funded by EBSCO,” the company stated last spring. “EBSCO is owned by a family that has a proven history of philanthropy and support for libraries. This project brings together those two elements and allows the Stephens family to help fund a project that will impact libraries for years to come. We expect this [support] to be tens of millions of dollars.”
In September 2016, the not-for-profit Open Library Foundation was established to support the work. Other early supporters include SirsiDynix, ByWater Solutions, and BiblioLabs.
“We love this notion,” Eric Keith, VP of global marketing, communications, and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix, tells LJ, explaining that the company agreed to offer preferred cloud-hosting support soon after learning about the project and is considering offering third-party application development and integration support down the road.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions…to see if we could also contribute functionality under the Apache 2.0 framework [licensing used by FOLIO]. We’ve got 30-plus years of experience building ILSes. We know they’re not for the faint of heart; we know it’s not a cottage industry…. The beauty of BLUEcloud,” the company’s suite of cloud-based library applications “is that it is open,” Keith says. “It is built on…state-of-the-art web services and APIs. It was built that way intentionally so that we could have it sit on top of [SirsiDynix-owned ILS platforms] Horizon, Symphony, EOS, and who knows what else. It’s not out of the question to think that FOLIO could plug into BLUEcloud and vice versa.”
Like starting over
Another key participant is the Open Library Environment (OLE) community. FOLIO is essentially a total reboot of the Kuali OLE platform, which has invited both hope and skepticism to the project. (Write-in opinions of the project in this year’s survey ranged from the positive—“I think it’s a great concept”—to the dismissive—“vaporware.”) Beginning in 2008, OLE formed a coalition of several major university libraries, promising to build a new type of open library system that would address many of the same concerns about cost and functionality that FOLIO now plans to tackle. As the years went by, critics argued that OLE’s community-sourced development model and basis for implementation made it difficult to get additional collaborators onboard and resulted in a system that would only ever appeal to large research institutions. Ultimately, only three project partners implemented Kuali OLE.
On the bright side, OLE established a network of academic library collaborators that is already in place and invested in FOLIO’s success. The project’s supporters contend that lessons learned while building Kuali OLE will be a major asset with this new effort.
“We learned a lot through OLE, and we’re ready to jump in with our partners EBSCO, Index Data, and, hopefully, lots of other new partners” to leverage that knowledge while building FOLIO, Sharon Wiles-Young, director of Library Access Services, Lehigh University, said during a FOLIO presentation at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta this January. Lehigh has been involved with OLE since the beginning and was the first university to implement Kuali OLE, in 2014. “It is very empowering and inspiring to be in this partnership, and if you can, get involved.”
One of FOLIO’s more vocal skeptics has been Carl Grant. Former president of Ex Libris North America and current associate dean for Knowledge Services and CTO of the University of Oklahoma Libraries, Norman, Grant wrote in a November 2016 blog post (titled, “FOLIO, acronym for ‘Future of Libraries Is Open’? I’d suggest: ‘Fantasy of Librarians Inflamed by Organizations’ ”) that only OCLC and Ex Libris have successfully developed next-generation LSPs for academic libraries from the ground up, and both have had full-time developers dedicated to those platforms for years. Even if 40 libraries could provide .25 FTE programming support on a continuing basis, Grant argues that it is difficult to see how the platform could ever catch up with these proprietary systems using this type of development model.
“The basic concept of organizing librarians to do open source software is a good idea,” Grant tells LJ. “What’s wrong…is the implementation.”
Frustration about the cost of ILS and LSP systems and the limited number of options in the market is understandable. Almost everyone interviewed for this article—including Grant—spontaneously volunteered praise for Hammer and the capabilities of Index Data. But Grant guesses it could take FOLIO a decade to launch a viable replacement for an ILS or LSP, and in that time, proprietary vendors will have moved on with improvements and innovations of their own. He questions whether the time and money that this project will require might be better spent elsewhere, such as on open access publishing systems, research data management systems, or library-linked data projects.
The big get bigger
And while 57.1% of respondents to LJ’s recent survey of academic librarians expressed concern about vendor consolidation (see “Wanting More”), an issue that a system such as FOLIO could help address, Ex Libris makes a case that ProQuest’s 2015 acquisition of the company will benefit libraries that use the next-generation Alma LSP.
“[Last year], 2016, was a phenomenal year for us,” Dvir Hoffman, VP, product management and marketing for Ex Libris, says, noting that the integration of the two companies was going smoothly. “We already have quite a few benefits that our customers are starting to realize, [such as] the integration between Summon and Alma, which we just completed—the first customer is [going] live very soon.”
Leganto, the Ex Libris course resource list solution, was integrated with SIPX (a separate course resource list solution that had been acquired by ProQuest in April 2015), creating an end-to-end solution for colleges and universities in the United States. “Leganto powered by SIPX” helps students and schools save money by maximizing the use of library-owned resources and employing affordable pay per use models. Similarly, in Europe and Asia Pacific, Leganto was integrated with local copyright licensing services to facilitate copyright clearance and was further enhanced to improve collaboration among instructors, librarians, and students.
The Online Acquisitions and Selection Information System (OASIS)—which ProQuest had obtained as part of its acquisition of Coutts Information Services from Ingram Content Group, also in April 2015—was integrated with Alma last summer. Using an Alma API, all electronic and print book orders placed through OASIS are now automatically updated in Alma in real time rather than requiring manual updates or daily file transfers. Ulrich’s periodical data from ProQuest was also incorporated into the Ex Libris Primo discovery solution and SFX link resolver last year.
Other developments include the launch of Alma Mobile, a new standard component of the Alma platform that enables librarians and staff to work with the Alma service via iOS and Android devices. Features include “Pick Up from Shelf” functionality, allowing the use of a device’s built-in camera to scan items directly from the app. At press time, it had been downloaded by 1,000 librarians in the two months since its launch.
The adoption of Alma continues to rise. Ex Libris reported that its 400th library went live in April 2016. At press time, Hoffman said that the number had risen to 550. A total of 825 institutions were signed to contracts at year-end 2016 in 25 countries.
As this network of Alma libraries grows, customers also benefit from features such as Alma’s Community Zone shared repository, which includes library-submitted authority records, bibliographic metadata, and an electronic materials knowledge base. Recently, more than 1.5 million ProQuest records were loaded into the repository, Hoffman says, adding that Community Zone is standard in all Alma subscriptions.
Hoffman also notes that Ex Libris is committed to maintaining Alma as an open platform that can easily integrate with solutions created by libraries and third-party developers and currently offers more than 140 APIs that are free to use for Alma customers.
“Over 51 percent of our transactions in Alma are coming from APIs, which is an enormous number, and it means that Alma is basically an API-first platform,” Hoffman says. “This is something that we are very proud of, and we are encouraging…. [In February], we had over 50 million API calls, and this number continues to grow.”
Innovative Interfaces also promised benefits and synergies following its 2014 acquisitions of VTLS and Polaris, and some appear to be coming to fruition. In July, Innovative launched INN-Reach Release 3.0, “delivering the same level of integration to Polaris library partners that libraries using Millennium or Sierra experience” with the consortial resource sharing system. Rather than using a Direct Consortia Borrowing broker system, all INN-Reach activities can now be performed within the Polaris system or the Polaris Leap application.
Likewise, Leif Pedersen, executive VP for Innovative Interfaces, tells LJ that Polaris Leap has become the model for staff-facing web-based mobile applications across the company’s platforms. Via feedback from early adopters, Innovative has been making enhancements to Leap since the acquisition, such as adding the ability to assign tasks, “pin” tasks, and switch among tasks easily within the app.
In May 2016, the company announced that the Sierra Services Platform Release 2.2 would feature the delivery of all circulation functions in a web application, enabling staff to access Sierra without installing the system’s Java-based desktop application. A significant development for Sierra, this will also enable automatic updating for new releases and won’t require local IT support for Sierra installations on individual workstations.
In the past, the company had drawn criticism for the “black box” nature of its legacy Millennium ILS, but maintaining a process begun in 2014, Innovative continued opening up the Sierra platform, announcing the release of another new set of APIs in January. The latest APIs will allow placing holds of any kind, enabling libraries to use alternative hold options when integrating external services. Also included is a new API endpoint for creating patron records for key fields including names, addresses, emails, phones, and PINs.
In August 2016, the company announced a partnership with Talis to integrate the Talis Aspire Reading Lists solutions. In January, Innovative announced a new partnership with TALKINGTECH. After finding TALKINGTECH’s i-tiva service popular with Polaris libraries, Innovative decided to integrate the automated telephone and SMS notification system with Sierra.
OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services (WMS), a next-generation LSP, continued to grow, with more than 500 libraries signed to contracts and over 440 live, says Scott Livingston, OCLC executive director, WMS. They include the HELIN Library Consortium, represented by the Community College of Rhode Island, Johnson & Wales University, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University, and Wheaton College, which went live in January.
On January 18, OCLC made two major announcements regarding its resource sharing offerings, introducing Tipasa, the organization’s own cloud-based interlibrary loan (ILL) management system, and announcing the acquisition of Ottawa-based Relais, including its D2D (Discovery to Delivery) consortial borrowing solution.
“Tipasa is for libraries that have very sophisticated work flows around [ILL] and want a semiautomated process to help manage their systems,” Livingston says. “The Relais acquisition and the D2D platform allow us to much better serve groups and consortia as they’re transferring materials…among their members.”
Livingston says that OCLC plans to continue to build out functionality on both of those platforms while also working to improve integration with WorldShare’s management system and discovery layer.
ILL has been taking on a new importance, Livingston notes. “At one point, not too many years ago, there was a view that [ILL] was sort of a dying work flow…very boring and very staid,” he says. “What’s been very interesting and energizing for us is that…libraries, in part because of budget cuts but also because they’re looking to do different things with their physical spaces, are becoming much more creative in collaboration and resource sharing.”
SirsiDynix continued to add new modules to its BLUEcloud platform, piloting and launching BLUEcloud Circulation, a solution designed to be simple and intuitive but also flexible enough for libraries to customize and apply almost any library policy by associating loan periods, fee structures, and holds policies with user type, item type, and more. Separately, BLUEcloud Acquisitions was developed and instituted in an alpha test with the South Australian Public Library Network and is slated for release this year. Features include a price comparison tool within the LSP, consortial buying, hierarchical fund categories, vendor templates for autopopulating fields, built-in simple query searching across vendor records or titles in a selection list, and more.
In an example of how nimble BLUEcloud’s approach can be in responding to emerging trends, the company plans to debut three additional modules this year in response to customer demand: BLUEcloud Mobile, BLUEcloud Digital Academy, and BLUEcloud Insights. Developed in partnership with SOLUS UK, BLUEcloud Mobile will be a new patron discovery application that builds on and enhances SirsiDynix’s BookMyne+ app for iOS and Android devices, integrating and leveraging the capabilities of other BLUEcloud modules including eResource Central, Buy It Now, and BLUEcloud Search, Commerce, and Lists.
BLUEcloud Digital Academy will corral, curate, and provide catalog records for more than 250,000 resources such as video lectures, ebooks, and full courses and lesson plans from 1,000 content partners including the Library of Congress, MIT, the American Museum of Natural History, and online education provider Khan Academy.
BLUEcloud Insights is an analytics and report-generating tool designed to be simpler than BLUEcloud Analytics (users can subscribe to either service individually).
“We’ve heard loud and clear that libraries loved the power of BLUEcloud Analytics, but [some] weren’t quite as keen on putting in the sweat equity to understand how to make it work,” Keith says. “They wanted the data, they just didn’t want to, in every case, drive it.”
SirsiDynix signed over 130 new customers in 2016, and now has more than 2,000 customers using one or more BLUEcloud modules, Keith says.
At the source
Aside from continued improvements to proprietary ILS and LSPs, FOLIO is entering a market in which two other open source options—Koha and Evergreen—are firmly established with growing user bases and maturing code bases. If all goes as planned, FOLIO will probably initially appeal to academic libraries, although the hope is that its modular nature will make it a viable platform for libraries of all sizes and types. By comparison, Koha was originally designed by Katipo Communications for New Zealand’s Horowhenua Library Trust to support small libraries, and Evergreen was created by a consortium, the Georgia Public Library Service’s Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES).
The perception lingers that Koha is for public libraries and Evergreen, for public library consortia, but this could be changing. ByWater Solutions, for example, currently serves almost 100 academic libraries with hosting, IT support, training, and development assistance for Koha. As noted, the company is planning to offer hosting support for FOLIO, and most of its current academic customers are small college libraries and special academic libraries within larger systems.
Yet it is evident that a growing segment of the academic market is already weighing the costs, benefits, current features, and potential of proprietary vs. open source systems and opting to give Koha a shot. ByWater signed a total of 17 academic libraries to new contracts in 2016, out of a total of 70 new contracts representing 91 library sites. The company’s total library sites supported by year-end 2016 had grown to 949.
In the past 18 months, ByWater completed an integration with Koha and the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) and, with funding and technical assistance from EBSCO, helped upgrade Koha’s search engine to Elasticsearch.
In January, ByWater CEO Brendan Gallagher wrote in a “Year Ahead” blog post that ByWater plans to roll out a completely encrypted system for web traffic for all of the library sites the company hosts, using SSL certificates acquired through the Let’s Encrypt project. Gallagher also wrote that ByWater will be leveraging the capabilities of linked data using RDF and Elasticsearch to create “the next generation of library catalogs,” enabling patrons to discover Koha library collections on the open web.
“Overall, the perception and adoption of open source have expanded greatly,” ByWater chief revenue officer Nathan Curulla tells LJ. In his view, there is more to this shift than budgets and practicality.
“Until now, traditional, proprietary vendors—and the way those companies are structured—[didn’t] strictly follow the normal ideals and ethics and morals of libraries—free access [to information], benefiting from the generosity of others, collaboration,” Curulla says. Librarians tend to view their role in their communities through ideals like these, “but they’ve never had an outlet to transfer that to their technology. The principles of open source are directly in line with those of libraries. It’s a perfect fit.”
ByWater has been working to help a new generation of librarians become familiar with Koha via the company’s Koha Klassmates program, which provides a free, ByWater-hosted installation of Koha to any MLIS instructor who wants to offer students a hands-on application for studying how an ILS works. Since its launch 18 months ago, Klassmates has been regularly used by 40 U.S. library schools.
In other Koha-related news, LibLime, a subsidiary of Progressive Technology Federal Systems (PTFS) that provides support for a fork of Koha, is preparing to debut a new discovery layer at ALA’s annual conference in Chicago this June. It will feature support for the EDS API, for open access databases and independent commercial databases, simplified access to ebooks from OverDrive and the bibliotheca cloudLibrary, digital object import with full-text search, community-based tags and reviews, and integration with social media including Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
“There were certain issues with the implementation of [the Kuali OLE] vision,” Hammer said during his Code4Lib presentation. “One of the things that happened was that in putting together a system that could ultimately replace an [ILS], there was a lot of focus on gathering requirements and figuring out what those systems needed to do. Along the way…perhaps sight was lost of the platform aspect—this need to build something that was beyond or larger than just an ILS. So…what they ended up with, to a certain extent, was yet another ILS. And that was an opportunity lost.”
If FOLIO, with the help of its early partners, including OLE, learns from that earlier project’s shortfalls, it could be positioned to revolutionize the library systems landscape in a few years, offering libraries of all types a modular system with a selection of vendor-created and open source apps that can be selected and tailored to an institution’s needs. The possibility that SirsiDynix might kick things off with industry-tested, for-fee BLUEcloud modules for FOLIO would provide a much broader floor for early adoption than Kuali OLE ever had.
In a meeting with LJ at ALA Midwinter, Michael Winkler, managing director for OLE; Lynn Bailey, CEO and CFO of Index Data; and Hammer said that FOLIO’s development is on track, and the project is attracting growing interest from universities, smaller libraries, vendors, and potential partners less than a year after its formal announcement.
Winkler described a “maturation for the OLE community” and noted how the project had looked into different licensing models and had chosen Apache 2.0, which was amenable to vendors and would foster maximum engagement with the platform from a variety of parties. Hammer expressed concern about vendor consolidation, arguing that “a monopolistic model is a good model for one company.” By contrast, the ideal for FOLIO would be to become a healthy ecosystem of innovation and competition, he said.
Despite its skeptics, FOLIO appears to be taking some smart early steps toward building something “beyond or larger than just an ILS.” Still, the new platform will emerge into a market that has changed considerably since the Kuali OLE project began in 2008. Many of the problems of system cost and complexity haven’t changed, but judging from all of the partnerships, APIs, integration, and interoperability initiatives discussed here, vendors also understand that the future is open.