March 16, 2018

Managing Multiplicity | Library Systems Landscape 2015

Selecting a library management system is never an easy decision. Vendors of integrated library systems (ILS) offer solutions tailored to public, academic, school, and special libraries, but even when organized by type, libraries are hardly one-size-fits-all organizations. Choosing a new vendor tends to mean a major investment, with a multiyear commitment to a solution that often will require new training, adaptation, and trade-offs among cost, features, and functionality.

Still, it’s a tough choice that many libraries are facing once again. This second edition of Library Systems Landscape, the successor to LJ’s annual Automation Marketplace feature, will examine the impact of recent mergers, the continued adoption of next-generation library services platforms, the emergence of mobile-optimized staff clients, and new partnerships and feature development in the open source arena.

Major merger

One year ago, Innovative Interfaces (III) surprised much of the library field with the April 1 announcement that it had acquired Polaris Library Systems. Sixty days later, on May 30, Innovative followed that up with the acquisition of VTLS. Just like that, two popular, privately held ILS vendors were absorbed into a much larger company. Innovative itself had only recently become fully owned by private equity firms Huntsman Gay Global Capital (now HGGC) and JMI Equity when company founder and former chair Jerry Klein sold his remaining shares in early 2013.

Such sudden consolidation raised understandable concerns among Polaris and VTLS customers. Private equity firms expect return on their investments, and consolidation, staff reduction, and elimination of perceived redundancies are all typical ways in which large companies realize profits from mergers and acquisitions. Some worried that Innovative would not continue to support its own Millennium ILS and Sierra Library Services Platform (LSP) along with the Polaris ILS and VTLS-Virtua believing that acquired customer bases could be pushed to other systems.

In recent months, however, Innovative has given several clear indications that the company is committed to continuing to support the acquired systems, along with renewed investment in integration efforts and feature development. In November, Bill Schickling, principal architect of the Polaris ILS and former CEO of the company, was appointed VP of global sales for Innovative. The combined company also heavily promoted the launch of Polaris’s Leap mobile staff client and sold five new subscriptions to VTLS-Virtua and 25 of the Polaris ILS.

That Innovative’s leadership and investors view this as the best long-term course of action speaks as much to the future of the field as it does to the industry’s past with vendor acquisitions. To list just a few of the common challenges facing libraries and automation system vendors in 2015: electronic resources continue steadily replacing print in many collections, creating workflow and budget headaches. Digital resources from multiple vendors still need to be more tightly integrated with library systems to facilitate easier discovery and access for patrons. Libraries need to be better equipped to take advantage of mobile technology, to help staff get out from behind circulation desks and interact with patrons within the library or the larger community.

When traditional ILS platforms were designed, libraries were primarily concerned with managing print collections. LSPs are intended to address these and other emerging challenges, offering comprehensive management solutions that holistically address digital collections, databases, patron-driven acquisitions, and print.

Innovative’s goal with these recent purchases, officials have consistently stated, is ultimately to take “best in class” features from the portfolios of Polaris and VTLS—such as the new Leap mobile staff client—and build a cloud-based platform with a common suite of tools that will work with Sierra, Polaris, or VTLS-Virtua on the back end.

Developing partnerships

Since his August 2012 appointment as CEO of Innovative, Kim Massana has been working to build partnerships with other vendors while enhancing the ability of libraries and third-party developers to work with Innovative’s products.

Although competitors and some developers continue to say that the company has a way to go before it lives up to its new slogan, “The Library Is Open,” Massana is serious about this approach. In an interview with LJ shortly after the VTLS buy was announced, he argued that a go-it-alone approach to library systems cannot work in an environment in which the technology demands of libraries and library patrons are rapidly evolving.

“It doesn’t matter how big we are, we will not be able to provide [everything],” he said.

Since Massana became CEO, Innovative has actively brokered partnerships and/or overseen integration efforts with EBSCO and its EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), OverDrive, the 3M Cloud Library, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 ­ebook platform, social networking solution provider ChiliFresh, ProQuest Syndetic Solutions, materials handling and self-service solutions provider Bibliotheca, and others. Last month, the company pledged support for the Libhub initiative, which aims to enhance library visibility on the open web by implementing linked data standards and shared markup vocabularies such as and BIBFRAME.

And last April, Innovative released the first set of REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs (application programming interfaces) for Sierra, enabling libraries and third-party vendors to harvest data from bibliographic and item records in the Sierra catalog to enhance discovery and streamline record updating processes. A new API, scheduled to go live this year, will enable authenticated users to make changes to data in the Sierra system.

“We’ve been investing a lot in our open libraries initiative, trying to change the perception in the market,” Massana told LJ in January.

Next generation

Innovative is also committed to ongoing support for its traditional Millennium ILS, which is currently in operation at 1,172 libraries. However, no new contracts were sold for Millennium last year. Instead, the focus of the company, as well as the focus of many libraries looking to adopt new management systems, has shifted to next-generation LSPs.

Innovative’s Sierra LSP and SirsiDynix’s BLUEcloud LSP suite make next-generation tools for administration, acquisition, discovery, and other functions available via cloud-based services that use familiar ILS systems on the back end. By contrast, Ex Libris Alma, OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services (WMS), and most recently ProQuest Intota have been built from the ground up with new code. (For more detail, see “The Future of Library Systems: Library Services Platforms” by Carl Grant in the Fall 2012 issue of Information Standards Quarterly.)

Innovative sold 123 new contracts for the Sierra LSP last year—many to libraries shifting from Millennium—and almost 500 libraries had installed the system by the end of 2014.

Libraries using the SirsiDynix Symphony or Horizon ILS continued rapid adoption of BLUEcloud Suite products, led by 218 new contracts for the MobileCirc tablet-friendly staff client and 168 new contracts for eResource Central, the digital content management platform that enables libraries to discover, download, and interact with content—including ebooks and streaming media—from multiple vendors without leaving a library’s OPAC. Enterprise remained the most popular BLUEcloud module, with 150 new customers in 2014 and 538 total contracts at year’s end. The faceted search tool enables patrons to discover content from a library’s databases, plus its physical and digital catalogs, using a single search box and can be integrated with EDS at subscribing libraries.

Ex Libris sold 25 new contracts in non-U.S. markets for its traditional Aleph ILS, which is still implemented at almost 2,400 libraries. But adoption of its LSP Alma increased more rapidly, with 43 new contracts in 2014, raising its total contracts to 406 at year’s end.

Also, adoption of OCLC’s WMS accelerated significantly in 2014, with 79 new libraries implementing the platform, for a total of 303 live by the end of the year.

Ex Libris, OCLC, and newcomer to the LSP market ProQuest argue that their ground-up approach to developing LSPs—rather than using a traditional ILS as the back end—has resulted in more efficient systems. Notably, while both approaches may result in enhancements to workflows and patron interfaces, Alma, WMS, and Intota are built with a true cloud-based multitenant architecture, which enables these vendors to apply updates, bug fixes, patches, and new features for all users simultaneously with minimal intervention necessary for customers.

“Not all of the LSPs out there are true multitenant,” says Dvir Hoffman, VP for product management and marketing at Ex Libris. “One of the key values of Alma and [discovery solution] Primo is that they are real multitenant, real software as a service. Every time we are releasing a feature, first and foremost that the feature is being designed, developed, and tested in a cloud environment,” and when those features are rolled out, everything is synchronized for all library customers.

TABLE 1: ILS Three-Year Sales Trends

COMPANY SYSTEM 2012 2013 2014 2014 SALES 2014 SYSTEMS
Biblionix Apollo 80 87 49 49 0 486
Ex Libris Aleph 20 25 25 0 25 2,392
Ex Libris Voyager 6 0 0 0 0 1,261
Innovative Interfaces Inc. Millennium 30 6 0 0 0 1,172
Innovative Interfaces Inc. Polaris ILS 27 44 15 13 2 483
Innovative Interfaces Inc. VTLS-Virtua 14 7 5 0 5 370
SirsiDynix Symphony 87 85 64 31 33 2,546
SirsiDynix Horizon 1 1 3 0 3 1,019
SirsiDynix EOS 58 70 42 29 13 1,137
Numbers represented here were reported to us by associated vendors

Growth spurt

Andrew Pace, executive director for networked library services at OCLC, describes WMS as the fulfillment of many of the goals envisioned by OCLC founding director Fred Kilgour.

“He described, in the early 1970s, something that would be used for shared acquisitions and shared collection management and discovery,” Pace says. When Pace and OCLC began developing WorldShare, they realized that technology had finally caught up to that vision.

“You rebuild library management in the cloud with the world’s largest library cooperative,” Pace says. “That was my epiphany…. Sharing was the reason that OCLC did what it did. Sharing cataloging records, resource sharing in [interlibrary loan], sharing what [member libraries] held on the open web through or through FirstSearch.”

In the mid 2000s, OCLC members’ council began asking if there might be a way for libraries to use WorldCat as an OPAC, which started the WorldCat Local discussion.

“It wasn’t long after that people started looking at discovery and saying, could I get circulation with that? They started to view WorldCat in a different way—beyond its traditional role in record supply and ILL and started to see that WorldCat could be a database of record for the library community.”

Based on its potential to leverage WorldCat data in library workflows, “people saw the promise” of WMS from the time of its pilot launch in 2009, Pace says. But adoption of the new system was initially sluggish. Pace said that he remembers giving presentations on WMS in which he had to use 30 slides just to explain cloud computing. He attributed the recent surge in adoption of WMS to enhanced functionality built as the cooperative has continued to add features demanded by large libraries as well as those needed by consortia and small libraries.

“Our strategy at the beginning was to aim for the middle and scale in both directions. Aiming for the middle, those medium-sized libraries, we [then] scaled up, with functionality primarily aimed at research libraries, and scaled down to small libraries with group functionality or consortial functionality,” he explains.

Enter collection analytics

With academic libraries allocating an increasing share of static or shrinking budgets to electronic resources, often at the expense of print, collection development has taken on a difficult new dynamic, with librarians working to balance spending in the most efficient way while ensuring that acquisitions continue to meet the needs of students and faculty.

To help in this balancing act, in November 2013, ProQuest launched Intota Assessment, a collection analytics service that aims to give libraries a holistic view of print and electronic collections and subscriptions together. Combining a library’s circulation data with qualitative information from Books in Print, Resources for College Libraries (RCL), Ulrich’s, the ProQuest Knowledgebase, and other sources, Intota Assessment enables libraries to analyze their holdings and subscriptions based on cost per use, cost by subject, peer analysis, and other factors, while also offering evidence-based recommendation support, overlap and gap-analysis tools for print and electronic resources to enable “smart weeding,” and automatic generation of reports for accreditation organizations.

Intota Assessment works as a stand-alone analytics solution, but it is also part of a broader vision for ProQuest. In June, the company launched Intota v1 with the Assessment tools as a foundational element, integrating ProQuest’s Summon discovery service, 360 Link resolver, 360 Counter, and Intota e-resource management services into a single platform. The integration enables features such as demand-driven-acquisition (DDA) automation, activating ebook records in Summon directly from the ProQuest Knowledgebase. As ProQuest adds more functionality, the company says Intota will ultimately serve as a next-generation LSP that could replace a traditional ILS.

“Since the last time you looked seriously at [integrated library] systems, the fundamental nature of your collection has changed,” Jane Burke, VP of market development for ProQuest, said at the “Intota: The transformational library services platform” event during the American Library Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. “The last time we built a generation of systems, it was all about managing print collections…. We’ve reached a tipping point where collections are predominantly electronic…. To transform the way you work, we have to be coming from that reality.”

Burke acknowledged that Intota v1 does not yet offer “everything you need” as an ILS replacement. But it “consists of a package of things you cannot get from your ILS today…. We deliberately started by building the functions that you do not have in your current ILS.” ProQuest hopes that by rolling out Intota in this fashion, the company will encourage modular adoption while new functionality is added, even as its customers consider migrating to next-generation systems.

Intota v2, which is currently in development and scheduled for launch in late 2015, will include a “Delivery Resolver” that aims to manage acquisitions orders “from anywhere and everywhere,” Burke said. “It used to be that you started your order in the ILS and sent out a purchase order. Today, you go buy [a resource] someplace and as an afterthought make an entry in the ILS. We don’t think you should have to do that work twice.”

At year end 2014, 35 libraries had purchased Intota Assessment, and Burke said during her January presentation that Intota v1 was in production at more than 60 libraries.

TABLE 2: Library Services Platforms

Ex Libris Alma 43 406
Innovative Interfaces Sierra Services Platform 123 495
OCLC WorldShare Management Services 79 303
ProQuest Intota 35 35*
SirsiDynix Blue Cloud Suite Enterprise 150 538
Social Library 53 179
eResource Central 168 329
MobileCirc 218 364
Analytics 102 116
*Intota Assessment, the first module of the new system, released in November 2013
Numbers represented here were reported to us by associated vendors

Going mobile

New mobile-optimized staff clients by vendors including The Library Corporation (TLC), SirsiDynix, and Innovative have the potential to enhance fundamentally the ways in which librarians can help patrons, enabling staff to sign up new cardholders and check out materials at off-site events. SirsiDynix was the first to market, launching MobileCirc for the BLUEcloud suite in 2013, and officials have said that it has been the most rapidly adopted product in the company’s history. TLC beta launched CARL•Connect Circulation, the first in a series of modules for TLC’s CARL•X mobile staff client, in August, and Innovative announced the general release of Polaris Leap in October.

Although any ILS with a web-based client can technically claim to be usable on mobile devices, desktop interfaces may not translate well to tablets or phones, and functionality may be limited. In a recent interview with LJ (“Meet the ­Tabletarians,” LJ 1/15, p. 39–41), Heidi Lewis, information services librarian for the Boise Public Library, ID, discussed how her library was an early adopter of tablets, implementing four in a roving reference program in 2011. However, staff soon found that it was difficult to place holds or complete other basic tasks using their OPAC.

“It turned out that interacting with customers in the stacks and then walking back to [a] PC to look something up continued to be at least as effective, if not more so, as trying to use the iPads within the stacks,” Lewis says.

These new staff clients resolve these issues with touch screen– and mobile-optimized design. For example, CARL•Connect Circulation, which launched last August, is Bluetooth ready and includes a wireless patron registration feature that will email new patrons a scannable digital library card that can be used immediately to check out books and other materials.

CARL•Connect Circulation is the first in a series of modules for TLC’s CARL•X web-based staff client. It includes tools to facilitate weeding and collection analysis from within a library’s stacks. Ultimately, TLC intends for CARL•Connect to replace the CARL•X Windows-based client. The company is already working to translate the collections, cataloging, and acquisitions interfaces and expects to add that functionality to the web-based client this year. A custom reporting module with a tablet-friendly drop-down interface is also in the works.

Lorrie Ann Butler, director of product strategy and customer relations for TLC, notes that some tasks, like cataloging, may always favor a desktop/keyboard environment. The company employs focus groups, user testing, and UX principles throughout its design process, in an effort to ensure that new features are easy to work with, whatever the device.

“UX, for us, is ingrained in our institution,” Butler says. “TLC’s development processes ensure that the user is included throughout…from the very beginning when we are planning and creating our user stories, through to demoing the product while it is still in development.”

TLC TO GO The Library Corporation recently launched CARL•Connect, a new web-based staff client optimized for tablets and mobile devices

TLC TO GO The Library Corporation recently launched CARL•Connect, a new web-based staff client optimized for tablets and mobile devices

Translating catalogs

In 2014, TLC’s data services division also launched ­RDAExpress, a service that converts MARC records to comply with Resource Description and Access (RDA) cataloging standards, which were initially published in 2010 and implemented by the Library of Congress (LC) in 2013, as the successor to Anglo-American Cataloging Rules, Second Edition (AACR2). The service converts print records and works in tandem with TLC’s eBiblioFile cataloging service to offer customized records for ebooks and other digital content offered by OverDrive and the 3M Cloud Library, regardless of a library’s ILS or LSP.

RDA uses an entity-relationship cataloging model, as recommended by Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR), which was developed by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). This structure, coupled with the modernized controlled vocabularies of RDA, could help facilitate discovery of library records in a linked data environment.

However, as RDAExpress product owner Heather Powers noted at launch, the prospect of converting an entire catalog can be intimidating.

“RDAExpress removes that intimidation factor and delivers library records with more cross-relationships, better item descriptions, and consistent terminology to prepare for a linked data environment with outside sources like Google and Wikipedia,” Powers says in an announcement. “A library can choose to convert its whole database, or send records for conversion according to their own pace and budget via the online conversion dashboard.”

Butler tells LJ that TLC’s development of RDAExpress also reflects the company’s broader view on the importance of linked data.

“We are strategically planning for [the Library of Congress Bibliographic Framework Initiative] ­BIBFRAME and linked data,” Butler says. “My strong belief, as a strategist, is that this is something that ILS vendors need to do, regardless of when the Library of Congress finishes their adoption [of BIBFRAME as a replacement for MARC 21]. Providing for metadata that is searchable on the web and beyond the silo of the library catalog has to be done. And it has to be done soon. Library users want that.”

This may prove to be a prescient statement. Between the adoption of RDA standards, LC’s BIBFRAME Initiative, and the work of the Schema BIB Extend Community Group, with participants from OCLC and other organizations, linked data initiatives appear to be gaining critical mass in the library field. If these efforts ultimately help surface library content on the open web, it could result in a seismic shift of the library systems landscape.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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