February 17, 2018


Boosting Innovation through Collaboration

imageThe library’s role is constantly evolving. Students expect more, the needs of researchers and faculties continue to change, and budgets always seem to tighten.

While these drivers put more pressure on libraries, they also create a huge opportunity for libraries to strengthen their influence and place themselves in the heart of teaching, learning, and research. The path forward can be forged through tighter connections to the university ecosystem using open, extendable library platforms together with the adoption of innovation, facilitated by close community and vendor collaboration. Such an approach can make it easier for libraries to enhance systems through open APIs, connect with external services, and take advantage of community-based developments—all on top of a feature-rich library platform. The result? Increased value to library users, greater efficiency, and the ability to shift focus to more strategic library services.

Jon Shaw, assistant director for the Libraries Research Annex at the University of Pennsylvania, sees a shift over the past decade away from the siloed model of local library services. Finding partnerships to provide users with more resources and networking systems for collaboration and discovery are UPenn’s top goals.

The team at UPenn has been looking to migrate from their own discovery solution, developed internally, to Blacklight, an open-source discovery service. “Open discovery platforms provide a flexible solution that we have been able to customize for our users’ needs locally,” says Shaw.

The move to Blacklight was facilitated by the University of Pennsylvania’s decision to switch from their current ILS to Ex Libris Alma. “The decision was straightforward, because Alma is a system that was developed holistically around library workflows and effectively manages all of our business processes,” explains Shaw. UPenn is also leveraging Summon discovery, integrated with Alma, to provide access to a wealth of electronic resources.

Shaw and his team wanted to continue building and collaborating in an open discovery environment. “We realized that we could use an open system on top of Alma and Summon,” he says. “Ex Libris partnered with us throughout the implementation of Alma on our discovery migration and have consistently developed solutions that have significantly aided us in this process.” UPenn’s approach of using Alma’s open APIs to extend library services seems to be widely adopted by customers, as over 52% of Alma transaction calls are coming from APIs, representing over 50 million API calls per month.

As they prepare to go live with Alma and Blacklight, Shaw and team are implementing several integrations that can improve access to information for their users. They will also incorporate other content and index it directly in their discovery service. “This system tremendously opens up options for our users to discover content throughout their research endeavors,” Shaw notes.

Close engagement with the library community, based on open dialog and platforms for sharing ideas, has led to the new user interface for the Ex Libris Primo discovery solution. The new Primo UI was rolled out to customers a few months ago, and has already been adopted by nearly one hundred institutions worldwide.

One of the benefits of the new Primo UI comes from its flexible, extensible architecture that allows customers with Angular and CSS knowledge to connect it with external services and develop additional functionalities on top of Primo’s Open Discovery Framework. Customizations and extensions can be shared with the Primo community, who in turn can leverage the power of the community to enhance their own systems with no extra work. Customers can also opt for implementing the out-of-the-box Primo UI, featuring advanced user services and rich functionality.

To take advantage of this new environment, Primo users independently organized the Primo UI hackathon and virtual conference that took place last December, attracting nearly four hundred Primo customers. Allen Jones, director of library and technical services at the New School facilitated the hackathon. Jones points to how Ex Libris views its user groups differently than other vendors. “It’s a different way of working with customers, allowing customers’ development ideas to be included in their products,” says Jones.

In 2014, says Jones, there was an overwhelming request from the user community to improve the front-end coding of Primo to accommodate emerging web standards in order to increase device responsiveness, accessibility, and speed. That same year, Ex Libris transitioned from focusing on locally hosted software to software served in the cloud.

Jones says that due to the inherent tension between the desire to locally develop and customize—which can lead to mistakes in coding that will be disruptive to the application—and the need for community stability and application security, the idea of a customization framework was brought forward at a meeting of user group members and Ex Libris Primo developers. “This framework could be validated, ensuring security, and would be flexible, enabling customers to adapt it as their local needs required,” he says.

Because the new interface would be built on top of Primo APIs, customers could completely rewrite their interface in another UI framework, or they could use the provided interface framework to override generic functions, icons, or scripts and add functionality of their own. “The added benefit of these overrides living outside of the Primo application was that code could be shared via GitHub and other code repositories, encouraging community collaboration and development,” says Jones. “In that sense, rather than everyone building the same red button in their own local primo installations, they could search GitHub to find out if someone had built the redButton function, and then they could customize and improve that code.”

The openness of the Ex Libris Knowledge Center, Developer Network, and Idea Exchange has been particularly beneficial for Laura Morse, director of library systems at Harvard University. “It is unique in the library systems marketplace,” she says. “Broad access to this information for customers, partners, and the general public enables development of key integrations and services around core Ex Libris platforms.”

Morse adds that the NCIP function allows users to see their interlibrary loans in the same system as their regular loans. “And the staff side streamlines processing, which speeds the process for getting materials into the users hands,” she says. “Hardly glamorous features, to be sure, but useful!”

As the pressure on libraries to demonstrate their value continues, more libraries choose to focus on strategic library services and extend their reach to other parts of the academic ecosystem. As Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and The New School have identified, the path to greater impact is shortened by leveraging smart community collaboration and extensible solutions on top of rich out-of-the-box library functionality.

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