April 23, 2007

Computers in Libraries: Day 3 morning sessions

The New Library Automation Landscape by Marshall Breeding.

A depressing session, in a way. Breeding talked about the prospects for dramatic innovation among ILS companies in the near future. They don't look good as the vendors don't seem to have much cash to invest. They are caught in the middle, squeezed on both sides unable to satisfy both masters, owners that want higher profits and customers that want transformational innovation.

Breeding first notes that there are not a lot of people studying this issue. Some of the overall business trends in the lib automation industry are: increasingly consolidated, venture capital & private equity investors playing a larger role, decreasingly differentiated systems, narrowing product offerings, open source opportunities on the rise. Other business factors include a level of innovation that's falling below expectations; companies struggle to keep up with ILS enhancement & library desire for innovation; pressure within companies to reduce costs, increase revenues; pressure from libraries to give more, cheaper, faster. The industry has consolidated a lot in the last 30 years, lots of M&A.

Libraries have also consolidated on the demand side: consortia share automation cost to reduce overhead, the need to focus technical talent, pooled resources for processing, single ILS installations becoming less defensible, libraries need to leverage resources like companies.

Why should we worry who owns the industry? Because important decisions are made in the boardroom, probably not with clients at heart. The VS & PE companies are making the decision to maximize their profit so market success and tech innovation don't always drive business decisions.

The business cycle for library tech companies is from founder start up to VC support to board level representation to private equity support to strategic control to IPO and mature company. Each stage represents less input by founder and their vision. Breeding gave SirsiDynix as an example.

What's the impact of the different ownership styles? Long term vs. short term focus; who makes the decisions, ability to understand libraries as businesses/non-profits, balance needs of profit with needs of public sector organizations. What are the revenue sources for ILSs: new ILS sales, support, non-ILS systems, library services. The need to balance these sources to have the capital to invest in innovation. Need to expand activities to support R&D on things like RFID and federated search.

What are the open source alternatives? Are they viable? There's been an explosive interest in o/s alternatives the last year or so, they're emerging as practical alternatives as often the total cost of ownership isn't all that different. It's still risky but holds up Georgia Pines as an example. Using o/s is not cheaper (need more programmers internally, for example) but you do have more control. Libraries are looking for some way of decoupling the opac from the ILS but also making the various components that the libraries offer more integrated (ie. bib databases). It's a vicious cycle: vendors need cash for R&D but libraries don't want to pay more for maintenance or for new "features" that used to be included in the system.

Catalogs/Opacs for the Future. This was a two part session.

Up first, Tim Spalding of Library Thing on The Fun OPAC.

Opacs are broken in 3 fundamental ways: findabililty, usability and searchability. How about fixing them by mixing a little serendipity with a little funability! Let's think about all companies being toy companies, a library system is the "most fun you can have with your pants on!"

Focus on the catalogue, make it front and centre, we currently act like we're ashamed of it, it doesn't have dynamism. Allow inbound links, the catalogue needs persistent links, also link outwards -- the more you link the more people come to you, don't hide the exists. Also, link around, be generous with linking, make everything clickable, names, tags, a page for everything. Dress up the opac with book covers, link to amazon & wikipedia cause patrons are going there anyways. Get data out there,m people will do stuff with it, remix, mashup, analyse, rss feeds. People don't want our content, they want to create their own, create opac blog widgets, get tags, make them available to others, don't accept limitations of library systems.

Next up, Roy Tennent, California Digital Library on Catalogs for the Future.

Tennant began by exhorting us to never use the "O" word again! (uncomfortable laughter). Future? What future? Catalogs ain't got no stinking future! (uncomfortable laughter)

The demise of the local catalogue is inevitable, discovery happens at the network level, even at the local level few want to limit search to books, new finding tools will make catalogs obsolete, but libraries need their back office ILSs.

The classic ILS opac is a deeply integrated silo. The new world order is discovery decoupled from ILS, Google/Open worldcat/Primo, even WorldCat local. Google to Open WC to WC Local which has circ status. This makes sense because users want to find everything they can and they prefer to search in one spot, most ILSs lack cool new features. Some interesting features of OpenWC: faceted browsing, relevance, articles integrated, WC indentities, fiction finder, tags like UPenn library.

The next generation ILS will be refocused on getting work done, more interoperability, able to work well with other systems, expose APIs to the network. Next Gen finding tools: integrate access to a wide variety of finding tools, use info from other sources using APIs, sophisticated features like relevance ranking, will not simply be a library catalogue.

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