Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

I have seen a future and its name is Alma…..

Yesterday I went along to the Manchester venue of Ex Libris roadshow exhibiting their new LMS Alma. I came away very impressed. When Ex Libris merged with Endeavour way back in 2006 it was obvious that they needed to concentrate development on one system, but rather than choose one of the two they took the opportunity to rethink what is now needed from an LMS and what modern technology could do to help this.  Alma is therefore more representative of the term Library Management System (or indeed if you speak American, Integrated Library System) then anything else on the market that I’m aware of.

At the moment most libraries have multiple systems to manage resources: an LMS, a link resolver, a federated search system, a discovery system, an electronic resources system, a reading lists system….. etc, etc. This necessitates multiple workflows trying to bridge the gaps between them. However Ex Libris, as a system provider of many of these systems already, saw the opportunity to merge them together to produce a single Library Management System – in its early development phase it was known as the Unified Resource Management System, which I think puts it quite well. This was demonstrated by subscribing to and making available a database package, an activity which would probably previously have involved Metalib, Verde and Aleph (and possibly 3 different people to do this).

The other side of Alma is that it is provided from the ‘cloud’. It is a hosted application using a shared database, which makes maintenance easier for the institution and updates very simple to release. The only software needed is a browser (it was shown running on Chrome) which again makes deployment much easier for the institution. The boundary problems with local IT Services, firewall issues, server support issues, etc are all bypassed. I know this is the direction that OCLC are also heading with their new Web-Scale Management System. Other suppliers already host systems on virtual servers, but this approach doesn’t take advantage of things like a shared bibliographic database that Alma and OCLC can.

So, provided it delivers as planned (and there are already development partners and an early release programme to guarantee this), adoption of Alma seems like a no-brainer to libraries already on Aleph or Voyager.  For the rest of us it is another destabilising factor in the LMS market which was very stable for several years. Note that it needs to be compared with a library running the full suite of applications, so if you are just looking for a new LMS but want to stay with your current link resolver it isn’t what you’re searching for. The other LMS suppliers need to be worried, as we will be asking for the same thing from them.

An interesting comparison that was on my mind was with OS LMS. These are an emerging market sector, and there has been discussion recently on the LIS-OSS email list about their role. Alma clearly differentiates what a commercial supplier such as Ex Libris can provide compared with a community-developed system such as Koha or Evergreen. I don’t know whether OS is able to provide the ‘added value’ that a link resolver can give, for example. To provide something equivalent using OS where possible might therefore be to build a blended system using both OS and commercial elements. However in that case the library has to be the ringmaster tying the elements together, and many libraries no longer have the kind of skills in-house. Therefore Alma becomes an even more attractive way of outsourcing some difficult work. Perhaps there’s a facilitating role for a company to provide a ‘half-way’ house, or maybe that would just miss the benefits of both sides….?

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February 16, 2011 - Posted by | Libraries | ,

1 Comment »

  1. I have no doubt about their technology and how rapid they are in developing a forefront product so called “the next generation” of URM. It depends on who you are when judging a product. If you are a user of the product (in terms of discovery), you will be blown away. However if you’re a librarian who is relying their product support on the back office, you will be disappointed.

    Comment by Hau Yan | August 8, 2011


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