Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)


So III have announced that they are developing a new LMS?????? It is a pity that this was announced only at IUG so all their other customers worldwide get to hear the news second-hand…… To use David Nobbs’ phraseology:  a bit of a cock-up on the publicity front, Innovative.

April 20, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , | 4 Comments

Talis Library division sold to Capita

You’ll have seen the press release that Talis Information has been sold to Capita Group.  For Capita it is a a useful extension of its existing outsourcing range.

For Talis however, the immediate future seems less clear. It may or may not be significant that the press release that I saw first was the one that  emerged from Talis Group rather than Talis Information or indeed Capita. It must be a rather uncomfortable split for the company as Talis Group retains Talis Aspire, the reading reading list product used widely by HE libraries, as well as other products. As a customer of Aspire, I’m not sure at this stage that I’m clear which of the other products belong on which side of the split.

It is interesting to speculate what this says about the LMS market. It strengthens the idea that the LMS is something that can be outsourced ‘into the cloud’ (in this case a cloud owned by Capita). I wonder what the new owners perspective on the development future for Alto is?  It also poses interesting questions on what direction Talis Group will now take now that it has divested itself of what used to be its core offering?

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , | Leave a comment

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….?

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , | 1 Comment

Perceptions of Libraries

Just read an excellent post from Carl Grant of Ex Libris about OCLC’s ‘Perceptions of libraries 2010‘ report. Academic libraries need to change, and that change needs to come fast.  Although the report is based on US data and Carl’s view is from the Ex Libris perspective, this lesson applies as much in the UK as the US. He talks of a revolution not evolution being needed in libraries today. There is a growing disconnect between libraries and users, and librarians are failing to realise this.

So what should we be doing? This is less clear, as is inevitable, but he does say:

We must meet the end-user on their terms, delivering information to the interface of their choice, at the place, time and format of their choosing.

For me as a systems manager this means things like single search boxes covering all library resources, smartphone interfaces and external availability of data.

But we must also be recognised as delivering this information: too often users don’t realise that the library has made available the database from which they have just skimmed an article – the information is just ‘out there’ and the user found it via Google. Even worse, our funders don’t understand this. Hence there’s a difficult job there of both branding information and making it easy to find and use. It isn’t just a challenge for the systems managers but for the subject librarians (student and faculty facing) and the library managers (university management facing)  so demands fundamental change at all levels.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , , , , | Leave a comment

Higher Education libraries

Fascinating article on the BBC website today about HE libraries without books.  Even better, it takes a fairly considered perspective, instead of seeking cheap headlines as do most of the new articles on this subject. The direction that HE libraries are taking seems clear, with more eresources and less paper, but the consequences of this are less so. At the moment libraries still seem to be valued as a physical place to work, but if there’s no longer a reason to maintain a large expensive building, students are either likely to be directed to cheaper environments or expected to study at home. The examples of new libraries given in the article all have significantly less capacity than their predecessors.

As a librarian, I was also glad to see that the article recognises that librarians still have a role to play. Many people link librarians just to books rather than to information, which is a sad misunderstanding of what librarians do. There are important roles played by librarians that many people (including some academics and IT Services staff) don’t see, in selecting and organising resources as well as in helping people to understand and use information.

But cost saving is also mentioned, and cutting costs is a focus of the current UK government at the moment (in all areas, not just HE).  Cheaper education is indeed possible at a distance using planned learning, with digitised/ born digital resources and VLEs and remote support available where necessary – just look at the success of the Open University. But the result of this is an educational experience very different from that of the last century, where students actually got to know and speak personally to their educators, and by the experience of searching for information in less well-indexed times grew more familiar with their overall field of study. Moreover by living away from home in an entirely different environment their mental horizons were changed in a way that is happening less in the modern HE world. The educational experience is thus very different and in turn is bound to have an influence on the society which these people in their turn contribute to forming.  Information is changing society in ways we can only speculate about.

November 12, 2010 Posted by | Libraries, Universities | Leave a comment

OCLC ‘Making partnerships mattter’

I was at OCLC’s ‘Making partnerships matter’ event in Birmingham on Tuesday and came away quite impressed. The title of the day for me didn’t really cover what I got out of it – they were talking about WorldCat Local and what they’re calling ‘Web-scale management services’.

WorldCat Local seems quite impressive: it leverages OCLC’s existing information sources WorldCat and extensive links to eresources, to create an interesting alternative to other Resource Discovery systems. Of course, the big question is the coverage of the pre-indexed material, and there seems no easy way of comparing this with alternatives such as EDS, Summon, Encore Synergy or Primo Central. But the feedback from their only UK customer so far, York St John University, seemed good,  and the recognition that federated searching still has a role to play to ensure completeness was welcome.  I’ll be looking at this in more detail – providing that the outcome of the Browne Report and CSR don’t preclude it……

Although WorldCat Local is part of OCLC’s move to ‘Web-scale management’, in a way the latter is more long-term. They’ve taken the logical step to realising that as it is now possible for an LMS supplier to remotely-host an LMS,  it might actually be more efficient to run the LMS in ‘the Cloud’. In other words, instead of multiple completely independent systems,  separating only the data rather than the functionality. They’re still in fairly early days yet – Circulation and Acquisitions are being beta-tested in several member libraries – but this looks an interesting alternative. Many libraries are having issues supporting their own LMS due to uncooperative local IT departments (don’t get me started :-)) and lack of funding for their own staff, and so to outsource this to a resource which understands libraries seems sensible.

Overall a very good day, not least because it was my first visit to OCLC’s third Bimingham office in the past 20 years!

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

Resource Discovery

Like a lot of HE libraries, Resource Discovery interfaces are on our minds at the moment. I attended the EIUG Exchange of Experience Day at Warwick a few weeks ago and saw demonstrations of Summon, EDS, Encore and Aquabrowser. I’ve also been up to Huddersfield to see their Summon installation and had other demos of Encore and Primo elsewhere. But I’m still confused as to the best match for our users.

From looking at their searches on the OPAC (III’s WebPac is pretty good at showing these) I can see that users search skills in general, despite the extensive work we put into information literacy training, are fairly low. Keyword searches on entire essay titles are common (do they develop amnesia after leaving the induction sessions? ;-)). Users also tell us that they don’t want to have to search in multiple places (eg the OPAC plus 4 or 5 online databases) and then bring together and de-duplicate the results themselves. After the simplicity of using Google they are not prepared to invest this kind of time and work into finding academic resources. Instead they want a single search box which does it all: it must concurrently search all the academic resources to which the University Library provides access, deduplicate and present the results in a usable relevance-ranked order, providing links to full-text wherever available. Better search facilities would also be good – the graphical concept map which Aquabrowser gives is impressive.

But few of the current Resource Discovery systems do all of this at the moment. Summon and EDS allow you to search on the OPAC plus a subset of resources which they’ve indexed (the impression I have is that EBSCOs coverage of academic resources is better but I have no evidence to support this). Moreover as the parent companies maintain the indexes and infrastructure they are relatively low-overhead. But they don’t index all of the expensive databases we pay for, so the results are still only partial. Encore and Primo get round this by retaining federated search and including this in the results as well, although at a greater financial cost and slower search results.  But maintaining all the infrastructure behind this also adds to the work for the library, and at a time when libraries are trying to ‘do more with less’ this is hardly welcome.

There are of course systems I’ve not really looked at yet, such as OCLC’s WorldCat Local and SirsiDynix’s Enterprise, although I do have the impression that they share some of the above features and weaknesses. Looks like I’ve got a lot more work to do….  So have the suppliers – as most libraries have a similar need their product development depts must be on overtime!

October 7, 2010 Posted by | Libraries, Universities | | 2 Comments

UK version of the Kindle

According to the BBC news, Amazon has at last released its Kindle ebook reader for the UK market. This is combined with the release of the latest update of the Kindle,  which is lighter and has more storage. Since release in 2007 the Kindle has been available only via Amazon’s US website but it is now also available from the UK website with more ebooks aimed at the UK market. This is an interesting move, especially as the Kindle is currently out of stock on the US version of the website (has all stock been diverted to the UK warehouses?). There’s a downloading arrangement with Vodaphone over their 3G service or a cheaper wi-fi only version.

It comes at a time when ebooks seem to have come to prominence (again?). Amazon say they are selling more ebooks than hardbacks – an important indicator but as most people buy paperbacks not quite epoch-changing just yet. More significantly, Apple’s iPad release a few weeks ago poses something of a market threat. The iPad of course isn’t just an ebook reader, more of a hand-held multifunctional device, but it can be used as an ebook reader . The Kindle is optimised for one purpose, and its e-ink technology probably makes it better for this one purpose than the iPad, but I suspect most people would rather carry one device on a train journey than 2? Amazon sensibly have also made available a Kindle reader app for the iPad, indicating that they’re hedging their bets.

Although several libraries have experimented with ebook readers and handheld devices the best course of action still seems unclear. For years we’ve supplied DRM-restricted ebooks viewable over the web (some with time-limited download options) but I’m not sure when one physical platform will emerge, and when we can expect users to start adopting it. I suspect I won’t be sitting on the fence for much longer however……

July 29, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

EIUG conference 2010

Delegates at Aston VillaI’ve not blogged for a long while – doesn’t real life has an irritating habit of interrupting the virtual? However I was at my first European Innovative Users Group conference last week and thought it might be worth recording some thoughts from that.

The first thing that struck me was how relaxed it felt. In contrast to the past few COSI/DUG/HUG conferences this felt very easygoing. That’s probably partly due not being an organiser so I could sit back and let someone else do the worrying, but there was a relaxed friendly vibe to the sessions and the other attendees.I was struck by how open the III representatives seemed.

There were no great product announcements at the conference (maybe those have been held back for ALA?) but on the other hand as a newcomer I don’t see any massive gaps in III’s product suite compared with other suppliers. The main thing I’d come to see was of course Encore Synergy, III’s version of the new crop of Discovery tools (see also Summon, Primo Central, Ebsco Discover, etc.). Synergy looked good, although I think I’d want to ask more questions about the range of data suppliers to which it will link before committing (not that my library will have the funds to do so anytime soon!). I like the fact that it doesn’t need the extra complexity of Link Resolvers or Federated Search tools (although it will of course work with them if already present) – one of the problems with federated search has always been the added layer of complexity it gives to the search experience which the new Discovery tools avoid. EIUG are planning an Exchange of Experience day on this area which I hope to attend.

Encore Reporter, a web-based reporting tool, was the other product which the company were pushing strongly. This is a bit of a misnomer – it doesn’t actually need Encore Discovery to run and pulls statistics from the Millennium database as well as Encore. Its interesting to see also that it doesn’t use either the Millennium proprietary database or Oracle to hold its data, but instead pulls it into an independent  database. Its ability to import external data and to export to the OPAC/Encore looked good, such that if I was doing a new implementation today I’d see it as an essential core product rather than another bolt-on module.

The other valuable part of a user group conference is of course the user sessions. These were very varied, and reflected the same sort of pressures that my own library is facing, such as streamlining and integrating acquisitions and providing more information to the user on a static staffing count.

Overall, a good conference, and thanks in particular to the EIUG committee who worked so hard to make it so.

P.S. The photo? The conference dinner was in the Directors Box at Aston Villa and we had a tour of the ground beforehand.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , , | Leave a comment

The (1950s) future is here!

According to Marshall Breeding’s invaluable Library Technology Guides, Evanced have announced their new product BranchAnywhere. I’m really looking forward to seeing this: a giant vending machine containing at least 325 items including books, DVDs, etc. There’s an industrial robot inside the unit which copes with both taking the items off the shelves inside and putting them back in the right place. I hope it is glass-fronted so that we can see it work!

March 15, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | 1 Comment