Scope and methodology issues

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Scope and methodology issues

The aim of this report is to provide an overview of the present state of development of integrated library systems (ILS) at the time of writing and to identify, describe and evaluate significant trends in the industry in relation to their context within the overall development of library services1.

The development of integrated library systems needs to be considered in the context of trends, strategies and technical issues within the overall information environment. These include, for instance, electronic library developments within particular sectors, metadata initiatives, and organisational issues such as the convergence or integration of libraries with knowledge management or computing services. For the library, the fundamental challenge is integration, and in particular designing ways of navigating the wide range of resources using cross-searching and linking tools. Libraries’ decisions about what to automate and why depend closely on the overall direction of their mission and service policies.

A major problem for the non-computer scientist is the sheer pace of development of Web-related technologies and the welter of activity that has taken place over the last few years in establishing technical standards. To maintain even an approximate grasp of what is happening one is dependent on the non-specialist computing press and on interpretative efforts of a few experts providing commentaries for the library world. Some of the more recent technological developments (e.g. XML query languages, the “semantic web”) have only recently begun to reach the library automation literature. The fundamental technologies used in library systems are generally well documented, but the manner in which they are applied to specific systems is often unclear.

.A survey of this nature cannot attempt to examine all aspects of library systems. I have chosen to focus in particular on:

  1. developments in Web technologies and standards, and their implications for integrated library systems

  2. overall software industry developments

  3. enhancements in functionality and information access from the user’s perspective.

Thus I do not consider developments in technical services (acquisitions, interlending or cataloguing) functionality as such; also I do not cover issues, such as reference linking and authentication, that relate specifically to e-book or e-journal management. This means the omission of OpenURL, EDI, and the implementation of interlending protocols. While attempting to discuss the implications of technical developments, I have excluded discussion of complex proprietary networking standards.

Integrated library systems: general overview

What is an “integrated library system”? Saffady (2000) offers the following definition: “an interrelated group of computer programs that automates multiple library operations”. Cibbarelli (1999) refers to the provision of integrated online access to the library catalogue and to cataloguing, circulation, acquisitions and serials management functions. As an overall framework, it is useful to have in mind Borgman’s (1997) identification of three stages of library automation. These are as follows:

  1. improving the efficiency of internal operations, through improving internal work flow and sharing catalogue data

  2. providing access to local library resources, through the provision of OPACs and through retrospective conversion of card catalogues

  3. providing access to resources outside the library.

The next stage, according to Borgman, involves a) enhanced facilities for identifying, locating and obtaining documents; b) bibliographic data exchange, and c) integrating local collections with other types of information resources. She suggests that library systems development has now reached this further stage, where the dominant theme is that of:

  1. ensuring the interoperability of systems

with an related tendency towards modularisation and fragmentation.

In relation to this fourth stage, other writers have speculated that the integrated library system is essentially a product of the 1970s/1980s and may cease to exist as such in the twenty-first century. Healy (1998) and Evans (1998) question the need for libraries to continue investing in specialised library management systems, suggesting that more generic Web-based information retrieval systems may provide a better means of integrating library content.). It is suggested (e.g. by Rhyno (2001) that the advent of Web services may spell the end of the integrated library system as we have known it, leaving instead a “library applications framework” (LAF) (see the discussion of Web services, below). This is more a matter of system architecture, however, than of functionality; it is difficult to see how the functionality of today’s integrated library systems in respect of the automation of library processes and resource sharing could readily be superseded.
Most of the developments discussed below relate to these stages 3) and 4).

Bilal (1998) estimated that the library automation industry worldwide was worth US $498 million. According to Barry (2001b) this figure had shrunk in 2000 to US $440 million. While it rose in 2001 to an estimated $530 million (Breeding 2002c), it is still too small to have an independent impact on computer industry trends; it needs to capitalise on what is being developed and led elsewhere. The Web has driven libraries towards huge investments in networking and new systems (Kisly 1998). A large proportion of vendors’ efforts over the last few years have been taken up with the migration of existing systems to keep pace with wider developments in computing standards (such as new operating systems, client/server architecture, the explosive growth of the Web and new Web technologies) and also in dealing with year 2000 issues.

There are two basic types of system (Saffady 2000): those intended for larger academic or public libraries, and those intended for smaller libraries, such as school or special libraries. The division, however, is not absolute.

It is now typical for ILS vendors to provide systems that:

  • use multi-tiered client/server architecture and TCP/IP networking protocols

  • have Web-based OPACs

  • employ graphical interfaces for library maintenance functions (sometimes a Web interface is available throughout a system)

  • support UNICODE, hence the use of non-Western characters

  • have an object-oriented architecture

  • are built on industry-standard relational database management systems (RDBMS)

  • are Z39.50 compliant (client and server)

  • support the ILL protocol (ISO 10160/61)

  • are EDI compatible

There is in addition a trend in modern library systems towards a modular architecture based on software components and well-defined application programming interfaces (APIs); this allows much faster upgrading of software. This is relevant to the open source software movement, discussed below. One would expect that adoption of such industry standards would have facilitated the inter-operation of modules from different library systems; however, this has not happened in practice.2 What is of significance, however, is the emergence of complex cooperative information environments using library portals based on “web services” (Cox and Yeates 2002a). Web services are discussed in more detail below.

There has been a move to standardise on two main operating systems: Unix and Windows NT/2000. In a bid to broaden their market to smaller libraries (NT/2000 being considerably less demanding in terms of hardware requirements and hence considerably cheaper), vendors have frequently developed NT/2000 versions of existing Unix-based systems. At the desktop, Windows 9x/NT/2000 dominates, but the emergence of Java, Citrix MetaFrame, and Linux technologies offers some competition and variety (Evans 2000).
The movement towards client/server from mainframe- or minicomputer-based systems began in the mid-1990s. The gain from client/server architecture is increased speed of operation, and less need for high-powered client PCs. Vendors generally aim nowadays to provide systems that are true client/server, as distinct from adding application-specific client/server components to mainframe- or minicomputer-based products. Client/server systems separate the user interface and the application program from the data repository. Within client/server architectures there is a distinction between two-tier and three-tier, systems. In two-tier systems, the client software system has both the GUI and the application program, In three-tier systems, the user interface program still resides on the client, and the data on the data server, but a third layer, the application server, is interposed between them. The application components can be distributed over several machines. The software that connects the three components is known as middleware. Three-tier systems have numerous advantages. Database and network performance is improved, larger amounts of data may be handled, and software may be maintained more easily. Three-tier systems support so-called “thin clients” (such as Windows terminals) and permit different types of client within the same installation. (Saunders 1996, Saffady 2000).
It is frequently stated (e.g. by Breeding 2000a, 2001, Beaumont 1998) that integrated library systems are now “mature”, that is, have all basic functions and modules, and that the differences between them now lie in additional functionality and additional products that lie beyond the hitherto conventional boundaries of library automation. In practice, however, one encounters variations in emphasis in the stated development strategies of vendors and in the strengths of their respective systems, as exemplified by the following:
Mikromarc: flexibility

Adlib: emphasis on the convergence of museums, archives and libraries

Autolib: use of XML

Fretwell Downing: interface consistency for technical services staff, flexibility, economy

Surpass: online bookshop-like OPAC features

EOSi: state of the art retrieval engine

Libero (Esprit): non-modular, robust, cheap
According to Akeroyd (1998) “during [the last few years] new systems have tended not to provide hugely significant levels of innovation, except perhaps in terms of pure technology”. However, within the systems currently being demonstrated there do appear to be some significant new innovations in basic functionality, such as:

  • the use of computer integrated telephony to provide automatic renewals, reminders and reservations: I-tiva (TalkingTech), Telecirc (epixtech)

  • the use of radio-frequency ID (RFID) technology to permit easy stock checking and remote issues (3M, GemPlus)

  • the facility to access OPACs via mobile devices : Innovative (AirPAC) (Breeding 2002a, Allen 2001)

  • integration with virtual learning environments: Endeavor (VLEs) (Hamilton 2002, Cox and Yeates (2002a)

and also other new features, such, eg.

  • reading list management : Sentient3

  • e-journal administration: Innovative, Endeavor/Serials Solutions

It is also likely that library systems will make use the emerging voice processing technologies (Phillips, 2001a, 2001b; Dendrinos, 2002) and of the identification systems (iris- or fingerprint-based) that are currently under development for self-service banking. A fingerprint-based system (MicroLibrarian) was displayed at the 2001 Library and Information Show.

Another emerging major trend is that of integration of electronic content into library systems via partnerships between content creators or providers and library system vendors: Sirsi with Ebrary (Evans 2002), Talis with TDnet, Endeavor with LexisNexis, etc. Library portals are discussed in more detail below.
It is typical for library staff, rather than vendors, to be at the forefront of library systems technology (see below, under “Open systems software movement”). Some vendors, such as ExLibris, support major research and development efforts. However, many innovations come from research projects or from large academic libraries that have substantial systems departments, and are subsequently incorporated by vendors into new software releases (Barry et al. 2001). For instance, the reference linking system SFX was originally a research project at the University of Ghent (van de Sompel 2001), while the Talis Web OPAC started life as an experimental project at Loughborough University (Hulme 1996), and OLIB is explicitly based upon the OKAPI experimental OPAC research (McKiernan 2000).

Although there are widely differing views as to how it should be done (e.g. Rhyno 1997a, Lease Morgan 1995, Baruth 2000) there appears to be a clear consensus among commentators that library technology in the 21st century needs to 1) facilitate access to a hybrid information environment and

2) integrate library services with the Web. Akeroyd (1998) has suggested that the electronic publishing revolution will require more fundamental development work on integrated library systems; that it will be desirable to:

  1. provide full support for hybrid libraries (i.e. integrate multiple systems both of bibliographic and full text information)

  2. simplify and control access to resources and provide management information on their use

  3. collect, archive and manage access to diverse digital objects

  4. personalise resources

and perhaps also to:

  1. move to open source software

  2. integrate the library system with knowledge management systems

He suggests that recent hybrid library projects provide indications of their possible future shape. There appears to be remarkably little cross-over at present, however, between digital or hybrid library initiatives and commercial library systems. Of the eLib hybrid library initiatives in the UK, only the AGORA and BUILDER projects involved commercial vendors (Fretwell Downing, Talis) to any significant degree.4 Mackenzie Smith, of the Harvard University Libraries Digital Initiative, has opined that, in her experience, system vendors appear to have little understanding of leading-edge digital library developments; also that, in any case, many experimental digital library systems are too specific to their institutional context to be patent of commercial exploitation.55 The issue is that of the scope of the integrated library system within a hybrid or digital information environment. According to McKenna, however (1998), “library management system suppliers now see their new generation systems as the hub of the electronic library...They are, of course, essential tools, but are only one of a myriad of electronic resources”.

It is clear that many system vendors are broadening the scope of their systems, providing powerful metasearching facilities, extended cataloguing functionality (e.g. the means to define a range of custom media types and to use metadata schemes other than MARC, such as Dublin Core, RDF and OAI) and providing additional products, such as customisable library portals, virtual reference services, reference linking systems, and enhanced content. The market is evidently volatile.
The Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) “Top Tech Trends” web pages6 provide a useful barometer of expert opinion over the last few years on overall trends in library automation. Among the trends identified by the LITA and other commentators are the following:

  1. the impact of computer industry developments and standards (technical and metadata), in particular Z39.50, XML, Java, and Web services

  2. the use of customisation and personalisation technologies; the emergence of partnerships between integrated library system vendors and digital content providers

  3. integration of many aspects of information service provision; between libraries, museums and archives (particular regarding the development of digital collections); between library and computing services in universities; between special libraries and other corporate information systems within their host organisations

  4. a move to enhance the scope and content of the library OPAC; to use it as a tool for integrating access to information resources; the requirement to support resource sharing and document delivery functions

  5. the open source software movement

  6. the advent of the Application Service Provider model for outsourcing of services

  7. the move to wireless applications

Other than 7), these are the developments that I choose specifically to discuss.

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