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The Future of the Library Management System

Introduction

The Library Management System (LMS), also referred to as Integrated Library System (ILS), is the lynchpin of library automation. Yet Marshall Breeding, library technology guru and one of the main writers on the subject, forecast its demise at the American Library Association's Midwinter 2012 meeting (Rapp, 2012).

This article looks at trends in LMS, and examines whether the above claim has any truth in it.

LMS – Definitions and background

The LMS, or ILS as he refers to it, is succinctly defined by Müller (2011: p.57) as "multifunction, adaptable software applications that allow libraries to manage, catalog and circulate their materials to patrons".

This definition neatly encapsulates the twin functions of the LMS: backend, automating the library's management of its collection, and front end, discovery focused, enabling patrons to browse and use its collection.

LMS software therefore has complex requirements, and must be flexible.  Its heyday was in the early 2000s, when many libraries migrated from their legacy software.

As libraries evolved to the demands of the 21st century however, requirements became ever more complex. All libraries have to deliver to the patron whenever, wherever, and increasingly on whatever platform he or she chooses, including mobile devices.

Public libraries need to offer self-service, and services need to be shared over a complex system of branches and sub branches. Academic libraries need to showcase, and provide easy access to, their expensive range of electronic products, which are frequently deployed over large consortia. In many cases they also need to store their patrons' work in institutional repositories.

No wonder then that Müller qualified his definition by urging users to look not only at performance and efficacy, but also at their flexibility and ability to adapt to current and future demands of patrons (Müller, 2011: p.57).

Breeding would agree with this, but doubts whether conventional LMS systems are up to the job.  They are, he maintained at Midwinter ALA, neither integrated nor comprehensive enough to deliver the services that the modern academic library needs to provide - "it takes maybe eight or nine or ten different application … to do the things that academic libraries do." (Rapp, 2012).

Are we seeing the demise of the LMS as we know it, and the disintegration into a number of different systems?

The proprietary market

The size of the LMS market, as calculated by the companies' gross revenues, was estimated to be $630 million in 2010 (Breeding, 2011).

The largest companies, in terms of revenue, are SirsiDynix (http://www.sirsidynix.com/), Ex Libris (http://www.exlibrisgroup.com/category/AlmaOverview), and Innovative Interfaces (http://www.iii.com/).

One of the biggest current challenges these companies face is that libraries all over the world are seeing their budgets shrink.  Thus money is just not available for brand new software, or updates. What money they do have is likely to be spend on discovery products, with 50 per cent of the materials budget going on digital content (Rapp, 2011).

Vendors have met the latter challenge by forming alliances with discovery products and so making their offerings more attractive. SirsiDynix, for example, recently (22 June 2012) announced an agreement with EBSCO Publishing to make it easier to integrate EBSCO Discovery Service into the former's eContent service.

Speaking at a round table to discuss the future of the LMS with Library Journal (Rapp, 2011), John Yokley of PTFS commented that library systems will combine workflow capabilities with digital products and discovery.

At the same venue, several speakers were quick to point out the increased importance of automation in tight times, when staff are no longer there to do the routine tasks.

Another trend is for greater integration in libraries, already seen in the formation of large consortia. Welsh libraries are currently piloting a shared LMS (see http://www.whelf.ac.uk/initiatives.shtml).

Recognizing the need for flexibility, LMS companies are looking to provide open access to the code of their application programming interfaces (APIs).  This enables software to be more interoperable, and customizable to the institution's requirements.

One example of a vendor working closely with a library is Queen's Library daVinci Open Library Platform, an LMS the architecture of which contains elements of a heavily customized version of VTLS's Virtua LMS, the Drupal content management system, as well as several other pieces of software (Rapp 2010).

By far the most important trend, however, is the migration of services once performed at local level to the cloud.  This is evident in the huge growth in open source systems, and in the fight-back of proprietary systems by developing cloud-based services (software-as-a-service, or SaaS).

Software-as-a-service (SaaS)

Almost all new developments in proprietary LMS are in the form of SaaS products and services(Breeding, 2011).  Whereas the API-based LMS is based on several key functions and workflows, and may not easily cope with difference, SaaS is more flexible and can respond more quickly to new requirements.

SaaS, which is applied in many business sectors and not just libraries, is defined thus by Cho (2011, p. 380):

SaaS is a way of owning, providing and maintaining software remotely by a software vendor who provides the software to multiple customers using a [web-based] platform.

There are serveral advantages of SaaS:

  • Cost: SaaS can be purchased on an on-demand basis, and the customer only pays for what he or she uses.
  • Manpower: because the user does not own the software updates – SaaS services are hosted on the Internet – the library can cut down on manpower costs.
  • Use of up-to-date software which reflects efficient business processes; with the ability to add new features rapidly, as requirements change.
  • Graphical user interface, similar to those on desktops: this is possible through rich internet applications such as flash or Java.
  • Interoperability: SaaS can be integrated with other systems, and allow the user to access to other resources in other libraries networked to theirs.

For a case study of a SaaS –based library LMS, see Cho (2011).

Some LMS products are developed entirely on SaaS principles. This means that users have access to advanced features without having to pay for expensive hardware, software, storage and networking components.

Other products are available either as an installation or through SaaS.

SirsiDynix's Symphony (http:// www.sirsidynix.com/symphony) and Infovision's Evolve (http://infovisionsoftware.com)

Open source

Open source (OS) is a key trend in web 2.0 – software that is created and designed by the community, for the community, and open to all in the community.

Aside from its other benefits which will be examined below, the spirit of OS resonates with librarians because it is open, and collaborative.

The growth of OS is one of the key developments in LMS. Libraries of all sorts, big and small, in the developed and developing world, have been either adopting OS either as their system of choice, or migrating to it from a proprietary LMS.

Speaking in 2011, Marshall Breeding claimed that even larger library organizations were abandoning proprietary LMS, and that open source had made a big dent in the latter's sales, with SirsiDynix and Innovative being especially hit.

Tristan Müller has carried out an extensive analysis of 20 free and open source LMS platforms (Müller, 2011). Firstly, he examined the communities behind the selected FOSS systems to identify those that were most sustainable, with an active community. He then examined the 20 remaining against a list of 80 functional criteria.  Those which satisfied the most criteria were Koha (http://www.koha.org),  Evergreen (http://www.evergreen-ils.org), and PMB.

Koha was deemed most effective (see Müller, 2011, p. 66), on various grounds, including the size of the community, the number of business consultants and companies offering services, and its high degree of integration, adopting two Marc formats, Marc21 and Unimarc.

Müller stresses, however, that he is not making an absolute recommendation but rather supplying a list of functional criteria against which libraries can check their requirements (see Müller, 2011, p. 77).  The whole article can be read here

Koha and Evergreen

Koha ("gift" in the Maori language) was initially developed in New Zealand by Katipo Communications Ltd. for the Horowhenua Library Trust, where it was installed in 2000. Since then it has been adopted by libraries all over the world.

Koha consists of an OPAC and an interface for the librarian for all typical library activities, including cataloguing, circulation, patron management, acquisitions, serials and reports. 

There is insufficient space here to list all its features, but more information is available from the following articles: Tajoli et al. (2011), Egunjobi and Awoyemi (2012), and Müller (2011), as well as the company website.

Evergreen was designed in 2006 for a consortium of libraries, Georgia's Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES). PINES originally comprised 44 library systems with a single library card and uniform set of rules.

Because it was specifically developed for a large consortium with a number of librarians accessing or altering the database at any given time (Helling, 2010), it is particularly suitable for large or complex organizations (Dimant, 2010).

Benefits of open source

Open source software has many benefits.

  • Next generation technologies: more likely than proprietary systems to be built on these (Dimant, 2010), and to be able to deal with the full range of typical workflows, print and electronic (Breeding, 2011, Cho, 2011).

  • Interoperability: because the software is built on common and open standards, it is easier to integrate with other systems outside the library, such as learning management systems and other business support functions.
  • Flexibility: users have access to the source code, so they can adapt the software as they wish and to their own requirements.
  • Cost: OS is free, and therefore does not require a huge amount of investment. This is particularly relevant for small libraries, and for those in poorer countries. Dimant (2010) believes that it is possible to get far better value for money for the investment made.
  • Support: support is available from a world-wide community, and you are not locked into one vendor.  There are several providers of support systems.

As one librarian commented, Koha can be implemented even if IT is basic and funds are limited (Keast, 2011).

A number of case studies recorded in Emerald journals testify to the flexibility of Koha, particularly with libraries that lack large resources.

  • Egunjobi and Awoyemi (2012) describe the reasons for the choice of Koha for a college of education in Nigeria. With lack of resources in both IT and finance, Koha was attractive because it was free, easy to install, and with a large community who could offer support.

  • Bissels and Chandler (2010) are in similar circumstances, and find similar advantages for Koha, for their very different library, that of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. They had only a small amount of money and no institutional infrastructure, and their IT system flatly refused to host an LMS.  Koha provided a flexible solution which could be adapted as their needs evolved.
  • Keast (2011) describes the implementation of Koha amongst health libraries in the Australian outback, claiming that an open source management systems gave remote users greater access to library services than would have been possible under conventional systems.

Not all experiences of Koha have been positive, however.

  • Helling (2010) compares Koha and Evergreen and discussed problems with the implementation of the former, and the decision to switch to the latter.
  • On the positive side is Koha's flexibility, particularly in relation to different languages and characters.
  • Chang et al. (2010) write about Koha-Taiwan, which uses Chinese characters and serves Chinese users around the world.
  • Shafi-Ullah and Qutab (2012) describe a Pakistani version of Koha, PakLAG-Koha, with multilingual support for different languages.

Kittens are free – but vet bills high

So wrote Dimant (2010, p.663) somewhat ruefully when talking about the costs associated with implementing free software – staff time, infrastructure and support costs.

Aside from the communities themselves, there are a number of support companies which have been set up to service Koha and Evergreen. LibLime, owned by Progressive Technology Federated Systems (PTFS), is the main support company for Koha. Controversially it has brought out a proprietary version of Koha, Enterprise Koha, thus blotting the latter's copybook with the OS world (Helling, 2010, p.703).

Evergreen support can be obtained through Equinox, founded in 2007 by its original developers (Helling, 2010, p.703).

Keast (2011, p.30) quote's Breeding's requirements of support companies: data conversion, installation, configuration for use with the library's hardware, staff training, hosting, and customization for local needs.

Conclusion

We have seen how the proprietary systems have been massively challenged by OS systems. For the latter, we have looked at Evergreen, which is particularly suited to consortia and to complex multi-site institutions, while Koha can be implemented even when the IT base and the funding levels are low.

Not to be outdone, the proprietary vendors are taking their software development to the cloud en masse, and are increasingly opening up access to their code.

Was Breeding right to forecast the demise of the LMS? Perhaps he was right in forecasting the demise of the API-based LMS as the only option; however, the trend is overwhelmingly towards the cloud.

What we are also seeing is a movement towards systems that are at once more complex and more simple.  More complex in that user expectations place more and more demands on the librarian. More simple in that the systems work more seamlessly, and can be easier to implement.

Developments in LMS have made it possible for all libraries to have a good system, from the huge library consortia in the US to the small education library in Nigeria or the special library in the Australian outback.

This is software helping libraries to become truly democratic – knowledge open to all, which is what they stand for.

References

Bissels, G. and Chandler, A. (2010) "Two years on: Koha 3.0 in use at the CAMLIS library, Royal London Homœopathic Hospital", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 44 No. 3, pp.283-290.

Breeding, M. (2011), "Automation Marketplace 2011: The New Frontier", Library Journal, April 1, 2011, available at http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/889533-264/automation_marketplace_2011_the_new.html.csp, accessed July 25th 2012.

Chang, N., Tsai, Y. and Hopkinson, A. (2010), "An evaluation of implementing Koha in a Chinese language environment", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 44 No. 4, pp. 342-356.

Cho, J. (2011), "Study on a SaaS-based library management system for the Korean library network", The Electronic Library, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 379-393.

Dimant, N. (2010), "Breaking the barriers: the role of support companies in making open source a reality", Library Review, Vol. 59 No. 9, pp.662-666.

Egunjobi, R.A. and Awoyemi, R.A. (2012), "Library automation with Koha", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp.12-15.

Helling, J. (2010), "Cutting the proprietary cord: A case study of one library's decision to migrate to an open source ILS", Library Review, Vol. 59 No. 9, pp. 702-707.

Keast, D. (2011), "A survey of Koha in Australian special libraries: Open source brings new opportunities to the outback", OCLC Systems & Services, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 23-39.

Müller, T. (2011), "How to choose a free and open source integrated library system", OCLC Systems & Services, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 57-78.

Rapp, D. (2011), "The Future of the ILS", Library Journal, available at http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/ljinprintcurrentissue/889595-403/thefutureoftheils.html.csp, accessed August 1st 2012.

Rapp, D. (2012), "ALA Midwinter 2012: From Consumer Electronics Through Post-ILS, Top Tech Trends Run the Gamut", Library Journal, available at http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/01/future-of-libraries/ala-midwinter-2012-from-consumer-electronics-through-post-ils-top-tech-trends-run-the-gamut, accessed July 25th 2012.

Shafi-Ullah, F. and Qutab, S. (2012), "From LAMP to Koha: case study of the Pakistan legislative assembly libraries", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 46 No. 1, pp. 43-55.

Tajoli, Zeno, Carassiti, Alessandra, Marchitelli, Andrea, and Valenti, Fulvia (2011), "OSS diffusion in Italian libraries: The case of Koha by the Consorzio Interuniversitario Lombardo per l'Elaborazione Automatica (CILEA)", OCLC Systems & Services, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 45-50.