New Generation Library Management Systems: Shifting Gears and Standards
Libraries have traditionally been connected to scientific research. Developments in the methods and tools employed by researchers have always had an immediate impact on the workflows and services of research and academic libraries. This could not be more evident as in the case of the IAEA Library, which was created to support all research carried out by the IAEA on both technical and managerial levels. As scientific research has become data intensive, linking, exploring, and analysing big datasets lies at the core of modern science. Furthermore, the constantly rising need for digital content has greatly affected the design and management of a library and its resources. For instance, in the last decade, the portion of the IAEA Library’s budget spent on covering subscription costs for digital resources has increased by more than 65%. The Library Management System (LMS), the tool that connects a library client and a librarian to library resources, initially designed for the management of print collections, increasingly fails to cater to the diverse material collected by libraries. To amend this, the IAEA Library has decided to undergo the process of changing the currently used LMS, a procedure similar to heart-transplant surgery. Below are the results of the initial research undertaken into the new generation LMS, that will help inform the IAEA Library’s decisions.
Current status of LMSs
In the 1990s, a cycle of transition began in library automation development and implementation, reflecting the evolution of the information industry at the time. The majority of research and academic libraries moved towards automating access to their collections, alas not in a homogeneous manner. However, the evolution of Web 2.0, the convenience of the relevancy ranked search results promulgated by Google, and the convergence of media industries has pushed libraries and LMS vendors to redesign the LMS. Library websites now offer access to unconnected silos: e-journals, the catalog, databases, subject guides, ambiguous discovery services, all accessed separately. Moreover, e-books have entered the library stream, while the dominance of print collections is gradually receding without, of course, having their importance diminished, especially for research/academic libraries. Library workflows have also been modified to accommodate these changes. In the IAEA Library alone, information services continuously expand to incorporate closed and open access digital resources while simultaneously, the number of library staff is steadily decreasing. Libraries, in general, have prepared specifications for new library management systems which are long, detailed documents with necessary or desired characteristics. However, what libraries have really been seeking is a new model of library management. Until now, new systems only promised to offer such a model.
The new generation LMS
The rapidly expanding technological landscape, the current traits of peoples’ online information behaviour and their expectations, along with the emerging trends of linked data and open access, are basic factors in the design of the new, web-scale LMS. Vendors in the LMS market have developed, or are now developing, such systems. Experience derived from implementing any of those new systems has not yet grown into a body of literature that can be consulted. However, some distinctive features are already discernible.
All new systems promise comprehensive electronic resource management. Silos are no longer present. Indeed, there is no reason to have multiple platforms and multiple metadata formats to manage different types of library materials. The new LMS is a Library Services Platform, i.e. library specific software designed to automate the managing of diverse collections, as well as internal library operations, fulfilment of requests and delivery of services. It also combines open APIs to explore platform services, catering to extensibility and interoperability. Vendors have traditionally sold an LMS – in our case the Services platform – as a series of modules which libraries can buy one at a time. It follows that the more modules a library buys, the greater the capacity of the LMS. This, of course, has financial implications. Furthermore, e-book management is currently not part of the available library services platforms. E-book management platforms do exist and are available as modules that dock on the new LMS.
The new LMS has also been marketed as allowing for flexible metadata management (MARC, Dublin Core, VRA, ONIX, Bibframe etc.), moving away from locally managed metadata to globally shared workflows. Standards, however, are currently in a state of flux and new standards are being proposed to replace existing ones – MARC to Bibframe, AACR2 to RDA, ONIX, ODI and OAI. Additionally, requirements for digital content may bring about new, unforeseen metadata structures, which a new LMS must accommodate.
New systems reflect the changes in library workflows. They boast of consolidating print, digital and electronic workflows and unified management. However, workflows are not always as linear as systems developers would have us think. For instance, acquisition functions may involve 5 to 8 people per transaction, with some of them residing outside the library (vendor, parent organisation, legal and/or finance department). Whether or not the new LMS design has incorporated this basic notion behind library work remains to be seen.
Following the trend of software as service, almost all vendors offer some ’cloud-based‘ services. This move is a real game changer. For the first time, server management moves from library to vendor. Globally shared data and metadata will allow libraries to reach new levels of cooperation, enhanced services delivery and operational efficiency. On the other hand, hosting services externally does not deliver the savings it promises, while in some libraries it conflicts with information security policies set out by parent organizations.
Finally, all new systems require a discovery layer which integrates seamlessly with the new LMS. Based on index-based searching, it incorporates a unified search interface that promises to make retrievable as many resources offered by the library as possible, plus other pre defined sources. Relevancy ranking of results is included, as well as faceted search, social tagging of records, RSS feeds for searches, social media options, linking to open access content, and all traditional OPAC features. As indexes grow in comprehensiveness and depth, the discovery layer, a module of the new LMS, provides library clients with many options. Some of these include searching a subscribed database, the catalog, e-content (e-books, e-journals etc.), pre-selected subscription databases, search or metasearch engines and open access sources, all in one go. They can then exploit available data in manifold ways. The Open Discovery Initiative (ODI) was established to investigate standards and best practises for discovery services, since they are newcomers to the field. The discovery Layer, an essential part of the new LMS, will considerably upgrade the library’s position in the digital information landscape, but librarians still need to examine whether it delivers on its promises.
A new cycle of transition
The new Library Management System will substantially change the way libraries manage their resources and deliver services. Moving into an era of interrelated knowledge bases, the new LMS will surely reposition the library in the information industry. Available systems, however, have not yet been widely evaluated and knowledge about their implementation and performance is only now being compiled. Relevant standards are being revisited or rewritten, while technological developments redefine the library management model. For the IAEA Library, flexibility and the ability for extended, local customization remain the overarching principles of any system. For any library deciding to implement a new LMS in such a period of transition, the golden rule set out in 1931 by S. S. Raganathan, the father of library science, still applies: “Save the time of the reader”.
GRANT, CARL, The future of library systems: library services platforms, Information Standards Quarterly, 4 (2012), available online: www.niso.org/publications/isq/2012/v24no4/grant/
Research Librarian/Communications Specialist