Category Archives: jisclms

The Benefits of Open Source for Libraries

The following post appeared as a question and answer piece in the August edition of the Cilip Update magazine

What are the main benefits to the library of adopting open source?

There are some well known benefits that open source could bring to libraries, these include:

Lower costs: Open source offers a lower total cost of ownership than traditional library systems. There are none of the traditional license costs associated with open source. Libraries are able take advantage of the reduced costs the cloud offers by reducing local support and hosting costs (if it is supported and hosted by a third party).

No lock-in: Libraries are, in a sense, removed from the traditional lock-in associated with library systems. There is a greater opportunity to pick and choose components, and take advantage of what is, generally, better interoperability with open source solutions. Related to this is also the idea that open source is more sustainable: If a vendor goes out of business the software may disappear or be sold-on. With open it is always available, and there is usually a community involved in it to continue its development.

Adaptation and Innovation: Connected to the above is the greater capacity that libraries have to innovate with open systems and software. There is no need to await the next update or release, instead in either isolation or collaboratively, can develop the functionality required. This enables much more agile services and systems, as well as ensuring user expectations are exceeded.

A richer library systems ecosystem: A less direct impact of open source is a richer library systems ecosystem. This is both in terms of the library solutions available (a healthier marketplace with both proprietary and open solutions) and in terms of collaboration and engagement between libraries themselves. Libraries are able to collaborate and share code on the functionality and fixes they require. Indeed, there are open source systems such as Evergreen, which were developed as an open source library system for a consortial approach.

While these benefits are the headline grabbing ones, it might be argued there are more subtle, but none the less powerful benefits in the adoption of open source in libraries, especially within higher and further education. There are broader trends and themes emerging (and some fairly well entrenched) within the new information environment that make open source particularly timely for libraries. These developments include: open (linked) data; managing research data; open scholarship and science; Open content such as OERs; crowdsourcing, and, of course, open access. Open source solutions for the library fit very well into this broader open momentum affecting the academic world at present.

Away from the academic world it is difficult not to notice the close correlation between the open, learning, sharing and peer-production culture libraries embody and that of the open source culture.

So it may be that one of the greatest benefits of adopting open source is that it mirrors the very philosophy and values of the library itself.

Is it something all libraries should consider, or are there limitations to its usefulness as a solution (if so, what are the limitations)?

There are very few barriers to any library adopting an open source library system. The business models that surround open source library systems are currently based on third parties offering support and hosting services for libraries looking to implement a solution. Effectively, this means any library could take advantage of an open system.

There can sometimes be very pragmatic limitations to the systems themselves – the open source management system Koha, for example, doesn’t include an inter-library loan module (although they recognise this and have a wiki to collect the requirements for the module’s development).

For me, open source offers libraries an exciting opportunity: better understand the skills, roles and processes that are critical to the library’s community of users (whether academic, public or other). Open source can be about simply outsourcing your system and support to a third party; but it can also be about re-evaluating services, systems and understanding where the real value of the library lies. This may mean that support for the open source LMS is outsourced to a third party, so the local developers can work with librarians to ensure the services are innovative and meeting the needs of users.

Open source is an opportunity for the library to become more agile, and adopt a more ‘start-up’ like culture to the development and deployment of services.

What are the main barriers to a library adopting open source? (fear of the unknown, lack of technical ability etc)

It would be simple to blame the slow adoption of open source systems on fear – fear of the unknown, cost, security, perception, the list could go on. These are real concerns within the library community. But, it would miss the fact that libraries are using open source software. There are discovery interfaces that include Blacklight and VuFind. These open products themselves often run on top of the open search platform Apache Solr, for example.

Search and discovery are critical functions of the library, so these are not inconsequential adoptions.

Furthermore, there is a small, but growing recognition of the viability of open source for libraries. Halton Borough Council was the first to adopt open source for its public libraries, the University of Staffordshire was the first UK university to adopt an open source management system . These early adopters are helping raise the profile of open source and helping make it a visible alternative.

These developments point at potentially more entrenched barriers to adoption. One such barrier is the impact institutional and organisational procurement processes have on the decision making process (This, it might be argued, is a barrier to the development and adoption of proprietary systems as much as it is to the adoption of open source) . The procurement process for libraries (certainly in the academic sphere) has not been one that has traditionally explored innovative approaches – instead it has focused on relatively static and core specifications. This has had the effect of reinforcing the type of system, and the systems approach institutions and organisations adopt in their tender to suppliers.

For many organisations it might be summed up as simply as: who do you put a tender out to in the case of an open source solution?

However, many of the more superficial barriers are already largely redundant within the sector – the viability of open in general has been proved with the adoption of open source operating systems such as Linux in most sectors including business. Some of the more embedded organisational issues may take time to resolve, but already these are starting to dissolve as institutions seek to make effeciencies and adopt new approaches to procurement.

Are there issues over ongoing support? and do libraries need a decent IT dept to even consider open source?

As I mention above, IT support isn’t necessarily an issue for the library, this can be outsourced to a third party if necessary . But, having the right technical skills in the library is essential; it’s essential whether or not you’re choosing an open source solution.

However, the IT department does play an important role (whether they are in the library or wider organisation) as they are the people you’ll be talking to a lot about your decision. I think they key issue regarding the IT department is making sure they understand what you’re doing, and get them on your side!

There are also opportunities for libraries to engage in projects which share many of the characteristics of open source, but which have a slightly different approach. Examples include shared community activity such as Knowledge Base+ in the UK (a shared community knowledge base for electronic resources) which is a collaboration between HE libraries to improve the quality of e-resource metadata. Or the US ‘community source’ project KualiOLE (an Open Library Environment designed by libraries) where you pay to join the project to affect development, but the code for the system is open source. These examples build on the library’s tradition of openness and collaboration, and provide similar kinds of benefits to straightforward open source software.

Finally, it might just be that the greatest issue of open source facing libraries has already been overcome. David Parkes, Associate Director at University of Staffordshire, jokes that you should never be first. Of course, Staffordshire was the first HE institutions to implement an open source library system, so in many ways he’s removed the biggest hurdle to adoption there is!


Library Systems Workshop

On Monday this week the Library Systems Programme held a one-day workshop in London.

I’ll talk more about some of the things that cam out of the workshop in later posts – for now I just wanted to share some of the presentations which were given during the day.

You can also see what people were saying about the event on Twitter with this storify created by Helen Harrop from the LMS Change project:
[View the story “Jisc Library Systems Programme Event” on Storify]

The workshop was a chance for the projects that made up the programme to talk about the work they had done and the tools and resources they have created, and a chance for the community to discuss some of the issues and challenges that the sector currently faces.

The workshop was opened by Rachel Bruce of Jisc and Ann  Rossiter of SCONUL and introduced some of the main themes of the day.

The workshop had three main strands that explored:

  • Collaborative Systems and Services;
  • Transforming workflows and practices, and;
  • Tools and Techniques for Systems Change

The workshop was then drawn to a close with a panel, chaired by Suzanne Enright of the university of Westminster, which explored what would be on your LMS wishlist.


The panel began with three short ‘provocations’ from Martin Myhill (Exeter), Andrew Preater (Senate House Libraries), and Owen Stephens (consultant).


Andre Preater at Senate House Libraries has also done a fantastic job of writing about the event, and you can find a copy of his presentation on his blog too.  The provocations were rich in ideas and arguments, for example:
  • there was a call for a greater focus on (maybe even a commitment to) open source systems and the need for us to transcend the LMS,
  • the need for better exploitation of the data in our systems, and
  • the suggestion that the library sector may not understand, or have the right skills, to effectively inhabit an increasingly web-based environment.
In summing up the panel discussion and the day overall, Suzanne did a superb job of drawing out some of the main discussion themes and issues that had been surfaced during the day. An overview of these can be found on some slides she kindly put together:

A number of important themes emerge from Suzanne’s slides, and importantly there is a clear recognition that many of the challenges libraries face are not technological in nature. Rather they are about cultures and people.


So,what follows is a short overview of each session from the workshop and the presentations given (where available).


Collaborative Services and Systems

This session included presentations from projects exploring the potential to develop shared library systems and services. These were projects by SCURL in Scotland, WHELF in Wales and the Bloomsbury Consortium in London.

This project has contributed towards a new vision for library systems by investigating the following question: “How would a shared library management system improve services in Scotland?”

Building on the work of the earlier ‘WHELF: Sharing a Library Management System’ feasibility report the project has explored the potential benefits and pain points inherent in a move from distributed to centralised hosting and infrastructure model for a suite of library systems software, while building a possible overall business case for such a move by the HEIs within the WHELF consortium.

The Bloomsbury Library Management Consortium is building on the strengths of the Bloomsbury Colleges and Senate House Library and their track record for sharing and collaboration. The group undertook a study of the landscape of the 21st century Library Management Systems (LMSs) – and evaluating the options for building, commissioning or procuring a Bloomsbury Library Management System (BLMS) as a shared-service.

The presentation from the Bloomsbury consortium can be found here: 2013-07-15_JISC-Event-BLMS-for-circulation.

The group have made a decision in principle to go with KualiOLE open source /community library system.

Transforming workflows and processes 

This session included a number of presentations exploring the impact of new systems and technologies on traditional library workflows and processes.

HIKE is exploring the integration of next generation library systems (specifically Intota) at the University of Huddersfield with Knowledgebase+ and the impact on traditional workflows and processes.

EBASS25 in a collaborative project, led by Royal Holloway, University of London, to develop shared models of ebook procurement using Patron-driven acquisition approaches.

[presentation to be added]

The Collaborative collections management project saw King’s College London and Senate House libraries collaborate on above campus initiatives around collection management for the benefit of students and researchers, and the use of the Copac collection management tool. 

Tools and techniques for systems change

The LMS Change project took on the entire burden of this session themselves, showcasing the tools and approaches they have developed during the project and getting participants introduced to some of the tools. The LMS change presentation is below, and Ken Chad’s presentation on the business case for change can also be found here: Business_case_for_change_Jisc_LMSchange_wkshop_KenChad_July2013

Shared Library Systems and Services, Part 1

As part of the Library Systems Programme, two reports have been published exploring the potential for shared library systems across Universities in both Scotland and Wales.

In the first of two posts I wanted to briefly introduce you to the two recently published reports, and their main findings/recommendations. In the second post I want to highlight some of the other developments on the shared library systems landscape, and highlight some of the implications.

A Shared LMS for Wales (WHELF)

The  Welsh Shared Service Library Management System Feasibility Report focussed on the most prevalent and practical issues for a shared all Wales HE library management system in broad terms:

  • A set of high-level agreed consortium requirements for a shared LMS.

  • A proposed governance model for the consortium.

  • High level recommendations on integration requirements for local systems; map communications standards which are applicable to the project against standards in use by suppliers.

  • A business case for a Wales-wide consortium LMS, including cost matrices for the different approaches presented.

  • Recommendations on the most cost-effective approach for software, hosting and ongoing management of the LMS.

The report makes the following recommendations:

The Project recommended setting up an All-Wales Consortium with formal governance. This requires the consortium to formally agree which processes, working practices and configurations will be adhered to by all members as a whole.

A cloud solution hosted by a vendor (or open source vendor) is the preferred option, because this will provide the most cost-effective resilient solution.

Further work will be required to develop a clear statement on the vision for shared LMS services in Wales, ensuring clarity of purpose and providing a compelling statement of intent for senior stakeholders and staff to achieve buy-in to the strategic direction proposed.

Next steps…

The report suggests a phased approach to implementation; anticipating that the first implementations will be no sooner than Summer 2014.

The report also suggests a task and finish group should be convened to quickly put together a high level plan, costs and cost allocation (i.e. funding) for the establishment of a project team.

The Benefits of Sharing (SCURL)

The Benefits of Sharing project has also just released a summary report of its work exploring a simple question:

How would a shared library management system improve services in Scotland?

While the question is simple, the answer is a little more complex. Indeed, the project began looking at the question with an initial workshop and subsequent report.

It then broke the problem into 3 parts:

  1. Users

  2. Systems, and;

  3. Content

The project also published a summary report which concludes with a number of recommendations, including the following:

From a systems perspective, sharing technical infrastructure and support structures would offer benefits of economies of scale, with more efficient use of staffing and greater expertise than any single library could offer. System options such as Open Source (OS) alternatives to ‘off the shelf’ commercial products could, therefore, become viable. It is recommended that at the tender and procurement phases of a shared LMS, all options, including OS systems, are reviewed and assessed.


Both reports make very interesting reading – and also tell us a lot about the current library systems landscape. In particular there is a renewed vigour in the potential for sharing and collaborating around services and systems between libraries and institutions.

There is also a clear recognition that open source solutions are viable options for the community, and may represent a feature of this new library landscape.

In the second post on shared library services and systems I’ll explore some of the other developments within this landscape, and the implications they have for institutions, libraries and systems vendors.

Living in interesting times: KualiOLE announce further funding from Mellon Foundation

I thought it was worth posting this announcement I saw about the KualiOLE project receiving further funding from the Mellon Foundation ($750,000 in total).

While the KualiOLE project is a partnership between US research libraries, it is also a project which is generating some interest within the UK library community.

I don’t think it would be an overstatement to claim that the Library Systems landscape is in a particularly interesting phase at the moment.

A few years ago, 2007/8, Jisc and SCONUL released their LMS landscape report which reflected on the library communities frustration at the perceived lack of visible innovation with the systems space.

Over the past few years that landscape has been somewhat transformed with new proprietary systems from all the major library systems vendors, as well as the first implementation of an open source solution at Staffordshire University.

And, we shouldn’t forget the impact of  the sale of Talis group’s Library Division to Capita.

This agitation of the fragile library systems ecology has continued apace, and things do not seem to be slowing down…

Late last year, the Bloomsbury Library Management Systems Consortium made a decision in principle to develop a new, 21st century Library Systems with KualiOLE as its platform. There is a great post by John Robinson of SOAS  on what led them to the decision and what the library systems landscape looks like from their perspective at the moment.

At the same time some of the projects involved in the Jisc Library Systems programme have had their interest sparked by the KualiOLE project.

This interest and general awareness was catalysed by the SCONUL KualiOLE seminar held prior to the SCONUL Winter conference in December 2012, which a number of institutions attended.

A number of projects and libraries posted thoughts on the work of KualiOLE, a sample of some are below:

There has also been a very fruitful partnership between KualiOLE, Jisc and JISC Collections to build an open web service that provides electronic resource information on a global scale.

The Global Open knowledgebase (GOKb) project is working in partnership with knowledgebase+ (KB+)  and sharing a common data model to help address those global electronic resource management issues, such as data accuracy, transfer formats and so on. As well as helping establish a global library community working together to solve some of these everyday frustrations and challenges.

GOKb is set to deliver an open, community-based, international data repository that will provide libraries with publication information about electronic resources, supporting libraries in providing efficient and effective services to their users and ensuring that critical electronic collections are available to their students and researchers.

It will help underpin both the KualiOLE management system, and provide valuable data and collaboration for KB+ and the UK library community.

So these are very exciting times for libraries (in both the UK and elsewhere) as they reflect on the requirements of their users and the functionality and agility of their systems. And, while libraries find themselves navigating through these constantly treacherous technological waters, it may be worth keeping an eye on the work of the LMS Change project.

Like a bright star in the sky, it may help guide you to slightly calmer waters!


Digital Library User Experience – A video from the future!

I was asked to present a short ‘provocation’ on the topic of the Digital User Experience for the SCONUL winter conference 2012, and the impact this will have on the future of library skills.

The strangest thing happened on the way to the conference…

A stranger appeared as if from nowhere and presented me with a usb stick. He told me I had to play the video contained on the stick at the conference instead of the slides I had prepared.

He said it was of the utmost importance.

So, here is the video I played:

As I am sure you can imagine, I was very surprised! But, despite the surprise I was able to jot down a few notes on what I thought were the implications for the future of library skills.

Librarians need to learn how to code?

A number of interesting themes emerged during the conference. One of the most interesting discussions actually moved from the conference hall onto Twitter, and centered on whether or not librarians would need technical (i.e., programming/developer) type skill sets in the future.

This is an interesting thought – and one that reflects my personal opinion that many of the skills we’ll associate with librarians in the not too distant future (say 2020), will be very different from the ones we currently associate with the profession. While ‘soft’ skills, like communication etc, are essential, they do not differentiate the profession from any other.

What are the skills that really define the profession and its future? 

I plan to blog about these ideas and some of the other themes that emerged during the conference in another post – there are far too may nuances for me to do them justice quickly here. But I suspect that the profession will become increasingly associated with aspects of technical development that we currently see as still separate from librarianship.

These differences will begin to break down, and the technical development and librarianship roles will converge to such an extent that there will be no meaningful distinction. 

However, if you want some reading for over the break there’s a great post by the LMS Change project on New Skills for a New Era which does a good job of summing up the conference and some of the themes and discussions that took place.

 Imitation is the greatest form of flattery: So thanks to my colleague Andy McGregor who graciously allowed me to steal his idea!

Redesigning Library Systems and Services

Who’d have thought that a redesigned library website could attract quite so much attention.

Yet, the recent announcement by Stanford’s University Library that it has redesigned its website seems to have triggered a significant amount of interest.

stanford library website

At JISC colleagues have been discussing it for a number of reasons, from the development and UX approach to the fact it has been  blogged throughout the redesign process on the library website.

The changes in the website also provoked an interesting blog post from Lorcan Dempsey that reflects on two interesting consequences of the website, which Lorcan terms:

  • Space as a service, and;
  • Full library discovery.

What the Stanford website clearly highlights is that the traditional (siloed) library systems can no longer be conceived of as separate from the range of physical and virtual spaces.

The library web presence offers an opportunity to go beyond the binary opposition of online and physical, to one in which the library (website) itself becomes a navigation tool between a range of spaces, systems and services.

The distinction between online and physical becomes increasingly blurred – instead the focus is on appropriate services and resources wherever they may reside.

In some ways Lorcan’s second point: ‘full library discovery’ is an extension of these issues – the discovery experience itself flows beyond the traditional confines of the catalogue. It pours over into searching the website itself, guides, staff pages and so on.

The design of the site, with its central navigation banner, is also very mobile friendly – it is surely not long until the library web presence provides a siri like experience… is it?

These considerations are particularly interesting in terms of the current work JISC is undertaking looking at the future of library systems. In particular the ‘pathfinder’ projects that make up the programme and the range of system challenges they’re exploring, from shared LMS systems to patron-driven acquisition and shared collection management tools.

This work follows up some of the themes and motivations that emerged from the Library management Systems programme a few years ago. The programme was an explicit attempt to address some of the issues library systems faced in terms of usability, user experience (UX), and integarting with the wider web and other institutional systems.

Indeed, a number of the projects in that programme explicitly explored the potential for library systems to crossover into more social online spaces, like Facebook, and collaborative academic spaces, such as VLEs.

The current Library Systems programme is trying to make sure it captures interesting developments as they occur on the LMS Change blog to inform the programme as a whole.

Stanford’s website redevelopment certainly poses a number of important questions for other libraries in how they design and deploy their services and systems.

For more background to the development there is an interesting series of posts on the redevelopment from Chris Bourg, a Librarian at Stanford University.

The Future of Library Systems – New Projects

As part of the recent Library Systems funding call  I am pleased to announce that seven new projects have been funded to explore the future of library systems. Details of the successful projects can be found below.


The Programme builds on significant work JISC, in collaboration with key sector bodies like SCONUL, has undertaken to explore the Library Management Systems (LMS) landscape and LMS innovation.

More recently the trajectory of this work led to a workshop at the University of Warwick that brought together senior library managers to explore the future of library systems (a blog post on the event and its outcomes can be found here).

This background work and the workshop has helped shape the funding call and the seven projects currently funded.

About the Projects

There will be one overarching synthesis and scoping project that will provide a new vision for the future of library systems and a ‘roadmap’ for the delivery of that vision.

LMS Change
University of Westminster
Partners: Sero Consulting

The LMS Change project will develop and disseminate a vision for the future of library systems and a delivery ‘roadmap’. Working with the companion Pathdinders, the project will explore the potential for new approaches to library systems infrastructure, taking account of considerations beyond the traditional LMS to include other business critical and curatorial systems, both within and above campus. The findings will be delivered in a single report, published in a highly  navigable web format.

The programme will include six ‘pathfinder’ projects that will explore various aspects of library systems. The projects are:

Shared LMS: Business Case Evaluation
University of Cardiff
Partners: WHELF

Building on the work of the earlier ‘WHELF: Sharing a Library Management System’ feasibility report the project will explore potential benefits and pain points inherent in a move from distributed to centralised hosting and infrastructure model for a suite of library systems software, while building a possible overall business case for such a move by the HEIs within the WHELF consortium.

The Benefits of Sharing (How would a Shared Library Management System improve services in Scotland?)
University of Edinburgh
Partners: The University of Stirling; SCURL (Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries)

This project will contribute towards a new vision for library systems by investigating the following question: “How would a shared library management system improve services in Scotland?”

HIKE (Huddersfield, Intota, KnowledgeBase+ Evaluation)
University of Huddersfield
Partners: JISC Collections, Serial Solutions

The project will build upon the work undertaken by Huddersfield as part of Phase I of the KB+ project, as an early adopter of Summon and the TERMS project, in order to carry out a full assessment of the compatibility of KB+ with Serials Solutions and an evaluation of the suitability and potential of Intota as a replacement to the traditional LMS in the UK market, given its relationship to and integration with a knowledgebase.

E-BASS25 (E-Books Acquisition as a Shared Service in M25)
Royal Holloway, University of London
Partners: Kingston University, JISC Collections

The project will deliver a series of linked reports and guidelines which will form a navigation tool for consortia seeking to embark on collaborative purchasing of e-books with particular reference to the Patron Driven Acquisition of eBooks.

Anthologizr: On demand e-publishing from OA repositories
University of London

Using the EPrints repository software as its basis, the project will develop an extension to enable and support the creation of user-defined anthologies of items in the repository, using the open EPUB e-book standard.

Collaborative Collection Management
Kings College London
Partners: Senate House Library, University of London; Mimas; RLUK

Against a pressurised backdrop of economic challenges, teaching and learning physical space redevelopment needs, growing awareness of the student experience concept, and the ongoing move to ‘e’ only, the need to better manage collections has grown evermore urgent while at the same time becoming an increasingly complex and difficult problem space. This project will see King’s College London and Senate House libraries collaborate on above campus initiatives around collection management for the benefit of students and researchers.

Further information about these projects and about the future of library systems in general will shortly be available from the Information and Library Infrastructure webpages.

Does the library have a role to play in the Digital Humanities?

What role does the library have to play in the increasingly data driven, technologically evolving humanities?

Humanities and the social sciences have traditionally been disciplines aligned closely with the institutional library and its resources and services. Increasingly, in my conversations with librarians, there is a concern that while the library as a space remains popular, this masks a growing distance between the services the library provides and the needs and expectations of researchers (to say nothing of undergrads).

As subjects like digital humanities find themselves transformed by their engagement with technology, is the library facing the threat of redundancy?

There has been a flurry of research recently including the RLUK report: Re-skilling for Research and JISC Collections’ UK Scholarly Reading and the Value of Library Resourcesexploring the evolving role of the library in supporting researchers.

Similarly, Ithaka S+R in the US is exploring the changing support needs of scholars across a variety of disciplines. The researcher-centric programme has recently published a ‘memo’ on the interim findings of their NEH funded History project (they are also exploring Chemistry, funded by JISC). And, as the report makes clear:

To many in the history field and in libraries, it is unclear what the role of the library should be in digital humanities. This is not to imply that there is no role for libraries – only that this role has not yet been widely developed and adopted effectively. Libraries remain very much in transition when it comes to expanding models for supporting research on campus

So, I wanted to explore some of the roles that libraries might have in the Digital Humanities:

  • Managing Data: This has undoubtedly become a cliche, but it’s the transformative factor changing research practice. Humanities researchers are increasingly interacting with large corpora; how do libraries support them in this, and the data that is an output from this type of research? This might involve libraries supporting the data management infrastructure, or providing one-to-one support for departments and researchers on best practice. I see libraries playing a role in the collection, re-purposing and organising of data that may lead to further analysis by individual researchers or (sub)departments. What’s critical is that libraries work collaboratively with the researchers/departments: This is not ‘selling’ library services; it is about understanding researchers  needs and providing the right support.
  • Closely connected to this point is the idea of the ‘embedded’ librarian: Providing the support wherever the researcher is; a distributed approach to library services. The librarian becomes the campus Flaneur: Inhabiting the campus and acquiring an understanding of its practices. This active role participates in the activity of the academic metropolis, while always maintaining a distance. The embedded librarian provides immediate support, while always maintaining an eye on the evolution of research practice and relevant support.
  • Digitisation and Curation: The examples above assume that much of the data being managed by the library will, in some way, be created by the researcher themselves. Libraries, are of course, great sources of content and this means they often hold the expertise and infrastructure for digitisation. Libraries have a very meaningful role in the digitisation and curation of that content.
  • Digital Preservation: Libraries, probably better than anywhere else on campus, understand preservation. It is unlikely that developers and researchers involved in a DH project probably do not, although they will acknowledge its importance. Closely linked with sustainability this is a significant area for libraries to play a role. Close collaboration early on will ensure the library is able to provide advice and guidance on standards and best practice. However, as the Preservation of Complex Objects Symposia makes clear – digital resources tend to be complex and their preservation far from straightforward. This is an area that libraries can build on and start having a real impact on these research outputs and their ongoing preservation.
  • Discovery and Dissemination: Libraries are increasingly judged by the services they provide, not as a large store of content. This means that for digital humanists the library can play a critical role in enabling the discovery of content from across academic, and cultural heritage.  Furthermore, this role may evolve into one of dissemination of scholarly outputs. Whether this is through campus-based publishing or aggregation of research outputs, advising on metadata and formats to enable dissemination and discovery, and tracking impact across new platforms and interactions (what is increasingly being termed altmetrics).

Questions remain around the ability of the library, and the wider institution, to adapt to the changes that are affecting scholarly practice. While much of the focus of research has been on the library services and how these can be made attractive to researchers, it is clear that a researcher-centric approach needs to be adopted to ensure requirements and future needs are clearly understood.

Finally, I wonder if the values the library represents (openness, access, contemplation etc…) might also be something that needs ‘capturing’. If we only focus on researcher needs, is there a danger that what they see as the value of the library is lost? Is the library an expression of knowledge and prestige within the research community, and does this have a value in itself?

The Squeezed Middle: Exploring the Future of Library Systems

Last week saw a two-day workshop, held at Warwick University, exploring the future of library systems.  I wanted to briefly highlight the format of the two days, and reflect on some of the outcomes from the event.  In particular, how the workshop has helped inform a new funding call that will be published in early February.


Not so long ago the library management system was the neglected sibling of the library world; but the landscape is changing and it is starting to become centre-stage once again. Yet this is a very different world to even just a few years ago.  While it regains its moment in the lime-light, it is constrained on either side by the emerging importance of resource discovery and e-resource management.
Entitled: ‘The Squeezed Middle’ the JISC and SCONUL sponsored event was a chance for directors and senior library managers to review the evolving role and requirements of the institutional Library Management System (LMS).

Specifically the workshop focused on the key developments impacting the shape of library systems, given the current work that is taking place in both Resource Discovery (  and developments in the management of subscription and e- resources (Knowledge Base+).

Since 2008 and the publication of the JISC LMS landscape report and the jiscLMS programme things have changed significantly in the library systems environment. A number of open source systems are emerging, including Evergreen, Koha and Kuali OLE. More importantly, UK higher education has seen the first implementation of open source LMS at Staffordshire University – open source library systems have become a viable option.

The landscape is also seeing a number of Unified and web-scale systems in development, including: Ex libris’ Alma, and OCLC and Serial Solutions web-scale solutions.

The workshop aimed to explore this complex landscape, and end the two days with a clear direction of travel  for what the future of library systems might look like (and some concrete ways to get there).

Workshop Format

The role and functions of the LMS are, to say the least, fairly well embedded in the workflows and everyday business of the academic library. It’s a cliche to invoke the paradigm word, but it could be argued that much of the discussion within this space is caught up in a historic paradigm that has, for a long time, prevented the evolution (let alone revolution) of this business critical system.

The format of the workshop aimed to disrupt this paradigm.

The workshop began with some contextual information on the current library systems landscape.  The first day of workshop was divided into two group discussion sessions focused around four themes: Space, Collections, Systems and Expertise.

The workshop watched a short video presentation by Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC that provided some business modelling context to the discussions. Lorcan’s full video is available here:

Each of the break out discussions sessions were interrupted by four ‘provocations’ from within and beyond the library world. These short, provocative presentations were designed to help extend the discussions around library systems, and prevent the groups from falling back on long held assumptions and arguments. These future visions (they were meant to be a vision of the library world in 2020), were both very creative, and helped provide talking points for the groups.

An example of the presentations can be found on Paul Walk’s blog and Paul Stainthorp’s blog. The other two were by Ken Chad (Ken’s provocation can be found here) and David Kay, and all their presentations will be made available shortly.

The day ended with some ‘homework’ where delegates were asked to prioritise and comment upon some 60 ‘objectives’ on the future role and functionality of the LMS.

The second day was focused on cementing the discussions and explorations of the first day – groups prioritised some of the identified objectives from the homework exercise and slowly a number of critical themes emerged.

Emerging Themes and Priorities

A number of core themes emerged during the two day workshop. Below I have very subjectively chosen a couple to highlight. A full list of the prioritised list of library systems ‘objectives’ that was the main outcome from the workshop can be found here. This was very kindly collated by David Kay who helped facilitate the second day of the workshop.

Data Data everywhere, and not a drop to…

I agree with Richard Nurse from the Open University who attended the workshop and blogged about the event here, who said:

It also struck me that a lot of the issues, concerns and priorities were about data rather than systems or processes… I do find it particularly interesting that despite the effort that goes into the data that libraries consume, there are some really big tasks to address to flow data around our systems without duplication or unnecessary activity.

I think this is an interesting point. In the conversations I joined it was clear that a lot of discussion was taking place around the data across the library (and the campus) and how a library system might bring this together. Someone mentioned the LMS as a dashboard that aggregated disparate data sets from across the library and campus.  The system becomes secondary to the data.

This also came out in the discussions around ‘non-traditional assets’ and how libraries are able to integrate services such as reading lists with resource discovery, VLEs and repositories.

Skills and roles

This was a theme that seemed to run throughout the two days. In particular there was significant discussion around the future and transformation of library systems and its impact on current and future staff roles and the skills required.

This issue runs through the library from the practitioner librarians and the new skills and roles that are developing, to managers and senior managers and how they adjust to managing and obtaining these new roles. these new roles may also be frequently outside the physical library, or roles that are not traditionally recognised as part of the library skill-set, and so new ways of working and adaptation to those roles will be required.

Furthermore, there may be a tension between another of the themes, sharing services and systems, and the ability to develop, maintain and justify the relevant skills locally. There was a lot of discussion around whether the outsourcing or sharing of infrastructure (systems in this case), actually affects the local skills the library has. Infrastructure and skills are often thought of as separate, yet the two are more intimately connected than might be expected.

The reality, however, is I suspect more complex than this. Institutions may have already outsourced or shared services and systems; the question is then whether they are able to still develop skills and new roles. Furthermore, there might be some potential for shared services to become central ‘pools’ for developing and deploying these new roles and developing skills.  Deployed locally when necessary: enabling institutions to continue to innovative and collaborate.

Shared Infrastructure

Unsurprisingly this was a big topic of discussion – both in terms of skills as discussed above, and in terms of defining those services and functions that are maintained locally and those that can benefit from above-campus infrastructure.

There was also some interesting suggestions around a UK research reserve for monographs (something that has been discussed at JISC as well), and considerations around national union catalogues and similar initiatives. Resurrecting the notion of a national union catalogue did somewhat divide the delegates; it was clear that discussions around such infrastructure should be driven by requirements, rather than the assumption that a union catalogue is the answer.

While I don’t think it was ever articulated openly, there seemed to be a sense that the large, one size fits all shared LMS (whether local or shared) was no longer viable, or particularly attractive. Instead new models are needed – I don’t know what these are necessarily, but they seem to demand a new vision of shared infrastructure around library systems (and services).


It was clear that any future library system (whether local, shared, above campus etc) would provide the user with the ability to personalise, and to a greater extent, control their library experience. This relates back to the considerations of data earlier, but more significantly the user is able to take that data with them as they both progress within the institution and move beyond it (warning: I may be straying slightly into Paul Walk’s future vision of the library!).

JISC has done significant amounts of work around personalisation, in particular the activity data work could be very instrumental in understanding this area further. Iportant work still needs to be done on simple issue around ownership of the data and legal issues, before the more technical issues can start to be addressed more fundamentally.

Concluding remarks

The discussion was far richer than my abve comments might lead one to believe, but I just wanted to outline some of the highlights.

One of the critical things I took away with me was the need to constantly place these kinds of discussions within wider institutional strategic contexts (research etc). It is easy to deal with these types of issues as if they are hermetically sealed, whereas the reality is much more complex, with various different drivers and barriers.

As I mentioned above, the workshop had a very clear purpose: To help shape a new vision for library systems. This aim was made concrete in a recent funding call I have written and that will be published in very early February: see here for details. This workshop therefore provides a baseline that I can look back on in 12 months time and see what the landscape looked like in early 2012!

[All the presentations and provocations will be made available online as part of the forthcoming Library Systems Programme on the JISC webpages].