Sunday, June 7, 2009

Is a New Era Dawning

A friend of mine asked me, in relation to libraries and cloud computing, if we were at a point where libraries were at a point where they were willing to forego the localization and customization that commercial ILS vendors provide for what OCLC be able to provide with their plan to provide web-based library management systems. His premise is that current commercial ILS vendors are responsive to library needs and adapt as needed. While I agree that librarians can make incredibly unrealistic demands on vendors, I'm not sure I agree with the assumption that current commercial vendors are particularly responsive or agile. Certainly this has something to do with the fact that the library automation market is limited with customers of finite resources. That may be the reason that vendors have not been able to keep up with the changing expectation of our users.

I'm not sure if cloud computing represents an answer to the challenges currently facing librarians and ILS vendors but the environment is inexorably changing. The idea of splitting out different ILS components and selecting the software packets that work best for individual libraries makes a lot of sense in my mind right now. At the CUWL meeting we were talking about having our patron database managed by the campus student/personnel system and library acquisitions/finances managed by the campus financial system. The idea of running our acquisition system through campus financials scares me to death but it makes sense budgetarily. In the current budget crises these types of efficiencies may be forced upon us. I remember going through an ILS vendor migration and the trade offs that change brought. I came to realize that no, one vendor had a product that worked well for all of our library's needs. At the same time I visited the library of the Universitat Freiburg. There they had one system developed for circulation, one for the catalog and one for financial management. Each was developed separately but all interacted with each other. I would like to see an environment where libraries could buy a circulation system from one vendor, a commercial financial system and a cooperatively developed open source resource discovery system. I don't know if current vendors have a business model that would support them being able to survive by selling there systems as discrete packets. They don't have the resources to invest in the r&d needed to keep up as it is. I'm convinced that the library automation business is just another of the businesses that libraries interact with that is facing a business model crisis; just like publishers.

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