When the ILS is Open

Post by Neil Block in EBSCO Discovery Service, Partnerships

There’s a lot going on in the world of the Integrated Library System (ILS) lately and much is centered on the “future” or “next-gen.” If you read this article in Research Information (Openness and User Experience Guide Future Library Systems) you get the drift. There’s a transition happening. Systems are increasingly cloud-based, moving from print to digital, and focusing less on back-end process and more on the “user experience.”  But what does focusing on the user experience really mean?

Let’s do a reality check. The move away from print has ushered in a new time. While print will not disappear, digital has taken center stage. And, of course, this change means that systems must follow suit. What ultimately matters is how systems address evolving needs of both librarians tasked with managing e-content, and users looking to access this  e-content (alongside print) as efficiently as possible. This is a tall order, and one that may not be suitable for a single “integrated” system. And there’s no need for the ILS to do it all. Today, with APIs and Web Services, we have the technological foundation that allows for interoperability. This means that libraries can in fact choose components that do the best job and deploy those applications that best further the library’s mission.

Interoperability, then, is the foundation of next-gen and the user experience.  It means that systems are open so that third-party applications can speak to the ILS. Let’s take discovery as an example. The focus of discovery is the user experience. Discovery is the front-end, the face of the library, and the one access point to the library’s collections. It requires a tremendous amount of work to get discovery right– delivering the most relevant results from billions of records; providing a UI that caters to different types of researchers; ensuring that full text is readily accessible.  When a vendor’s focus is just that–discovery–the results follow.

It goes without saying that libraries must be able to choose. Libraries should be able to compare discovery services and decide what works best. Yet the decision stands or falls if systems are not interoperable. If the ILS is “closed,” the library’s hand may be forced to choose a less than optimal discovery layer that “fits” with the ILS vendor’s existing offering.

Next-gen means open and interoperable first.  Most ILSs in fact are open, and at EBSCO we have partnered with all major vendors. For those ILSs that are not, we are actively seeking out partnerships and working to ensure interoperability so libraries have choice. When systems are open, next-gen becomes real. 

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