Library Technology

General trends and issues

Multi-institution service providers?  Consortium governance arrangements.‘What seems to be common about most of these [consortium] arrangements is that they are quite formally constituted, legal entities, often with separate (charitable) status from their member institutions.  The Consortium may require dedicated staffing, it’s own registered office, and an independent management and governance structure from the member bodies.What your consortium might look like will very much depend on the strategy for your system.  For example, a vendor-hosted solution would require a consortium arrangement which could hold the vendor to account for service levels and service quality.  If the solution is hosted by one of the partners, a formal service level agreement would then be required with that partner, and the other members would need to hold that partner to account for service delivery.In either case there would need to be agreement amongst Consortia members of the service levels required….  The Consortium would need to balance cost considerations with the strategic need for improved service quality and reliability.Library Systems Shared Services Feasibility Study (Wales) Project. ‘Consortium governance arrangements’. By Tracey Stanley, Shared LMS study blog. 23 August 2012

Writing in 2006 David Lewis, Dean of the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis University Library said that: “Libraries confront a variety of disruptive technologies and these technologies will disrupt libraries. The structures and practices of libraries will no more withstand the technological changes we are facing than the scribal culture withstood the changes brought on by the printing press. Change will not be instantaneous, but it will be relentless”.  He advocates a five-part strategy for libraries for “maintaining the library as a vibrant enterprise worthy of support from our campuses”:

  1. Complete the migration from print to electronic collections and capture the efficiencies made possible by this change.
  2. Retire legacy print collections in a way that efficiently provides for its long term preservation and makes access to this material available when required. This will free up space that can be repurposed.
  3. Redevelop the library as the primary informal learning space on the campus. In the process partnerships with other campus units that support research, teaching, and learning should be developed.
  4. Reposition library and information tools, resources, and expertise so it is embedded into the teaching, learning, and research enterprises. This includes both human and, increasingly, computer-mediated systems. Emphasis should be placed on external, not library-centered, structures and systems.
  5. Migrate the focus of collections from purchasing materials to curating content.

He suggests that in the decade or so from his writing the article (that is up to 2016) most academic libraries will want to pursue all five of these activities. He also suggests that after 2015 legacy print collection in particular will become less important on some campuses “or will be more effectively managed by regional, national, or international agencies”.

In April 2008 a special SCONUL and JISC sponsored ‘Libraries unleashed’ supplement to Education Guardian was published. It saw a key role for technology: “Academic libraries are changing faster than at any time in their history. Information technology, online databases, and catalogues and digitised archives have put the library back at the heart of teaching, learning and academic research on campus. But most important is the technology itself. The extensive digitisation of archives, such as the British library’s national newspaper collection, e-books, open access repositories and academic search engines, funded by research councils and public bodies. The scope for digitisation is endless and libraries are ideally placed to lead the way towards a learning environment without borders”.

A 2009 Educause report on ‘Evolving Services’ highlighted how library (information resource management) technologies are evolving. It concluded: “Ultimately, these technologies — individually and in convergence — will enable both institutions and individual users to think differently about libraries and information management. Libraries will be able to become less institution-centric and to reshape themselves as specialized components of multi-institution service providers, sharing resources and staff in collaborative environments”. The report identified the following trends as significant:

  • Collaboration and the Cloud – The convergence of cloud computing (both for data storage and for applications), applications based on service-oriented architectures, and digital data and information resources in a highly collaborative environment has the potential to radically change the way libraries define collection building, share management of information resources, and provide access to those resources for their user communities.
  • Semantic-Aware Applications – The vision of the semantic web (i.e. the capability to present connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, things, events, or people) is coming nearer to realization with new applications that gather and aggregate the context of information and that use this context to extract embedded meaning, preferably without the need for previous human intervention to attach additional descriptive tags, for example. This capability, applied to digital scholarly resources, could significantly shift the focus of libraries from describing and managing individual resources to developing semantic algorithms and natural language lexicons for mining and extracting answers from those resources.
  • Visualization Tools – As the sheer volume of information increases, providing more meaningful and intuitive methods for interacting with and drawing insight from available resources becomes critical.
  • Personalization Tools – Organizing content to support research and learning is at the heart of the library’s institutional role. Once limited to applying subject terms, co-locating physical materials, and producing research guides, this role has been changed by the volume and variety of online resources, which require new tools to more effectively meet the needs of users. A growing collection of technologies and tools can be used to more granularly organize, customize, and personalize the online information environment to fit professional, learning, and research activities.

Shared Services

The KB+ Project Phase One Deliverables

  • A centrally maintained and managed knowledge base where JISC Collections is collating, verifying and updating knowledge base data.
  • Verified, accurate and up-to-date publication information for NESLi2, SHEDL and WHEEL agreements made available the KBART format under an open licence.
  • Subscription information – issue entitlements, coverage, renewal dates, cancelation information.
  • Licence information covering key values such as walk-in users, concurrent access, PCA and more.
  • The ability to add notes and alerts throughout the system and share them with the community.

Shared services is a key agenda for UK government and Higher Education. HEFCE noted the advantages in 2006 and invited the sector to do more to share services. It recognised the advantages in terms of bringing together ‘back office’ functions but also noted ‘a broader definition could offer wider opportunities.’ SCONUL took up the challenge and has made ‘shared and collaborative services’ a key strategic theme.

It was instrumental in securing a an investment from HEFCE of £600,000 for the creation of a shared service knowledge base for UK academic libraries to support the management of e-resources by the UK academic community. The funding established the KB+ (Knowledge Base plus) project. There is increasing interest in sharing library resource management and discovery systems and some of the new cloud based, muti-tenant architecture  ‘Library Services Platforms’ are, in a sense technically structured as global shared services from the outset. While the M25 group of libraries does not share a library system infrastructure is has been investigating shared procurement of ebooks in the E-BASS project.

Consortium ebook procurement: The E-BASS25 Project

‘It is fair to conclude that suppliers will be willing to offer more favourable terms to a consortium that can comply with the following requirements:

Ordering and invoicing

The process for ordering and invoicing should be as straightforward as possible. Models that entail micropayments should be avoided, and if possible, the option of a centralised ordering system should be offered. In order to facilitate budgetary planning, careful thought should be given to the dates when the institutions are to be invoiced, and these should be confirmed at the start of the agreement.


There should be a firm commitment about numbers and sizes (FTEs) of participating institutions. Institutions leaving or joining the consortium during the term of the agreement should be avoided where possible, but a policy for how this eventuality should be handled should be in place at the start of the agreement. If discounts are offered on a sliding scale depending on levels of participation, then a cut-off date needs to be agreed.’

Talking to publishers about consortial PDA: a report by JISC Collections for E-BASS25, January 2013,

The library and teaching and learning

‘Organizing content to support research and learning is at the heart of the library’s institutional role’ according to Educause and went on to say: ‘A growing collection of technologies and tools can be used to more granularly organize, customize, and personalize the online information environment to fit professional, learning, and research activities’. The technologies and trends identified earlier are having a major impact. Clayton Christensen, the doyen of ‘disruption innovation’ believes that the  strategy of universities tends to be one of imitation (of the top ones) rather than innovation and this has tended to solidify past among traditional universities making them more expensive but not fundamentally better from a learning standpoint. That is to say their technology model is one of ‘sustaining’ innovation He goes on to say that: ‘High quality online learning is the major technological disruptive force’ for Higher Education. The impact of online learning and MOOCs on libraries remains uncertain. In March 2013 OCLC ran a two day event ‘about how libraries are already getting involved with MOOCs, and engage attendees in discussions about strategic opportunities and challenges going forward’. Library system vendors made little contribution to institutional repositories for published research and it remains to be seem if they will get significantly involved in helping to manage primary  research data. As far back as 2004 Andrew Pace of North Carolina State University Library (now working for OCLC) pointed out the failure of library systems in terms of support for online learning and learning management systems: ‘With librarians poised between information and knowledge, libraries have begun to question how they can integrate learning management systems (a.k.a. e-learning)—software that delivers and manages online courses—into their daily operations. ….Moreover, the inadequacies of integrated course reserves modules—similar to the inadequacies of MARC for digital assets or serials modules for ERM—have shown that the traditional ILS is (yet again) unable to support the management of learning resources’

Navigating change

What are the skills that our services need to manage a changing landscape? The SCONUL Winter Conference (7 December 2012 – London) was entitled ‘New Teams for a New Era’‘There was broad agreement that, in terms of critical success factors, these crystallised around a set of attitudinal and behavioural attributes, typically borne of a core responsibly for the mediation of information working with a considerable range of users in a variety of settings and involving the creation of critical links with a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders. A set of key attributes emerged:

  • Brokerage
  • Facilitation
  • Mediation
  • Agency
  • Collaboration
  • Bringing order to innovation and opportunism

These were identified as key ways of working which place the library team in an important position in the institution vis-a-vis both ‘customer’ service and corporate enablement. These were therefore expressed as differentiating characteristics for the library service that needed to be imbued in our leadership and in the approaches adopted by our teams.

It was argued that the skills characterised in our discussion …can help optimise our opportunity to survive in and crucially to shape an increasingly uncertain and fast changing world of teaching, learning and research’.

New Skills for a New Era? By David Kay and Oliver Pritchard. LMS Change Blog 16 December 2012

The ‘Libraries of the Future’ (2009-2011) project (sponsored by the British Library, JISC, the Research Information Network, Research Libraries UK and the Society of College, National and University Libraries) was established to help those running academic libraries to plan for the future. The study was set up to address the fundamental question of how to plan for libraries to meet these potentially disruptive challenges. Its rationale was to improve decision-making and plan effectively for the future, by using a longer timescale (up to 2050) – using scenario planning is a well-tried means of doing this.

The migration to digital technologies was the particular focus of a report by the University Leadership Council in 2011. It analysed the key themes in “transformational change in the information landscape [and] managing the migration to digital information services”. Its key areas of focus were:-

  • Leveraging Digital Collections
  • Rethinking the Scholarly Publishing Model
  • Repurposing Library Space
  • Redeploying Library Staff

There also are useful non US or UK perspectives. Bas Savenije describes a joint response of the UKB (a consortium of the thirteen university libraries and the National Library of the Netherlands). It is involved in joint actions “to raise the level of the infrastructure for scientific information”. From a library perspective they see that an integrated, shared infrastructure will allow libraries to deliver “tailor-made local information services which enable the universities to excel in research and education”. Finland too offers a very coordinated national coordinated (shared services) approach to library infrastructure.

Skills: The new librarian?

Writing on the theme of ‘the enterprising librarian’,  Lorcan Dempsey : ‘Historically, libraries enjoyed stability and a shared understanding of goals. This in turn favored a focus on managing and improving the means towards those goals – building the collection, providing reference service, creating efficiencies in technical processing, and so on. This was the focus of professional practice and education. Much of this work is inherently bureaucratic’.

He points out that while overall mission and values may remain the same a new set of issues are challenging the profession. These the greater integration in the learning and research process through greater curriculum support, data curation, scholarly publishing, or support for grant writing or expertise profiles. Dempsey goes on to say:  ‘This may need reorganization, new staff skills, changing priorities, reallocation of staff and resources, and so on. It requires a shift from bureaucracy to enterprise, an adaptive organization that reviews and reshapes what it does in light of changing requirements’.


‘Open’, whether it be open source, open data or open content, is a major theme from a library technology standpoint. Ken Chad summarised some of the issues around ‘Open Library environments’ in 2011. He notes that social sharing and exchange has emerged as a new and significant factor that competes with conventional market modes of production. Higher education (HE) and its libraries are exploiting the shift in the information economy and increasingly exploiting the opportunities derived from open source software, open data and open content. He quotes Erik Mitchell from the University of Maryland: “It appears that there is a mix of trends circling around cloud computing, open source software, e-science, digital humanities, and open data that all point to a shift in how libraries define and provide services.”

However, being open is a means not an end. Re-use leading to impact is the goal and the evidence of re-use is patchy, and especially weak for open data. Commercial non-open approaches are reasserting themselves and finding that users will pay for the convenience even if there are open and free alternatives.

Open Access

The major theme playing out in an HE Library context is Open Access. The recent ‘Finch Report was mentioned the sector above on Higher Education. The shift implicit in ‘gold’ open access would represent a significant (though far from total) shift from libraries paying subscriptions to institutional open access fees.


‘A Model Academic Libraries 2005 to 2025’. By David Lewis. 2006 (Paper to be presented at ‘Visions of Change,’ California State University at Sacramento, January 26, 2007)

‘A new chapter’.  By Stephen Hoare. Education Guardian Monday April 21, 2008,,333615092-127846,00.html

‘What Technology? Reflections on Evolving Services’.  By Sharon Collins (EDUCAUSE Review online). October 30, 2009

‘Academic libraries of the future. Final report’. By Dr Geoff Curtis. Curtis+Cartwright.  May 2011

Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services. University Leadership Council. 2011.

‘Digital Library Economics: The Dutch Perspective.’ By Bas Savenije Published in: David Baker & Wendy Evans (eds.) (2009). Digital Library Economics. An Academic Perspective. Chandos Publishing, Oxford. pp. 145-159.

‘Future of Finnish Academic Libraries: The National Library’s IT Strategy 2008-2012’  By Juha Hakala, Director of IT Development, Kansalliskirjasto / Nationalbiblioteket. 2008

‘The enterprising librarian …’. By Lorcan Dempsey. Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog. 30 June 2012

‘Open library environments’ By Ken Chad. Serials – 24(3), November 2011 link available via

‘Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications: Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings’.  June 2012 [Finch Report]