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Views on technology and libraries

OLE Indiana Workshop, April 22nd

Yesterday I attended a follow-up Open Library Environment workshop for Indiana academic libraries, at IUPUI in Indianapolis. We started off our day by meeting at the Hesburgh Library at 6:30 am and arrived a few minutes before the 10:00 am start time, which was due to run until 3:00 pm that day. 28 librarians and staff were in attendance, the bulk of which represented various libraries at Indiana University Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, Purdue University Libraries sent a team, an attendee from Taylor University who was also representing the Private Academic Libraries of Indiana (PALNI) consortium, and then five of us from Notre Dame, from Library Information Systems, Digital Access & Information Architecture, Monographic Acquisitions, our Librarian-in-Residence and our Data Services Librarian.

The day started off with welcomes from the Library Directors of IUPUI and Indiana University, some introductions of all attendees, and then a presentation by Robert McDonald, Associate Dean for Library Technologies for the IU Library System.

The goal of the OLE Project ( is to specify and design, co-develop, build and implement a community source, next generation business system for libraries. In the past this has been known as the “Integrated Library System (ILS)”, which comprised the lifecycle management of physical items (books, journals, videorecordings, music, etc.) that a library typically purchases for their user community. With the explosion of electronic information that libraries have been acquiring in the last 15 years, the scope of these systems have been increasingly antiquated and less able to meet the needs for libraries to manage these effectively. This has resulted in a variety of other systems growing up around the ILS to handle these new needs, including citation linking, federated search services, electronic resource management and most recently, separate enhanced resource discovery interfaces that address some of the shortcomings with the web interface used by end users of these systems.

The library systems market is a small one globally, and the academic research library market an even smaller niche. The North American and European installed base of ILS software provided by the four main companies in this market is perhaps 4000-5000, which is tiny by most mainstream software comparisons. Two of these companies are held by private equity firms, another is family owned and privately-held. Recent consolidation within this market and the maturity of the installed current generation of software have made this a fairly flat growth market for these vendors, and McDonald guessed that the market would consolidate further down to perhaps two vendors within the next 2-3 years. The only company so far that has addressed a five year plan for coming up with a ‘next generation ILS’ thus far has been Ex Libris, so McDonald thought that they would be one of the companies that survives, but was less confident of the others.

The OLE Project has held a variety of regional workshops to engage about 350 participants from 175+ libraries in North America and Australasia, and the next part of the day was spent reviewing the OLE Reference Model and outcomes of the business process modelling activities that participants have contributed to. This, along with a two-year activity study done on the work of libraries by the National Library of Australia, has resulted in OLE to be able to define the major functional categories of business activity in academic libraries. These functions will be developed and exposed using Service Oriented Architecture, a software development approach that allows functionality to be exposed to other computer programs in a modular and granular way to allow for flexible, extensible and scalable software that can be plugable and easier to integrate with other external systems, most notably enterprise academic systems such as financials, human resources, student information, identity management and digital repository functional areas.

Ex Libris is busy defining their next generation ILS, code-named Unified Resource Management (URM) at this point, representing the vended application choice. The OLE Project represents the community and open source development along these lines.

OLE is looking to identify build partners for the second phase of their request for grant funding to Mellon, which will be due into Mellon in July 2009. This includes a commitment of up to two years from at least part of a programmer from a build participant institution, and some other cost sharing up front. With the economic downturn, Mellon is expected to be able to contribute only two years funding support instead of three, and Mellon expects the Project to be able to demonstrate that the effort is sustainable with a governance model and robust community developing around the project to see it forward into the future.

There was also some time spent on discussing the Kuali Foundation (, which develops, maintains and governs a variety of open source administrative enterprise software for higher education, and which could serve as a non-profit organizational home for the OLE Project.

We wrapped up the day with some discussion on ‘blue-skying’ opportunities and where the group thought we could stop doing some current activities and start doing new things to address the rapid change in higher education, commodity search services like Google in relation to libraries, and related issues.

The OLE Project certainly has a good deal of momentum around it, and it will be very interesting to see how the vended and community source options develop over the next two years. This will certainly be a pivotal time in library systems and services, and it is certainly good to engage in both areas to influence and educate ourselves and the institutions we work for on these developments.

Filed under: OLE, travel reports