Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Opening Up Library Automation Software: In Today's World Where Libraries Face Incredible Challenges to Be Ever More Interconnected, We Need to Constantly Work toward Higher Levels of Openness

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Opening Up Library Automation Software: In Today's World Where Libraries Face Incredible Challenges to Be Ever More Interconnected, We Need to Constantly Work toward Higher Levels of Openness

Article excerpt

One of the major themes that I've observed in the recent era of the library involves the demand for more openness in all aspects of the technology infrastructure. Libraries often articulate frustration at automation systems that fail to offer adequate access to the data and functionality of their automation systems. Libraries increasingly resist rigidly closed automation products that do not provide flexible access to the data and provide ways to connect to other products. Today's library automation environment favors systems that can deliver, in one way or another, products that break away from closed, proprietary systems to allow libraries more liberal access to their data. Open source software has caught on in a big way within the library automation arena, but we'll see that this is not the only approach possible as libraries seek options to gain more access and control over their data and other aspects of their technology environment.

The need to protect a library's investment in its data provides one of the key drivers for increased openness. The data that describes the collections and reflects the operations of the library represents one of a library's most important assets. The value of the cumulative investment of library personnel to create a database that accurately reflects its collection probably outweighs the value of the software used to produce and maintain that data. Likewise, data endures longer than any given software product. In the course of a library's automation history, it will likely migrate through multiple automation systems, yet the data created should pass intact from one to the next.

An interest in interoperability with other software products and information systems also fuels demand for openness. Libraries increasingly expect to do more with their data than simply use it within a single automation product. A typical library technology environment includes multiple interrelated systems, many of which need to access data and functionality from others. In order for multiple systems to communicate with each other and work together efficiently, library automation products need to embody a high level of interoperability.

What's Wrong With Closed Systems?

A software product, such as an ILS, comes delivered with interfaces needed for the full operation of the system. Through these supplied interfaces, the library can carry out its daily activities, constantly updating a variety of databases in a well-controlled manner. Most products will also provide utilities that allow the library to produce reports on most aspects of the underlying data.

A closed system comes supplied with interfaces that allow library personnel to operate all aspects of the system, often including reports and utilities for viewing, printing, and exporting data. Yet, having to operate within the interfaces, reports, and utilities provided with the system may not provide the level of flexibility needed by many libraries. A closed, proprietary system limits the ways the library can access the underlying data. The library remains dependent on the creators of the software to extend the functionality of the system and to access or manipulate its data in ways not supported in the delivered interfaces.

What Constitutes Openness?

A fully open system allows the library to access any aspect of its data and extend its functionality without the intervention of the company or organization that created the system. Products that embrace openness allow the library to work with the system in ways not originally anticipated by its creator. Open systems reduce barriers. An open system gives the library more control over its own data and makes it less dependent on any given company.

Openness is all about giving libraries access to their software and their data. Open systems aim to help the library gain access to its data above and beyond the means provided by the original developer. …

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