The Power of the Platform: A Mix of Revolutionary and Evolutionary Development Will Provide an Interesting Pathway as This Phase of Library Technology Runs Its Course

By Breeding, Marshall | Computers in Libraries, November 2016 | Go to article overview

The Power of the Platform: A Mix of Revolutionary and Evolutionary Development Will Provide an Interesting Pathway as This Phase of Library Technology Runs Its Course


Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries


A major development in the most recent phase of library technology can be seen in the emergence of library services platforms (LSPs). ILSs have previously stood as the prevailing model for the technology supporting the management and access of library collections and for the automation of library operations. These two approaches continue in parallel. While LSPs have attracted great interest by academic and research libraries, the ILS persists among public, school, and special libraries.

I anticipate that these differing models of library automation will coexist for quite some time. In the long term, ILSs may evolve to gradually take on more of the characteristics of LSPs. We already see the movement in that direction. ILSs are increasingly moving toward web-based interfaces and are offering more extensive sets of APIs. The concept of the platform, however, provides a technical architecture and deployment model consistent with current-day web applications and social networks with considerable potential to benefit libraries.

Platform Characteristics

The development of a new genre of products through technologies and architectures deployed in a platform differs in many important ways from previous generations of library software. This platform approach brings many of the characteristics seen in modern consumer and business applications and in the major social networks to library applications. Some of these characteristics involve technical infrastructure while others relate to the delivery of functionality and data resources.

Technical Infrastructure for Apps and Applications

The technical architecture of a platform usually follows a layered approach, with each layer operating fairly independently from others. The concept of a technology stack is not new and is fundamental to enabling a product or service to survive changes in any given software component, standard, or protocol.

An important aspect of a platform lies in its reliance on a lower-level layer of technical infrastructure, which provides behind-the-scenes support for higher-level apps that provide more conspicuous functionality. This technical infrastructure is often implemented through an enterprise service bus, which provides a set of tasks needed by all applications (such as messaging, event management, and access to data stores). Rather than redundantly coding low-level services into an app, developers can make calls to the service bus. This approach not only simplifies application development, but it also provides a mechanism for different applications or units of functionality to share or exchange data and form cohesive workflows.

This low-level technical infrastructure shapes the capabilities of the platform, such as its ability to support multiple tenants, to offer consistent user interfaces among modules or apps, and to manage diverse types of data, as well as other broad characteristics. The technical components and interfaces offered by this infrastructure layer are of critical interest to developers, but they are transparent to users of the applications delivered through the platform.

Web Native

Modern platforms are intrinsically oriented to web technologies, both in terms of user interfaces (UIs) and technical interoperability. The user-interface toolkits and internal communications of these platforms are based on web-oriented technologies and protocols. This fundamental characteristic of modern platforms supports current expectations for the UI of library applications to be accessed purely through a web browser without the need for any additional software to be installed on a staff member's or patron's computer. This approach contrasts with applications initially created in the era of client/server computing in which graphical clients were installed on local computers, using SOAP or proprietary protocols to communicate with servers. External access to data and functionality would usually be offered through REST APIs, which use basic web protocols to transport the requests and responses. …

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