Marshall Breeding, an independent consultant and long-time CIL attendee (he has been to all 31 of them!), organized and moderated this panel of influential executives in our industry. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Packaging Resource Management and Discovery
Beth: BiblioCommons takes a public-facing approach. It is essential that the discovery interface be separated from the back office operations. Users of public library discovery interfaces are looking for less, not more. Today we live in the era of abundant information; people come to the public library primarily as their first stop into a new area of research.
Sam: A monolithic system that forces packaging on you is not good for libraries. Libraries have much more power to push back on vendors than they realize. You should expect vendors to partner with you, even though they compete. No single vendor can be the absolute best at everything.
Eric: We partner with EBSCO to do these exact things. It is not a cottage industry any more. Bringing products together seamlessly results in massive code bases. It is not possible to do everything.
Nathan: Our main focus for libraries is providing them with as much power as they want and as much as they can get. The more power you give them, the less company policies will affect the end users. The more open a product is, the better your end user experiences will be.
What does it mean to make a product more open?
Nathan: Open APIs–the ability to connect with third-party products–should exist out of the box in every product. Open source makes much sense for libraries. It benefits users and staff in a direct way because libraries do not have to spend as much time on IT maintenance. It is a fallacy that you must have a robust IT staff to run an open source product. Open source creates a marketplace where companies are in more stringent competition to get business, so they must lower their prices. It is a service-based industry, not a product-based one.
Leif: We must make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be open. There is not a single standard. We have a big job to come together as an industry and drive the core standards, then make sure that as we build the open systems, it is not hard to build the interfaces.
Eric: We consume and use the same APIs to build next-generation platforms; it is better to share than not. We want to be good corporate citizens which is why we have created an extensive set of tools for you to use.
Beth: It is important that we broaden the framework of open; open source code is only one approach. We need a competitive industry which will remove the barriers to switching providers. Key things are open data and “open business”: transparency in contracts without provisions that keep you from talking and sharing with others.
Sam: EBSCO is a family owned company. It is owned by philanthropists which is unusual in the library world. We want to add value to it. We have decided not to acquire a big ILS company and want to set up the best possible partnerships that will benefit libraries. We also support open source and intend to continue to do so. We are making an unprecedented donation to build a multi-source ILS. We want our systems to work with other systems and be as viable as possible.
User Experience: What are your organizations doing to provide a more viable virtual user experience?
Sam: EBSCO takes an evidence-based approach to determining what the users should experience. We employ the largest user experience survey firm in the community to find out what users do. We have 21 advisory boards and do joint user research and use the data to make enhancements to our features.
Beth: We invest heavily in user research and look at user conventions. Most of the user experiences are shaped by the largest websites in the world. We look at search logs in public libraries and have a feedback box that gives us 250 pieces of feedback every day. Users are eager to give us feedback, and we need to have systems that embrace it.
Nathan: We have a large research team. Koha is user-driven which makes the distance between users and the ILS vendor very short.
Leif: The industry has moved, and the vendors must move with it. Take communication out of email and preparation out of spreadsheets and build the functionality into the systems. This is a very important change that needs to happen over the next 5 years; libraries have changed fundamentally and we need to move.
Eric: The “Blue cloud” (Best Library User Experience) drives everything we do.
Innovation in General: The development of library systems is perceived as having low innovation. Is that a fair assessment?
Eric: Sometimes we take for granted the incredible complexity of the systems we run: for example, we are not like retailers that typically have a 10% return rate; ours is 100%! Our needs are very massive for both staff and users.
Leif: Observe and learn from others. In the computer science industry, you look at the hardest problems and develop from them. We should do this in our industry as well; learn what you can do from the example of others and how they solve their problems. Go and observe and see what goes on in libraries; see the work that happens inside and outside of the systems. Do the same for end users. It is important to meet your users where they are and find out what they expect today.
Nathan: Librarians are very innovative people. The sprit of innovation is alive and well in the lbrary world. We are putting a llot of effort into integrating linked data into our systems now.
Beth: Historically, libraries have been very innovative. For example, they led the way in classification for information science. We are very good at coming up with ideas but less so at putting them into practice in a way that makes sense for our users. The nature of our workflows has made it necessary to invest in the complexity of our back office operations.
Sam: The library community should be a lot further along than it is now and get away from “this is how we do things because we have always done it this way”. Our community is weak in collaboration; we need to be more like Wikipedia that has worldwide collaboration and has gotten better and better. The solution to slowness in development is more collaboration. A lot more can be accomplished by the community than any one company.
Beth: Libraries cannot invent things because they are all in their own little silos.