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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Library Services Platform: Are Nigerian Libraries Ready for Change?

Failure to innovate will result in a diminished role for libraries as the next phase of digital information evolves- Marshall Breeding
With the above  assertion by Marshall Breeding I wish to task and engage Nigerian librarians on innovation and adaptation to change. Apart from God, change is generally believed to be the only permanent thing. This is proven to be true across ages and seasons. The ever evolving field of Library and Information Science (LIS) is one of the most dynamic as a result of its perennial interface with changing technologies and changing socio-eonomic dynamics of the human race. So, it is convenient to come to the conclusion as Breeding's which engenders constant innovation and planned or strategic change for our libraries to remain relevant especially in this age when virtually anything can be googled. Asked, way back 2005, "Where do you typically begin your search for information on a particular topic?", 89% of the respondents (college students) chose search engines of which Google (62%), and a gracious 2% chose library websites, according to an OCLC research. This brings us to the issue of libraries versus the Web and more so, Google. 
Luckily, however, there is steady rise in library patrons' preference of digital resources and complementary shift in library resource acquisition from the ubiquitous paper to electronic. Well, not all libraries but, most libraries in developed countries are shedding the weight of print collections in favour of growing digital collections. The reasons are obvious. The Millennials which constitute much of today's information seekers and users are digitally oriented; they are digitally woven with mobile gadgets such as tablets and smartphones to get avalanche of information on the go. All these have serious implications for libraries who are key players in the  information world. No doubt, libraries are ubiquitous, they are essential treasures of human civilizations and must remain so even in the digital age.
It has been found that technologies only evolve to the gains of libraries and the information community all across history. Prof Iyabo Mabawonku, a renowned LIS scholar, in her recent inaugural lecture titled "From Tablet to Tablet: Information, Media and Technology Acceptance", highlighted the role of technology in human communication from the eras of cave paintings, cuneiform or clay tablets up to today's era of handheld mobile tablets. Libraries have always leveraged on these technologies to fulfill their purposes to the society. As computers were never a threat to libraries  at the onset of computing but rather ushered in the eras of computerisation and its succeeding and subsisting phenomenon, automation, this rapid web era should not also pose so much of a threat.
Much of early library automation efforts were based on server/client computing model with its consequential challenges which have now constituted major limitations. Many of such limitations of the now ageing library automation systems generically known as Integrated Library Systems or Library Management Systems (ILS/LMS) not limited to but include:

  • core focus mostly on print materials and traditional workflow processes
  • labour-intensive implementation and maintenance
  • loosely integrated environment
  • cost intensive
  • too many demand of other technologies such as discovery systems, ERM, link resolvers, etc as add-ons
  • complex serials management 
  • limited OPAC, which is still much like the card catalogs from which it evolved
  • inability to link with other library and institution systems such as student portals, institutional repositories, ETDs, etc
All these and many more have added to the pressure already created by preference of library users for Google and the rising e-resources collections of libraries which in the words of Jane Burke,  VP of market development for ProQuest, "we’ve reached a tipping point where collections are predominantly electronic." There was therefore need for a more robust and unified library automation system that can handle much, if not all of these issues in one system. This led to the development of new products which Marshall Breeding generically termed Library Services Platform (LSP).
Library service platforms are first web-based, multitenant library systems which operates largely as Software as a Service (SaaS) on the cloud computing architecture for the unified management and discovery of all kinds of library resources. With the cloud, much of the burdens  and cost  for system implementation and maintenance are drastically shed. The other features or benefits of the LSPs, especially OCLC's WorldShare Management Services (WMS) launched June 17, 2013, now used by over 500 libraries across the world are:
  • unified electronic and print resources workflows which also streamlines and automate management of e-resources
  • saves cost, especially cost of software and server acquisition and maintenance
  • inbuilt discovery service
  • visibility of libraries on popular search engines
  • intuitive data analytics
Apart from the OCLC, other major players in library technologies have developed their own LSPs:
All of these products apart from FOLIO are already in use by hundreds of libraries across the world. Even though, LSPs are termed future technologies in NMC Horizon Report 2017 Library Edition, to be adopted in two to three years' time, it is already in use by aggregated thousands of libraries globally as shown in the Table below. 


Library Services Platforms Adoption

NEW 2014TOTAL
COMPANYSYSTEMCONTRACTSINSTALLED
Ex LibrisAlma43406
Innovative InterfacesSierra Services Platform123495
OCLCWorldShare Management Services79303
ProQuestIntota3535*
SirsiDynixBlue Cloud Suite Enterprise150538
Social Library53179
eResource Central168329
MobileCirc218364
Analytics102116
*Intota Assessment, the first module of the new system, released in November 2013
Numbers represented here were reported to us by associated vendors
Source: LJ LIBRARY SYSTEMS LANDSCAPE STUDY 2015
A lot of things (figures, product name, owner/vendor,...) must have since changed. E.g, ProQuest have acquired Ex Libris, that means, with Alma. 
The only library so far reported in Africa to have deployed a LSP is Stellenbosch University Library with Ex Libris' Alma. I am not sure if a library in Nigeria has adopted any. The reasons may not be far fetched.
Apart from the fact that not all libraries in Nigeria, even academic libraries, have automated with the ageing or dying ILS/LMS, the challenges of libraries here seems to be pseudo-different from those beyond the sea which have necessitated the development of the LSP. To confirm the above is the fact that, our workflows are still largely traditional having to do with large and increasing volumes of print resources. This is a reversal of global trends. What the global community of information seekers and users are looking for is electronic. And this, unfortunately, is not to say that information seekers and users in Nigeria are not clamoring for electronic resources. In fact, just like the troubling statistics shared above, their first point of call for information is the Web (Google). So, it may be that the library is doing them a strong disservice due to whatever may be the reasons chief of which may not be unconnected with funding and the poor library culture I once wrote about. However, there are reasons to heave a deep sigh of relief given the recent interest and emphasis of the National Universities Commission on e-resources in university libraries. Whichever way, libraries in Nigeria will have to innovate and prepare for this inevitable change that the LSP have brought. The question, really is, not if Nigerian libraries will embrace LSP, it is a matter of when.
The when must however not be seen as later as projected by the NMC Horizon Report but NOW as I passionately desire. Now, because it is an opportunity for us to leverage on the inevitable cloud computing model making waves today. There are lots to benefit from the cloud: no hardware, no software obsolescence nor maintenance hassles, no update worries, no qualms on technical know-how or personnel, and many more. NOW, because it is an opportunity for many "unautomated" libraries to start on great footing. NOW, because we must bridge the tech gap between us and our counterparts offshore. NOW, because we must complement our political presence and gains on global library affairs (e.g. Dr Victoria Okojie, recently elected 2nd term as IFLA Governing Board Member 2017-2019) with adoption of modern library technologies and practices to the benefit of our users and the library sector. How may Nigerian libraries prepare for this change?
Nigerian libraries may have to decide critically on whether to build (use open source LSP as FOLIO) or buy (vendor-based like WMS, Alma, BLUEcloud,...). As LSP is a maturing library system, it is important to choose a matured platform or according to Breeding, it is important to choose a company that will survive. So, I counsel that:
  • libraries set up review teams to begin to assess the various platforms
  • they can ask for pricing information
  • they can explore the possibility of a consortium or consortia since LSP are multitenant based and are good for resource discovery and sharing 
  • they can interact with colleagues abroad and get their honest opinions of the platforms they are using
  • they can join the FOLIO community to be involved in its development before eventual release; it may just work like Koha
  • the Nigerian Library Association can also set up a national level task committee to review this imminent change and trends in the profession
Are Nigerian libraries ready for this change? Yea, if the counsels are heeded, Nay, if they are ignored. But as for the LSPs, they are here for good; the future has come!