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Kuali OLE screenshot 0.6 beta

Screenshot of Kuali OLE beta 0.6

Last week SCONUL organised a very useful and informative seminar on the Kuali OLE library management system platform in London.  A very timely session, given that the Bloomsbury consortium of academic libraries in London have recently made an in principle decision to adopt it for their next LMS.

So it was a good opportunity to hear about Kuali OLE from Robert McDonald Director of Kuali OLE Community Development about the background and philosophy of Kuali, and also from various people involved in the Bloomsbury consortium about their thinking.

One of the things that I hadn’t really appreciated about Kuali OLE was that it came out of a feeling that existing vendor-developed and open source library management systems weren’t offering what libraries wanted and that the group wanted a more community-based approach.  Robert’s presentation (embedded below and on slideshare at gave a good run through of the history and roadmap for Kuali OLE and filled in a lot of the gaps about the work.

With developments funded initially with money from the Mellon foundation Kuali OLE is working towards 0.8 and 1.0 code releases during 2013, with early adopters getting ready to move to production readiness.   Work is also planned with the GoKB project which is working on a community source e-resource knowledge base (and has some common ground with the UK Knowledge Base+ project) and with looking at cloud hosting arrangements, something that’s of interest to me particularly at the moment.  It was interesting to hear about how Kuali OLE integrates more closely with other products from the Kuali family, although I’m not aware of the extent that Kuali products are in use in UK HE so far.

One of the things I hadn’t completely grasped about the Kuali model was that Kuali were using commercial developers to write the code on essentially a contract basis.  As open source it raises the possibility of groups of customers working together to fund developments in Kuali to meet their particular needs, rather than having to do the developments themselves.  There is a demo of version 0.6 of Kuali OLE available at

It was useful to hear some of the thinking behind the Bloomsbury consortium wanting to go this route.  That they saw Kuali OLE as being less risky, and not tying them to into a particular vendor, where they didn’t necessarily see themselves as running the system, but of procuring a hosting/management arrangement to run the system.  It was interesting to hear the idea that you could relocate your system to another host if the price became advantageous applied to library systems.  I know quite a few libraries are approaching the end of life for new systems and are thinking of the option of the new generation of ‘all-in-one’ library platforms, such as Alma or Intota so this is a different alternative and food for thought.

Lorcan Dempsey’s slides and video from the ‘Squeezed Middle’ have now been made available.  The slides are on the OCLC website here and the video of the presentation is on YouTube here and embedded below.

The video was used during the ‘Squeezed Middle’ workshop to introduce the initial piece of work to look at trends in terms of Collections, Space, Systems and Expertise/Services. 

Reflections on the presentation
The contrast between between libraries that grew up at an institutional scale and now face challenges from organisations that are the product of the network webscale environment was interesting to hear articulated in this way.  Drawing lessons from how other industries have had to adapt, Lorcan referenced John Hagel’s ‘Unbundling the corporation’ paper from Harvard Business Review from 1999 and talked about the trend towards greater specialisation.  Talking about three elements of customer engagement, innovation and infrastructure, and offering up a number of interesting examples from the University of Michigan and elsewere, Lorcan offered the view that priorities for libraries should be around engagement and innovation, with reducing effort going into infrastructure. 

I was quite interested to hear the Discovery solutions characterised as ‘data wells’ with an intriguing question about what other content aggregators such as Thomson and Elsevier might do.  Picking up on the point about a key factor being ‘disclosure’ of your content to the network-scale services such as Google Books and Google Scholar (with a comment about 75% of Minnesota’s SFX requests coming from outside the institution), it does make me wonder what the longer-term role might be of the current generation of ‘Discovery’ services.

Following on from the JISC/SCONUL ‘Squeezed Middle’ workshop that I blogged about earlier.  Paul Stainthorp has blogged about his experience and included the paper he presented on his blog here.  Ben Showers, from JISC, has also blogged about the event here on the JISC Digital Infrastructure Team blog.   Links to Ken Chad’s [update to the update: now available here] and David Kay’s provocations/presentations and Lorcan Dempsey’s video are also promised.  There’s also a useful list of the priorities that came out of the workshop, put together by David Kay, here.  This list sets out the priorities in five different areas: ebooks, non-traditional assets, end-user applications, library roles and above campus services.

New JISC call
One of the motivations behind the workshop was to help to inform (both JISC and the HE community) about a new JISC call (12/01) that includes a couple of LMS strands.  One covers a project to create “a new vision for the future of library systems and a ‘roadmap’ for the delivery of that vision”.  There certainly seems to be a lot more activity in the LMS systems area at the moment with new products, open source solutions and shared systems.    The second strand covers a set of “pathfinder projects to investigate a broad range of potential new models and approaches to library systems and services”.  The themes within this area cover Shared library systems, emerging tools and technologies and emerging library systems opportunities.  There are quite a wide range of different aspects touched on in the call paper, ranging through reference management to data.  A lot of potential for some interesting ideas to emerge.

The proposition
I’ve spent the last couple of days at a fascinating JISC/SCONUL workshop, ‘The Squeezed Middle? Exploring the future of Library Systems.  ‘The Squeezed Middle’ referring to the concentration of attention in recent months on electronic resource management (in the SCONUL Shared Services and Knowledge Base + activities) and Discovery Systems (such as Summon, EDS and Primo), that has rather taken the focus away from other library systems, notably the Library Management System.  In part, it was explained, this was deliberate, as developments in open source LMS (such as Kuali OLE and Evergreen) and developments of new systems such as Alma from ExLibris that look at unifying print, electronic and digital resource management, have been (and still are) in development and there needs to be some maturity.  But we are now starting to see these developments moving on and open source starting to be adopted (by Staffordshire University library for example).  So the time is right to start to focus on these systems afresh.

The workshop
Punctuating the workshop were a series of deliberately provocative and challenging ‘visions’ of the future library of 2020 and a video from Lorcan Dempsey.  [Paul Walk has blogged his here.] Against this background we looked at several topics such as collections, space, systems and expertise around the library systems domain.  Overnight we looked at a series of sixty-odd themes and activities and followed that up today looking at prioritisation and value of those activities to try to understand what might be some priority tasks.

A few things came to mind for me during and after the workshop.  Firstly, there maybe isn’t a clear definition of the boundaries of this space and really no common view of what aspects of print/electronic/digital processes and collections we are scoping and addressing.  It also struck me that a lot of the issues, concerns and priorities were about data rather than systems or processes.  So they included topics such as licenses for ebooks, open bibliographic metadata, passing data to institutional finance systems and activity data for example.  I do find it particularly interesting that despite the effort that goes into the data that libraries consume, there are some really big tasks to address to flow data around our systems without duplication or unnecessary activity.  (Incidentally, there’s a concept used in Customer Care, termed ‘Unnecessary contact’ and there used to be a National Indicator NI14 where local government had to reduce unnecessary contact.  In other words reduce the instances where customers have to contact you for further clarification. So you aim to deal with the issue at first point of contact.  I start to wonder whether there’s a similar concept that we might apply to libraries when we carry out extra processing and cataloguing instead of taking ‘shelf-ready’ books and downloaded bibliographic records – unneccessary refinements maybe?)

I also found it interesting how the topic of reading list solutions came up as a hot issue.  It’s a particular interest to me given involvement in the OU’s TELSTAR reference management project. The Reading-List-Solutions JISCMail list has been busy in the last week talking about the various systems (often developed in house).  And it was really fascinating to see how such a fundamental and time-consuming part of our daily work hasn’t really been solved, let alone integrated completely into the procurement and discovery workflow. Although I know that there’s some significant complexity there I find that particularly strange that it hasn’t been a feature built into the LMS.

Final thoughts or library systems of the future

It seems to me that there are some general principles that you could think about for future library systems in this space.  And I suppose I’m thinking beyond the next generation of systems such as Alma.  And these may be completely of-the-wall ideas.  But there are few things that come to mind as we move towards 2020. So what might a 2020 LMS look like?

> the systems are component’ised (think Drupal CMS), so both libraries and users can choose which components they use.  And they are largely about flowing data, workflow and process rather than about storing data.

> users control their own profiles (and data) – we (institutions) give them a ‘key’ to access collections we have paid for (so authentication is at a network level or with aggregators?)

> catalogues are distributed – linked data uses the most appropriate vocabularies, most not even run by libraries – local elements are added at the time you choose to procure – there is no ‘catalogue record’ as such but a collection of descriptive elements – you choose where you get your records from, but you don’t download them to ‘your’ lms database

> discovery interface is at the choice of the user – collections are packaged/streamed? and contributed to the aggregators

> rather than a model where libraries buy licensed content and then run systems for their users to access that content – so all institutions largely duplicate their systems – the content owners/aggregators provide the access maybe? as they already start to do with discovery systems?

> there is a ‘rump’ of an LMS database that is your audit trail of transactions and holdings (but with network-level unique IDs that link to descriptive data held at the network level), statistics are held in the cloud (JUSP+++),

> so we contribute our special digital and electronic collections – either to national scale repositories or to open discovery systems?

Maybe not very realistic and fanciful, but something that is a world away from the monolithic LMS that even the open source and new generation systems seem to be building.

All round it was a really good and enjoyable workshop and I’m glad I had the opportunity to go.  I hope the stuff we’ve done helps to inform the future thinking and directions.  Thanks to SCONUL and JISC for organising/funding it and to Ben Showers and David Kay.

Tucked away near the bottom of Hefce’s Shared Services announcement on Monday amongst the cloud computing, IT shared services and administrative systems was something that might well make a major impact on how academic libraries will operate in the next few years.

“a service to support electronic resource management. This will include:

  • shared systems and electronic resource management information
  • support for the management of licensing information for libraries and the resources they provide”

It’s interesting to me to see an initiative aimed at HE libraries being funded as part of a fairly high profile HE sector programme,  especially as it is looking at an aspect of HE library practice that is probably little understood outside of most academic libraries.  The funding announcement is the latest milestone in SCONUL’s Shared Services work (for the background look at the website here) and is a culmination (or at least a step on the way) of work by SCONUL, JISC and the group of consultants and academic libraries involved in the programme.

Monday’s Hefce announcement was timely as Wednesday saw the latest activity in SCONUL’s Shared Services work when I was with a group of academic library staff that got together with the SCONUL team in London to look at the latest work on Electronic Resources Management case studies. The case studies have been developed through a series of visits to some 16 universities who are helping to define a practical model for how ‘Shared Services’ might operate for ERM in HE libraries.  The case studies, available here, cover a range of ERM procurement workflows, from E-books, through budgeting, usage data and procurement of different types of electronic material.   The plan is to use the case studies and discussions to prepare a model of where ‘Above campus’ services might be feasible and look at what systems and services will be necessary to deliver the model.

With the likelihood that academic library budgets will be coming under increasing pressure over the next few years as HE adjusts to the new funding realities, Shared Services for libraries may allow libraries to reduce costs in the area of E-resource management.  It seems pretty clear that some difficult decisions are likely to be needed about what is core business, what has to be done locally, what can be shared, and what might have to be abandoned.    With Hefce now providing some money to move this project forward it seems a pretty clear indication that Shared Services is going to play some role in meeting the funding challenge.  It will be interesting to see how the project progresses.

Two things this week made me think about how the HE library landscape might be changing in the next few years.  One, was the SCONUL Shared Services event, the other was Lorcan Dempsey’s keynote presentation from the emtacl conference in Norway that is now on the web (

The connection between the two was that both saw a potential future for libraries in the networked environment where shared services had a part to play.  One of the comments that is sometimes made in relation to shared services in HE is that things are different in HE because HE institutions are competing with each other.  I’d question how much of the institution’s competitive edge the library represents and I’d argue that the distinctive elements are more likely to be in their customer service, expertise or collection quality rather than their systems.

Amongst his remarks on the network effect and how much that will lead to changes Lorcan pointed to examples from the commercial world where companies like Netflix buy-in services from Amazon who are a competitor, because of Amazon’s expertise, which represent the best available.  In the library world Lorcan saw much duplication of activities around libraries with “redundant, complex systems apparatus will have to be simplified” with “a move to shared infrastructure in the cloud”

The SCONUL Shared Services event covered a model for how Shared Services might work for HE libraries.  The day was spent talking about the Shared Services study Business Case that was submitted to Hefce towards the end of 2009 requesting pathfinder funding. (

SCONUL Shared Services domain model

In brief the report proposed a three phase set of developments:

1.  the creation of a national-level managed ERM system that would manage national level subscriptions to resources and a national ERM licensing service – rather than each HE library having their own ERM processes

2. the creation of a Discovery to Delivery service that would combine the national ERM entitlement data with authentication and search services at a national level

3. removing duplication with library management systems, using the national-level authentication infrastructure and inter-operating with institutional systems

The expectation is that savings would be made by reducing duplication in licensing and rights management, by saving on the cost of e-licence deals by negotiating national subscriptions (going beyond the opt-in model) – so individual HE libraries would do less rights/licensing work, there would be savings in the cost of local ERM systems, licensing staff and Search/LMS costs/LMS support staff.

Unfortunately Hefce have not approved the request for pathfinder money so SCONUL are looking at what options there are to move this forward.  There was the feeling at the meeting that the ERM element could be an achievable step, although a lot of detail still needs to be sorted out.  The suggestion was made that progress could be made if enough HEIs were prepared to contribute a small amount to getting it off the ground.    The general view was that we should be doing this, but probably more realistically not as a single large project but as a step by step process.  JISC and SCONUL are keen to move it on but it isn’t all that clear how it might be funded.

Thinking about the proposals there are a few things that strike me about it:

  • I wonder about the realism of the timetable – mainly in relation to whether this can happen quickly enough given the likely scenario of major cuts in funding for the sector.
  • I must admit to a slight sense of déjà-vu – having sat through a lot of the MLA Stock Services review in public libraries – and seen that go from proposals for shared services to something that just ran into the ground – then I’m interested to see how the HE library sector tackles something like this and whether it has any more success with instituting such a major network-scale change.
  • Others are a lot more qualified to comment on the technical practicality of some of the developments but I find it strange that while there are several examples of shared library management systems (LLC, SELMS for example), there are few in HE these days.

It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months and what opportunities there are to get involved.

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July 2020

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