Monday, July 5, 2010

Library Vendor Trends (4)

Here is an overview of the top 4 Library Vendor Trends from the June 2010 annual American Library Conference. Top trends: mass customization, mobile, front-end interface, and shared data. Report is by Sean Fitzpatrick:

"I feel like I spent most of my time at Annual meeting up with techie vendors discussing their product plans and strategies. I believe the ideas they share play an important part in shaping trends in librarianship, for those trends almost always have an antecedent technology component, and the technology the vendors provide must always fill some need if it’s going to be viable in the marketplace. In short, looking at what the vendors are talking about is a lens through which to consider upcoming trends in our profession."

Here are some major concepts that came up again and again:

1. Mass customization

It’s clear to me that we’ve entered an era where libraries are leveraging technology to create highly individualized experiences for an ever-growing scope of users. ProQuest CIO Bipin Patel explained it to me in terms of “cracking the code of mass customization.” ProQuest demoed a new platform whose goal at the outset was to cater to every user’s individual needs. To do so, they underwent extensive user research and created about eight different “personas” against which to test their development. Researchers, who Patel referred to as “anthropologists,” defined the look and feel of the interface to the technologists. Researchers conducted about 6,000 surveys worldwide to capture nuances of a global customer base—all so that interface can have a customized feel to each user.

At SirsiDynix, Director of Product Strategy Jared Oates told me that SirsiDynix is looking at ways to be “local all over the world.” CTO Talin Bingham described a technology platform that makes possible “radical differences between user interfaces.” Looking far ahead into the future, Bingham imagined a time when neural network technology would produce relevant information to would-be searchers before they even begin searching. When I mentioned how libraries already have the data to provide Amazon-like recommendation engines, Bingham replied that he doesn’t want the data to be tied to the library; he wants to see data tied to the individual. This kind of individualization obviously exceeds the capability of any individual library, realistically requiring a large-scale, platform-neutral collaboration.

2. Mobile

Mobile was still a hot topic at Annual, after making a huge impact on Midwinter earlier this year.

Mango Languages marketing rep Beverly Cornell told me about a mobile product in the works there that will provide offline mobile access to language-learning tools. This mobile app is part of a suite of new products for the ever-expanding Mango, all of which are attempts to make language-learning easy on the go.

I also caught up with Innovative Interfaces Vice President of Product Management Betsy Graham, who described Innovative’s mobile strategy as a cross-platform, web-based (not app-based) search platform. Innovative doesn’t seem to mind being just a tad bit behind the cutting edge of, well, innovation in mobile technologies. That is, it seems everyone wants an “app,” but Graham is convinced that the cross-platform mobile-web approach will win out in the end.

I believe Graham is probably right. Nonetheless, for today’s audience products like SirsiDynix’s BookMyne app provide the best user experience, even at the cost of being platform-dependent. In truth, though, BookMyne was far from the center of SD’s excitement this conference. Instead, by pouring resources into back-end technology that can maximize handling of online and digital assets, search and discovery, and OCR for full-text searching of digitized materials, and then by creating a wide variety of API calls to utilize that data in a number of ways, SD claims it can create user interfaces “on the fly” for any device—not just iPhone or Droid or even strictly just “mobile,” but everything.

Boopsie is breaking into the mobile marketplace for libraries in a real way this year. Most ALAers are familiar with the company’s conference app, and many WorldCat users know that Boopsie runs the WorldCat for iPhone app, but now the company is working with dozens of individual libraries to offer mobile solutions. Within a couple weeks, CEO Greg Carpenter told me, Boopsie can create a customized mobile app for any library, regardless of what ILS the library is using. They can tap into the ILS in real time (so that mobile search results and availability are always up-to-date) and then, depending on what degree of access the library and ILS provide, Boopsie’s apps can even let users place holds, request renewals, and so forth. Boopsie can also aggregate data from other sources, such as programming events, library news announcements, amd branch hours from RSS feeds.

In addition to patron-centered mobile products, I think we can assume the next big buzz will be about mobile apps for back-end library work. More and more, librarians will realize that their small, lightweight mobile devices can do everything from circulation and inventory to stats and acquisitions. This trend will grow as more libraries move their systems into the cloud and as mobile devices become better and faster.

3. Front-end interface

Everybody’s back end is similar,” SD’s Bingham told me. “Front end is the differentiator.” Oates showed an example of a front-end interface SD developed for the Wyoming State Library: an MS Surface discovery layer that sits on top of a Bing map of Wyoming to present highly interactive, location-specific, media-rich data about Wyoming. If you didn’t get to play with this interface at the SD booth, you really missed out.

I caught up with OCLC Web Scale Management Services masterminds Andrew Pace and Jill Fluvog for a long-awaited demo of WSM. This cloud-based product, entering “early-adopter” phase soon to provide access to 30 or 40 libraries worldwide, provides a front-end interface into library management tools that rivals (hands down) any dedicated ILS software environment I’ve ever seen. The platform is super-fast (even with notoriously slow exhibit hall Wi-Fi), and gives both patrons and librarians a highly intuitive interface for everything from search and acquisition to cataloging, holds, checkout, fines, and renewals.

4. Shared data

Vendors will continue to share data and utilize open data sets to improve services to end users. The most direct example of this comes from Serials Solutions and its Summon product. Although not new, Summon continues to gain strength among university and public libraries. Summon offers access to databases across the publishing industry all in one search box. The relationships Summon builds is a win for libraries, patrons, and publishers alike, as it improves every point in what Serials Solutions VP of Product Management and Marketing Stan Sorensen called the “ecosystem of information.” The ecosystem starts with a scholarly researcher seeking a publisher, to a publisher getting its content to a library, to a library disseminating that content back to students and scholars. “Our role,” Sorensen told me, “has always been lubricating that ecosystem.”

OCLC’s WSM utilizes shared data in a lot of major ways. Of course, OCLC has always been a collaborative effort to share bibliographic data. Now its WMS product takes that further. One example of this is the way WMS centralizes vendor data to provide universal information about vendors. WMS’s Pace stressed that people have been talking about centralizing vendor data for 15 years, and that maintaining vendor data institution-by-institution takes about .25 FTE per library.

ProQuest has begun aggregating content from publications on the open web into its search. Time Magazine is the first example for ProQuest of this trend toward increased collaboration among multiple data-set stakeholders. We can expect to see more and more of this in the coming months. OCLC’s Lorcan Dempsey stressed the importance of this type of collaboration. As library discovery layers put more and more resources into a single search, users will begin to perceive the discovery layers as the totality of the library itself. The more information a discovery layer can provide, the more effective it will be among patrons.

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