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  • Roadmaps to uncertainty

    Posted on October 6th, 2009 Lukas Koster 1 comment

    What will library staff do 5 years from now?

    Road closed

    © Lukas Koster

    I attended the IGeLU 2009 annual conference in Helsinki September 6-9. IGeLU is the International Group of Ex Libris Users, an independent organisation that represents Ex Libris customers. Just to state my position clearly I would like to add that I am a member of the IGeLU Steering Committee.
    These annual user group meetings typically have three types of sessions: internal organisational sessions (product working groups and steering committee business meetings, elections), Ex Libris sessions (product updates, Q&A, strategic visions), and customer sessions (presentations of local solutions, addons, developments).

    Not surprisingly, the main overall theme of this conference was the future of library systems and libraries. The word that characterises the conference best in my mind (besides “next generation“and “metaphor“) is “roadmap“. All Ex Libris products but also all attending libraries are on their way to something new, which strangely enough is still largely uncertain.


    © Lukas Koster

    Library paradise?
    Ex Libris presented the latest state of design and development of their URM (Unified Resource Management) project, ‘A New Model for Next-generation Library Services’. In the final URM environment all back end functionality of all current Ex Libris products will be integrated into one big modular system, implemented in a SaaS (“Software as a Service“) architecture. In the Ex Libris vision the front end to this model will be their Primo Indexing and Discovery interface, but all URM modules will have open API’s to enable using them with other tools.
    The goal of this roadmap apparently is efficiency in the areas of technical and functional system administration for libraries.

    Intermediate generation
    In the mean time development of existing products is geared towards final inclusion in URM. All future upgrades will result in what I would like to call “intermediate” instead of “next generation” products . MetaLib, the metasearch or federated search tool, will be replaced by MetaLib Next Generation, with a re-designed metasearch engine and a Primo front end. The digital collection management tool DigiTool will be merged into its new and bigger nephew Rosetta, the digital preservation system. The database of the OpenUrl resolver SFX will be restructured to accommodate the URM datamodel. The next version of Verde (electronic resource management) will effectively be URM version 1, which will also be usable as an alternative for both ILS’es Voyager and Aleph.
    Here we see a kind of “intermediate” roadmap to different “base camps” from where the travelers can try to reach their final destination.


    © Lukas Koster

    Holy cows!
    From the perspective of library staff we see another panorama appearing.
    In one of the customer presentations Janet Lute of Princeton University Library, one of the three (now four) URM development partners, mentioned a couple of “holy cows” or library tasks they might consider stopping doing while on their way to the new horizon:

    • managing prediction patterns for journal issues
    • checking in print serials
    • maintaining lots of circulation matrices and policies
    • collecting fines
    • cataloging over 80% of bibliographic records

    I would like to add my own holy cow MARC to this list, about which I have written a previous post Who needs MARC?. (Some other developments in this area are self service, approval plans, shared cataloging, digitisation, etc.)
    This roadmap is supposed to lead to more efficient work and less pressure for acquisitions, cataloging and circulation staff.

    Eldorado or Brave New World?
    To summarise: we see a sketchy roadmap leading us via all kinds of optional intermediate stations to an as yet still vague and unclear Eldorado of scholarly information disclosure and discovery.
    The majority of public and professional attention is focused on discovery: modern web 2.0 front ends to library collections, and the benefits for the libraries’ end users. But it is probably even more important to look at the other side, disclosure: the library back end, and the consequences of all these developments for library staff, both technically oriented system administrators and professionally oriented librarians.

    Future efficient integrated and modular library systems will no doubt eliminate a lot of tasks performed by library staff, but does this mean there will be no more library jobs?
    Will the university library of the future be “sparsely staffed, highly decentralized, and have a physical plant consisting of little more than special collections and study areas“, as was stated recently in an article in “Inside Higher Education”? I mentioned similar options in “No future for libraries?“.

    Personally I expect that the two far ends of the library jobs spectrum will merge into a single generic job type which we can truly call “system librarian“, as I stated in my post “System librarians 2.0“. But what will these professionals do? Will they catalog? Will they configure systems? Will they serve the public? Will they develop system add-ons?

    This largely depends on how the new integrated systems will be designed and implemented, how systems and databases from different vendors and providers will be able to interact, how much libraries/information management organisations will outsource and crowdsource, how much library staff is prepared to rethink existing workflows, how much libraries want to distinguish themselves from other organisations, how much end users are interested in differences between information management organisations; in brief: how much these new platforms will allow us to do ourselves.

    We have come up with a realistic image of ourselves for the next couple of decades soon, otherwise our publishers and system vendors will be doing it for us.

  • System librarians 2.0

    Posted on October 17th, 2008 Lukas Koster 2 comments

    It strikes me that training for and documentation about our new Aleph ILS are aimed at three types of staff: system administrators, system librarians and staff (expert) users. Basically system administrators are supposed to take care of “technical stuff” like installing, upgrading, monitoring, backups, general system configuration etc., while staff users are dealing with the “real stuff”, like cataloging, acquisition, circulation, etc. System librarians appear to be a kind of hybrid species, both technicians and librarians: information specialists with UNIX and vi experience.

    At the Library of the University of Amsterdam we do not have these three staff types, we only have what we call system administrators and staff users. We as system administrators do both system administrator and system librarian tasks as defined in the Aleph documentation. Only hardware, operating system, network, server monitoring and system backups are taken care of by the University’s central ICT department.
    There is no such job title as “system librarian”, in fact I would not even know how to translate this term into Dutch. However, we do have terms for three different types of tasks: technical system administration, application administration and functional administration, which may be equivalent to the above mentioned staff types, although the terms are used in different ways and boundaries between them are unclear. In The Netherlands we even have system administrators, application administrators and functional administrators, but these are all general terms, not limited to the library world.

    Anyway, the need for three types of library system administration tasks and staff is typically related to the legacy systems of Library 1.0.

    Library 0.0 (the catalog card era) had only one type: the expert staff user, also known as “librarian“.

    Library 2.0 (also known as “next generation” library systems) will probably also have only one type of staff user that is needed in the libraries themselves: and I guess we will call these library staff users “system librarians“. These future system librarians will have knowledge of and experience in library and information issues, and will take care of configuration of the integrated library information systems at their disposal through sophisticated, intuitive and user friendly web admin interfaces.

    The systems themselves will be hosted and monitored on remote servers, according to the SaaS model (Software as a Service), either by system vendors or by user consortia or in cooperation between both. Technical system administration will no longer be necessary at the local libraries.
    Cataloging, tagging, indexing etc. will not be necessary at the local library level either, because metadata will be provided by publishers, or dynamically generated by harvesting and indexing systems, and enriched by our end users/clients via tagging. These metadata stores will also be hosted and administered on remote servers, either by publishers or again by cooperative user organisations.

    Of course this will have a lot of consequences for the current organisation and staffing of our libraries, but there will be plenty of time to adapt.

    System librarians of the world: unite!