Product Directions

The overall trends in the market are clearly influencing the product investments that the vendors make. The following are seen as the most important product directions.

Vertical Search

To address issues of an improved environment for users of library resources, vendors have begun to develop what have been characterised as ‘Vertical Search’ products. In his review of the 2006 LMS market in the USA , Marshal Breeding commented that, ‘ExLibris channeled much of its energies into the development of Primo’ and Innovative ‘focused much of its effort on Encore, characterized as a new discovery services platform for library patrons’.

Vertical search is a relatively new tier in the Internet search industry consisting of search engines that focus on specific businesses. Niche search engines are not new. Web sites that help users find people, shop and get business information have existed for years. But the number of these search engines has greatly increased in recent years. The rationale for vertical search is that, although users are sometimes looking for all the information they can get, (and for that the likes of Google and the Yahoo search engines are used), often they are looking for something very specific related to their businesses.

In the library domain, new products such as Encore (Innovative Interfaces), Primo (Ex Libris) and AquaBrowser (MediaLabs) are characterised as ‘vertical search’ applications. Whilst they are not targeted at a specific topic, they are targeted at a specific business channel of (in HE) undergraduate and postgraduate research. Google Scholar and Microsoft’s Live Academic Search can also be considered as vertical search applications.

Google et al have not solved the problem of discovery and delivery of the best material for students and researchers, taking into account the particular context of the user in the academic environment. This is because not all relevant content is harvested and the user interface remains too generic. This rationale leads to the proposition that users will value services that are specifically designed for their ‘vertical’ market or ‘business channel’.

The argument goes that students and researchers will benefit from a specifically ‘academic’ or ‘scholarly’ library oriented approach. This is not to say such a service might not be ‘embedded’ elsewhere, in a VLE or Portal for example, in much the same way users embed a Google toolbar. Primo for example offer just this opportunity. Equally it does not mean that libraries should not expose or embed (as some do already) their data and/or services into a VLE, Portal and other environments such as Google or Live Academic Search.

By launching vertical search products, the LMS vendors are banking that their approach provides sufficient added value over Google or Microsoft approaches to find favour with students and other users who, in the end, will be the final arbiters.

Products such as Primo (Ex Libris) and Encore (Innovative Interfaces) are designed for a hybrid (i.e. print and electronic) environment and use technologies such as aggregation combined with federated search (because not all resources can be harvested and so aggregated). They build on the traditional strengths of library systems (e.g. structured metadata) to deliver features like faceted search and combine it with new ‘Web 2.0 features such as ‘tagging’ (adding keywords) by users. Importantly these products are designed to appeal to all libraries irrespective of their underlying LMS.

Universal Resource Management

To address the growing trend towards electronic resources, vendors introduced Electronic Resource Management (ERM) systems. Like vertical search these products are also available to libraries that don’t use the vendor’s own LMS. They are less tightly integrated with their own LMS than the traditional ‘core’ modules (e.g. cataloguing, serials, circulation and acquisitions). We therefore have a situation where the print and electronic resources are managed by two separate ‘library management systems’ that have some areas of duplicated functionality.

Already some vendors are talking about the move to a more integrated ‘Universal (or Uniform) Resource Management’ (URM) approach. This is most likely to be an evolution from the newer ERM systems to include the management print resources rather than the other way round, as ERM systems are based on newer technologies.

Take up of ERM systems in the UK so far is minimal. Partly this is a function of the relative newness to the market but the lag also suggests that libraries are not convinced about the return on their investment. Vendors may therefore see URM as an opportunity to motivate libraries to invest in new core systems. Certainly any library looking to replace its LMS should bear this in mind and hesitate about buying a system that only manages one aspect of its resources.

Decoupling systems

There is a noticeable trend towards the ‘disintegration of the integrated LMS . In one sense this is a return to the situation in the early days of library automation when libraries had different systems to manage different functions (typically cataloguing and circulation).

No LMS vendor can develop everything needed to deliver a complete solution and all have established partnerships with a range of companies providing what they view as complimentary solutions, ranging from self service terminals to federated search and the management of e-journals. Vendors also have looser relationships with other providers in the wider ‘scholarly’ landscape. Speaking from a SirsiDynix point of view Stephen Abram identified them as follows:

'The big players in my mind are mostly from a North American perspective. Some examples are EBSCO, ProQuest, (Serial Solutions), Gale, Reed (web of science), Google, The MS/Yahoo/ Open content Alliance, MuseGlobal,. Canadian libraries are doing digitisation in competition with Google (Allouette Canada ). MS has an initiative for open source scholarly publishing'.

The current phase of ‘dis-integration’ really began when companies that did not have an LMS (e.g. Serials Solutions) began to address a critical library problem (the management of e-journals) ahead of LMS vendors. Along the way they have had to find ways to integrate with the various LMSs on the market. LMS vendors have also realised that new standards for interoperability could enable them to sell their ‘add-on’ products to more than their own LMS customer base.

In a relatively slow moving market for the core LMS, this offers a significant way to grow their businesses. Nowadays most new product offerings are designed to work with a variety of LMSs. However the level of integration is still below that of the traditional ‘core’ modules (such as Circulation or Acquisitions) and progress in interoperability remains slow. Libraries have begun to use web services to integrate their LMS processes with university portals or admin systems but this remains the exception rather than the norm.

The walls surrounding the core LMS remain tightly guarded. It is only with the OPAC that progress has been made and even here integration goes little beyond search/discovery functionality with users needing to access the ‘native’ OPAC to use functionality like placing requests or viewing their account details. The vendors were asked about their attitude to partnerships with other LMS vendors. The views from Innovative Interfaces were typical:

'Our aim is to provide best of breed across the whole range of library needs. Of course we don’t stand in the way of libraries that wish for example to add AquaBrowser or Endeca. However we want to provide solutions that are better. To date, we haven’t seen a big groundswell for these types of products…for all of the press and interest it has received; products like Endeca haven’t made a major dent in the marketplace'.

In ExLibris’s view, ‘there are practical and pragmatic barriers to a genuine and totally open ‘best of breed’ approach.’ Talis is currently alone amongst the vendors in advocating a different approach. With a relatively small and geographically bounded customer base, it has perhaps less to lose and more to gain from the more open market that such a decoupling might achieve and sees opportunity for standards to open up the market. Nevertheless it has not yet opened up its core LMS. The possibility of the cataloguing or acquisitions module from one LMS vendor interoperating with the circulation module of another (common in the early days of library automation in the 70s and 80s) still seems some way off. Not even the Open Source LMS systems seem yet to be taking that approach.

From a library perspective there are certainly real gains to be made. If the LMS vendors themselves are not able to deliver on core interoperability, then perhaps there is potential for others to help open up the market (and hence reduce costs) through providing standardised web services schemas. Certainly doing more to decouple the OPAC would be a starting point to bring economies (potentially at least) to the library and improved services to users.

There is some track record in this. In 2007 COPAC contributed to the development of a ‘community profile’ for the NISO Open URL standard to facilitate inter library requests . Perhaps the time is ripe to reactivate the stalled activity first of VIEWS and then NISO . However, the NISO Web Services and Practices working group was disbanded with the statement that:

They have determined that while there are future opportunities for standards efforts in web services for library applications, the current landscape is still too early in its development to narrow the focus