Shared Services for library systems

Shared Library Services for Scotland & Wales


Welsh Shared Service Library Management System Feasibility Report. Jisc February 2013
The Project outputs are as follows:
  • A set of high-level agreed consortial requirements for a shared LMS.
  • A proposed governance model for the consortium.
  • High level recommendations on integration requirements for local systems; map communications standards which are applicable to the project against standards in use by suppliers.
  • A business case for a Wales-wide consortial LMS, including cost matrices for the different approaches presented.
  • Recommendations on the most cost-effective approach for software, hosting and ongoing management of the LMS.
  • A road-map and timelines for potential implementation.

Post report note: WHELF signed a contract for the ExLibris Alma solution in December 2014]


An invititation to tender was issued for a 'Framework agreement' for Academic libraries in Scotland
SCURL Library Management Services Platforms (Hosted and Fully Integrated) Ranked Framework.
It was awarded to ExLibris, OCLC and Innovative in 2016
From the original tender notice: July 2015
Value: GBP £14,000,000
The Authority [Advanced Procurement for Universities & Colleges (APUC)] is supporting the Scottish Confederation of University Research Libraries (SCURL) in procuring Contractor(s) to a Ranked Framework Agreement for the supply and support of fully integrated Library Services Management Platform systems.

A SCURL Task Force, convened between June 2013 and May 2014,concluded that procuring a Framework Agreement for Integrated Library Platform Systems would be worthwhile and a working group was established to progress this vision. In the spring of 2015 it was agreed that a ‘vanguard’ approach to procuring such a Framework Agreement should be adopted.

Heriot Watt University and Abertay University are the vanguard organisations.Both universities require delivery and support of their next generation, fully integrated, cloud hosted Library Management Services Platforms to be concluded and the systems fully operational by July 2016 (including staff trained).

The Agreement will be available to the organisations listed in the Invitation to Tender including SCURL members and affiliated and associate organisations, and Advanced Procurement for Universities & Colleges (APUC) and its members, although there is no pre-commitment to use the agreement other than from the vanguard organisations named below.
Fife College
Dundee & Angus College
Edinburgh College
West College Scotland
Glasgow Clyde College
Ayrshire College
City of Glasgow College
North East College Scotland
New College Lanarkshire
Glasgow Kelvin College
Borders College
Dumfries and Galloway College
Forth Valley College
Inverness College
Lews Castle College
Moray College
Newbattle Abbey College
North Highland College
Orkney College
Perth College
Sabhal Mor Ostaig
Shetland College
South Lanarkshire College
West Lothian College
Edinburgh Napier University
Glasgow Caledonian University
Glasgow School of Art
Heriot-Watt University
Queen Margaret University
Robert Gordon University
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
UHI Millennium Institute
University of Aberdeen
University of Abertay Dundee
University of Dundee
University of Edinburgh
University of Glasgow
University of St Andrews
University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
University of the West of Scotland
APUC Associate Member Institutions & Associated Bodies
The Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries and Members and Associated Bodies
The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
The WS Society (The Signet Library), Edinburgh
Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh Library and Archives
National Library of Scotland
National Museums of Scotland

Development underway for shared national library services in Scotland and Wales. Jisc press release 23rd September 2013
From the press release:-
"Scotland and Wales have started to undergo work to develop shared library IT systems across their higher education institutions thanks to initial funding and support from Jisc.Ultimately, this will provide students access to information hosted at all institutions, opening up a wealth of teaching and learning materials. There will also be cost saving opportunities.

Higher education institutions in Wales are currently joining with the National Library of Wales to start development of a joint procurement process for a shared library management system. The shared system will open up potential opportunities for collaboration on other levels – including the possibility of reciprocal borrowing across the libraries and shared cataloguing of collections. They are looking to have these systems in place by summer 2015 – 2016 and a tender for the work will be going out in the New Year.

The first phase of the Scottish project, The Benefits of Sharing, has shown the benefits that a shared national IT support system could offer higher education and possibly further education institutional libraries. The key benefits include:
  • All items from Scottish higher education institutional libraries and the National Library of Scotland being available and searchable to researchers and students, providing a higher quality service
  • Supported procurement, making shared services cost effective, allowing more funds to be spent on resources.

Phase two of the work has now begun and the team are working with a task force at the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL) to bring together a plan of what the service/systems would look like, for example what is included - room bookings, electronic support. They are hoping to have this is place by December and if a clear vision is developed a business plan will then be devised for implementation".

2012: The year of shared service for library systems?

Until 2012 UK HE libraries had not made significant steps towards shared services for resource management systems although many have purchased what are essentially shared service based system for Discovery. Consortium arrangements like the Edinburgh based E
xLibris (Voyager) system have tended to be very much the exception rather than the rule. In March 2012 Scotland again took the initiative with a shared library system (Innovative Interfaces Millennium) initiative between the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). Other libraries (eg Sheffield, Manchester, Salford, UEL, Lancaster) are purchasing 'next generation' cloud based systems based on shared infrastructure, software and data

As part of its 'future of Library systems' initiative JISC is supporting the following shared library system projects:-

Shared LMS: Business Case Evaluation
Building on the work of the earlier ‘WHELF: Sharing a Library Management System’ feasibility report the project will explore potential benefits and pain points inherent in a move from distributed to centralised hosting and infrastructure models for a suite of library systems software, while building a possible overall business case for such a move by the HEIs within the WHELF consortium.The project was led by Cardiff University on behalf of WHELF.

The Benefits of Sharing (How would a Shared Library Management System improve services in Scotland?)
This project will contribute towards a new vision for library systems by investigating the following question: “How would a shared library management system improve services in Scotland?”

A new approach to library shared services

The 'next generation' of library resource discovery and resource management systems are essentially global shared services built on cloud-based 'web scale' architectures. So when a library selects its Summon or Primo discovery service it is sharing not only the computing infrastructure with all the other customers but also the software application (SaaS) and the data, which resides in a huge centralised global index.This trends are summarised by Ken Chad in a short presentation ('Transforming Library Systems') for HE IT Directors at the 2012 UCISA conference

This cloud based shared service approach is now being adopted in the new generation of resource *management* systems like ExLibris Alma and OCLC Worldshare. Marshall Breeding calls them them Library Automation Platforms.

So, in effect, when a library selects Alma or Worldshare it is joining a shared service. It shares the same computing (cloud) based infrastructure, the same (multi-tenant) software application and the same data. Shared data is moving beyond bibliographic to data about, for example licences for e-resources.

In the past if you wanted to set up a 'shared service' you would have to make sometimes quite complex administrative and governance arrangements with your 'partners'. New cloud based technology approaches are taking away some of the complexity. Each new Alma, or Worldshare customer automatically becomes a member of a (global) shared service. It looks like this will change the landscape of library system shared services over the next few years

UKSG conference (November 2011) on Shared Serices

A Problem Shared? Understanding shared services and the drive for efficiency in scholarly communications
UKSG One-Day Conference: London. 16 November 2011
“Shared services” are increasingly talked about in the scholarly communications s
ector, where prominent examples include centralised or consortial procurement (e.g. NESLi2) and collaborative cataloguing (e.g. OCLC). Sharing of processes or technology is often considered to be more easily implemented in the public sector, where competitive barriers are lower, but publisher enterprises such as CrossRef have also deployed the model successfully, and many library vendors’ systems provide the basis for shared service delivery.'

SCONUL & Shared Services

The work of SCONUL in the area of shared services in respect to the library systems landscape is outlined on the 'SCONUL Shared Service page of this wiki

Shared Services for discovery

Resource Discovery Taskforce (RDTF)

The JISC and RLUK Resource Discovery taskforce was formed to focus on defining the requirements for the provision of a shared UK resource discovery infrastructure for libraries, archives, museums and related resources to support education and research. The taskforce focused on metadata that can assist in access to resources, with a special reference to serials, books, archives/special collections and museum collections.

General information about shared services

The benefits of shared services

In November 2005 the Cabinet Office published 'Transformational Government: Enabled by Technology', which set out the Government's vision for a long-term transformation of public services. One of the three key recommendations was that Government should move to a culture of shared services to improve the quality and cost effectiveness of public services. Whilst this imitative was not designed for Higher Education, HEFCE has stated that it wishes to see HE move along similar lines. In 2006 KMPG published a HEFCE commissioned report, '**Shared services in the higher education sector**', which details the extensive range of existing shared services in higher education, many of which have operated for some time and some in the library domain (e.g. M25).

The 2008 SCONUL and JISC study of Library Systems also saw opportunity in the library domain for more shared services. The vendors interviewed for the study noted that ‘a variety of shared services have been adopted in other geographies ranging from a common LMS to more dramatic changes in physical arrangements. One vendor cited the potential for library management systems delivered through SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) to achieve a 40% reduction in overall cost’.

In the same study ExLibris commented that around 60% of their US customers ‘are part of a consortium of some kind’. They noted that 'there are very sophisticated consortia products that don’t compromise local needs’ and went on to ask. 'Why isn’t UK HE good at this? Why isn’t it following good practice elsewhere? Is this something for JISC/SCONUL to help with?’ The LMS study itself recommended that libraries work to: ‘lower the barriers to consortia working and shared services’.

Defining shared services

HEFCE takes a broad definition and on its web site makes the following definition:
‘Typically they describe a model of providing services in a combined or collaborative function, sharing processes and technology. In the private sector this is usually within the same group of companies, but in other sectors it will most often be between separate entities. The most sophisticated models involve establishing a completely new organisation, run and managed as an autonomous business. The traditional definition of a shared service concentrates on bringing together 'back office' functions, often from geographically disparate areas, into a separate organisation. However, a broader definition could offer wider opportunities.’

Shared Services in the library domain

Origins in shared cataloguing

It can be argued that library automation began with shared services. In the 1960s and 70s 'shared' mainframes were devoted to delivering shared cataloguing services across multiple institutions in both the HE and public library sector. Some organisations delivering these services survive. In the USA OCLC began as an Ohio based consortium and in the UK BLCMP (subsequently to evolve in Talis) started as a cooperative project based in Birmingham. Shared cataloguing was facilitated by the development of a shared metadata standard (MARC) explicitly designed as a (global) ‘exchange format' for bibliographic (cataloguing) data. Whilst the British Library provided MARC catalogue records it did not develop fully as national shared service. The work of cataloguing records for delivery via BL services is shared amongst the legal deposit libraries and vendors (e.g. CIP entries are created by BDS) but not further. BL data found is channeled into a fragmented market formed of regional and sector groupings and bibliographical utilities (such as those provided by OCLC, Talis and RLUK) and library suppliers. These typically provided for unified access to the catalogue records of multiple institutions for the benefit of library staff (e.g. Talis Base and the RLUK database) and/or end users (e.g. M25, Copac). Scotland has a considerable lead over England and Wales in the development of national shared resource discovery services such as SCONE, SDDL and CAIRNS.

Forty years on and the dominant shared service in the library world remain shared cataloguing and associated with that public access to a shared (union) catalogue.

The role of National Libraries

In some countries such as Australia and Sweden, the National Library has taken the lead in building shared library services. For example ‘Libraries Australia’ has gone further than most in delivering a shared catalogue resource and user access across the whole HE sector and also a large number of other libraries. In Europe, Sweden’s Libris contains references to six million books and journals held by about 170 Swedish research libraries. Virtually all Swedish titles since 1866 are included. LIBRIS also contains references to journal articles, notes, maps, and electronic documents and provides access to a wide range of e-journals. In Denmark there is a National Library Authority (**Biblioteksstyrelsen**), financed by Government which is in charge of ‘’, a shared library service encompassing public and research libraries service. It provides search and delivery service for the whole country.

Vendor provided shared services

Globally OCLC's is the largest and probably the most well known shared library service. Its core service is a shared cataloguing resource that dominates the US HE market and is used throughout the world. The ‘public face’ to this database in WorldCat which has over 130,000,000 records from over 70,000 libraries. It is growing exponentially at the moment and is the default 'find in a library' link from Google. UK users however will find few UK HE library holdings represented in Google in this way. OCLC also provides an Inter Library Loan (ILL) service which, in the UK, has coverage of most public libraries.

In the UK Talis provides a shared cataloguing service called Talis Base which is used by around 20% of UK HE libraries. It combines a shared database of records contributed by libraries with files imported from agencies such as the BL, and library suppliers. It is now available to libraries that don’t use the Talis LMS. Talis also provides a shared ILL service (Talis Source) based on holdings contributed from, primarily, public libraries. It does not provide a public interface to this resource except in the form of a little known Cenote site (****). Cenote is not a service as such but rather a ‘moment in time design exercise’ as to what sort of search interface could be build on top of a Platform store containing bibliographic data.Talis does however make some Talis Base records available through the ‡ service which provides a free database of records for unrestricted re-use (see below). Talis also provides a shared EDI ‘Gateway’ service that provides its customers with a shared EDI channel to multiple library suppliers. This shared service is hosted by Talis and manages the complexity of the various EDI ‘message’ types from multiple libraries to multiple vendors.

The benefits of ‘hosting’ and its development into what is now called a Software–as-a-Service’ (SaaS) approach means that there is increasing opportunity for vendors to deliver such shared services at reduced cost. For example Serial Solutions hosts a number of its products including its Open URL resolver and one can view its new vertical search ‘Summon’ as a shared service. SaaS has the potential to reduce costs through efficiencies and also deliver new kinds of services derived from the aggregation of data.

For example an interesting example of a UK vendor provider shared service outside but relevant to Higher Education is the ‘Libscan’ service provided to public libraries by Nielsen Books. The service collects library borrowing figures and uses them to help library authorities determine whether the data they are issuing from their library management systems match, underperform, or over-perform other library authorities. LibScan data is available free of charge to participating libraries, which can access total ISBN issues for all participants. Libraries can also view data on all titles they have borrowed. LibScan gathers data from a panel of authorities that gives Nielsen's BookScan a weekly list of issued ISBNs that can be used to compare authorities and check national trends. LibScan now has data from 15 library authorities; 10 more are expected to be added and Nielsen Book's goal is to achieve 50% coverage of all U.K. libraries by the end 2009. Clearly the more libraries that join the service the more useful it becomes.

For the HE sector, ExLibris makes use of hosted aggregated usage data on a massive scale to enable its new ‘Bx’ service. Focused solely on the scholarly domain, bX recommendations are based on actual usage data of e-journals captured through Open URL resolvers. In addition institutions which sign up for the bX service can also contribute usage data and any additional usage data will enhance the quality of recommendations provided to the subscriber community.

Library consortia/shared services

From the early days of computing, libraries cooperated using computing infrastructure to deliver shared services. As stated above Talis began as a library cooperative (BLCMP) in this way in 1969 and has subsequently re-organised into a commercial private limited company. Other regional cooperatives (e.g. SWALCAP) disappeared as SLS (the company SALCAP became) was taken over by Innovative Interfaces. OCLC remains a not-for-profit member-based cooperative though it owns a number of what were ‘normal’ for profit businesses (such as the library management system vendors Fretwell-Downing and AmLib). Businesses such as Talis and OCLC developed their own software and infrastructure on which to deliver their shared services.

LMS vendors also provide the software on which a number of library consortia deliver their shared services. Innovative and ExLibris have well developed ‘consortia’ software with rich functionality that goes beyond simple sharing and search of catalogue records. OhioLink, which uses Innovative’s INN-Reach software is a premier exemplar of such an approach. It covers both public and private HE institutions throughout the state and provides resource sharing of both physical and electronic material. A user (student and faculty) at a member library can request a book and have it shipped to them the because of a high degree of integration within cataloguing and circulation control software across 90 libraries. A wide range of e-resources are shared. The scale and scope of OhioLink are impressive: ‘47.6 million books and other library materials. Millions of electronic articles; 12,000 electronic journals; 140 electronic research databases; 40,000 e-books. Thousands of images, videos and sounds; 17,500 theses and dissertations from Ohio students’

California state (‘Calstate’) is migrating to ExLibris provided software and has a similarly impressive scale and claims it ‘ is now the largest university system in the country, with more than 450,000 students and 47,000 faculty and staff members on 23 campuses’. It has done pioneering work with (e-journal) usage data to deliver an experimental (at this stage) recommender service which has contributed to what is now the ExLibris Bx service.

Mass cat is a more recent and diverse (in terms of cooperating libraries) example with a mission to provide ‘a unique opportunity for school, public, academic and special libraries that cannot afford network membership to participate in resource sharing’. It has gone down the Open Source LMS (Koha) route as a means of providing low cost shared software especially to small institutions such as historical societies, medical libraries and schools.

The Open Source Evergreen began as a solution for a shared state-wide system of public libraries in Georgia. Library consortia have made a significant contribution to Open Source LMS development as they can bring significant collective resources to develop new functionality. For example Project Conifer (a collaboration between Laurentian University, McMaster University, and the University of Windsor) is working to create a consortia implementation of Evergreen for HE and in particular acquisitions functionality.

The place of Open Source

In a sense Open source is a 'shared service' for the development of software. Open source has been hugely successful in terms of market share in the technology 'stack' encompassing operating system (Linux), database (e.g. MySQL), programming languages (e.g. php and Perl), and web server (apache). In the library domain Open source is now contributing to shared service projects in terms of a user interface (e.g. VuFind ) and is just beginning to make progress (outside the UK) in terms of a shared LMS ; for example MassCat (Koha) and Georgia Pines (Evergreen). The OLE project is a collaborative international (but predominantly US) project to redesign a LMS for Higher Education libraries and SOA principles using Open Source. It is not yet clear if the project will proceed to build and Open Source LMS

Open shared services

Open Library
In recent years, as part of a wider movement toward ‘open’ data, some open shared catalogue services have emerged. Open Library declares (on its website). ‘This is an Open project - the software is open, the data is open, the documentation is open, and the site is open. The goal is to have ‘one web page for every book ever published’. To date, is has about 30 million records (20 million are available through the site now). It is possible to search across the full text of 1 million scanned books. Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, and is funded in part by a grant from the California State Library.
‡ (pronounced 'biblios dot net') contains around 25-million bibliographic records and just under eight-million authority records. The data is maintained by ‡ users similar to the model used by Wikipedia. It features a metadata editor and catalogers can use and contribute to the database without restrictions because records in ‡ are freely-licensed under the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (

‡ also includes a built-in federated search system allowing catalogers to find records from any Z39.50 target. A central Search Target Registry, seeded with over 2,000 Z39.50 servers, makes it easy for catalogers to find, create and share Z39.50 targets. ‡ also offers a ‘social cataloging environment’ featuring built-in forums, private messaging and ‘in an upcoming release’ real-time chat. Joshua Ferraro, the CEO of LibLime, the company behind ‡ explains the philosophy behind their approach in the following terms. ‘The mission of libraries--to provide open, free access to ideas and information--surely applies to the metadata created BY librarians’ and goes on to say that: ‘To date, libraries haven't had a freely-licensed repository of library records to date ....It's our hope that ‡, as well as other open data movements, will usher in a new era of library openness, where libraries can collaboratively create and share metadata with the whole community.’


One of the key aspects of the new technology landscape is the rise of ‘platforms’. Google, Amazon, Flikr and a host of services are not just provided as SaaS: they are global scale web based technical infrastructures. They exhibit a number of key characteristics:

  • Data aggregation: This is in stark contrast to many collective systems in libraries (such as union catalogues) which are often based on federated search/ Z39.50 technologies. Google et al crawl/harvest data, store and index them to achieve rapid response times and features such as relevance ranking over huge data sets.

  • Collective intelligence: mining a huge number of aggregated user clickstreams and transactions enables new services such as recommender services (in the case of Amazon). The fragmented nature of the HE library catalogues in the UK has militated against the development of such services to library users

  • APIs: Application Programming Interfaces that are often technically relatively simple enable innovators to exploit the platform data in new contexts. For example think of the plethora of services on the web that use Google maps. This ability to easily and at low cost (often for free) share and reuse data (fundamental to sites such as Flikr) is again in contrast to the ‘silo’ mentality exhibited in many library systems.

In the library domain OCLC’s ‘Grid services’ can be considered as perhaps ‘proto’ platform services. They are supported by a developer network but are not open to all. Similarly In 2009 ExLibris unveiled its ‘Open Platform strategy’. This facilitates ‘the development of software extensions to the Ex Libris solutions as well as the development of applications using services provided by Ex Libris systems.’ Once again though this platform is only available to customers of ExLibris products. Talis has long advocated an open data approach and its platform ‘to create a highly available and adaptable environment for data sharing. Supporting **data publishers** and **developers**’. In 2009 they announced it was time to allow non Talis developers to start using their Platform and launched the **Talis Connected Commons**. Talis is offering free access to the Platform for the purposes of hosting public domain data and ‘data access services, including access to a public SPARQL endpoint’
The terms of the offer is that any, a public domain dataset (subject to a size constraint) can be stored in the Platform as RDF, for free.

Such platforms clearly add a new dimension to the concept of shared services. Currently no library or JISC supported services yet offer platform capabilities and it remains to be seen if they have the motivation, resources and/or capability to do this. Of course in a sense they don’t have to. Borders for example uses Amazon platform services to deliver it own branded service. JISC’s premier service, JANET is a branded HE service run on infrastructure provided by commercial partners such as Verizon.

Business Models

Vendor provided shared services

Vendors typically charge customers a fee for use of the shared service. This may be a membership fee (OCLC) and/or annual fee to use the service. The fee is typically balanced so that larger institutions pay more. There are some challenges to this model. As mentioned above ‡ and Open Library are free. The first is run by a commercial company with a business model based on providing support development and implementation services around open source library software. The second Open Library is a project of the non-profit Internet Archive, and is funded in part by a grant from the California State Library. These business models present clear threat to the business mode of vendors such as OCLC.
In Norway Bibsys is essentially a state owned, publicly funded company that provides library software and services, primarily to the university sector.

Library provided shared services

Services such as RLUK and M25 charge membership/subscription fees. This may be supplemented by (public) grant funding. Services like Copac are grant funded through bodies such as JISC. In the USA services such as OhioLink and Calstate have mixed funding. They derive income for the state but also from the HEIs themselves which in turn may have substantial private funding.

Governance for library based sharedservices
In the UK governance of shared service is typically relatively weak. RLUK is a registered company and charity with a Board of members. The M25 consortium as a body is accountable to its membership consisting of nominated representatives from each member institution. Representatives from member institutions set the Consortium’s strategic direction, elect and approve the Steering Group and oversee the Consortium’s budget at two annual meetings. Its memorandum of agreement is ‘compatible with the companies act’

Amongst US consortia/shared services there is a wide range of variability is how much power the central body (such as the Board of Regents in Ohio) has. In the case of Ohio, it is somewhat strong -- each HEI has its own board of directors, but the public funding of HEI comes through the Ohio Board of Regents.

Other central bodies for example Cal State are much stronger. Others are weaker (Connecticut, Massachusetts). Something that is unique in Ohio in general and OhioLINK in particular is the inclusion of private institutions. That was a strategic decision made by the funding agency to include them so as to improve higher education for all citizens in the state.


The lack of take up of ‘in-depth’ (i.e. beyond shared cataloguing and access) shared service in the UK is not attributable to a lack of technically capability in the software to support such activities. The more comprehensive shared services offering such as OhioLink where there is extensive sharing of content, metadata and software functionality and hardware are where there is strong governance –either led by a national library (e.g. Australia) or a strong governing entity such as the Ohio Board of Regents. This is a matter therefore of political will and vision to enable the *extra* costs of investment in a shared service to be undertaken. This runs against the analysis of the HEFCE commissioned KPMG report which stated that ‘In order to realise the benefits, the impetus for moving towards sharing additional services must come from the institutions themselves.’ This impetus need to be galvanised by strong leadership and adequate funding and manifested in a strong governing body.

If this does not materialize then the domain should help to further exploit and develop the vendor based services such as OCLC and make data as freely available and re-usable as possible to enable commercial and social innovators to deliver shared services easily with low governance overhead.