What Is The Future Of Libraries – Sian Harris looks at the role of cloud-based services in today’s libraries, their benefits and limitations, and the challenges that remain.
For Tom Shaw, deputy director of digital innovation and open research at Lancaster University in the UK, the cloud is absolutely fundamental to how we work in the library, and has been for years.
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What Is The Future Of Libraries
With most of its collections, library systems and software hosted on vendor platforms, the university made a strategic decision to take a software-as-a-service approach, he said. This includes using Alma as the core library system, Primo as a discovery tool, and other cloud-based services. Only a few custom library services are hosted at the university, and even these are hosted on central university servers rather than the library.
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This approach has become increasingly common over the past decade, but why has the cloud become one of the main libraries?
“We’re seeing real benefits in terms of reducing resource impact, maintenance overhead, doing the work in-house,” Shaw explained. For example, with Alma, we pay Ex Libris to perform this service on our behalf. If it goes down, that’s a phone call or a ticket we get with them, which is a much more effective way to manage risk.
We simply don’t have the luxury of a large staff to do the work required in a non-cloud environment, such as managing hardware and servers, installing patches, updating software, as well as innovating and building new systems. Cloud has allowed us to free up staff resources to do things where we can have real impact and real value. It is also an attempt to avoid reinventing the wheel. We can buy things that are usually better than what we make at home.
Beyond technical capabilities and risk, there are benefits of scale in pooling resources, as Matt Hayes, CTO at SAGE (Talis & Lean Library), observes: “When we think of ‘libraries in the cloud’ in Lean Library and Talis . , we think less about the benefits of storage and more about what it offers the library in terms of improved discovery and the ability to provide additional value on the open network, beyond the library’s digital or physical infrastructure.
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One example he shared is that Lean Library integrates open access databases on behalf of libraries and gives libraries the tools to identify relevant content from those databases when their patrons encounter online paywalls. These tools also allow libraries to provide additional context for such content and support their discovery and curatorial missions.
Moving library systems to the cloud allows for greater collaboration. By doing this, libraries can offer their services or resources to third-party websites and platforms — essentially wherever their users are, Hayes added.
Gloria Gonzalez, owner of EBSCO’s Zepheira Faster product, made a similar observation: “[Our] Library.Link network is a cloud-based service that is platform agnostic, so it works with and modifies any catalog that libraries use. data in a format called BIBFRAME, which allows library data to be decentralized and helps libraries meet their users on the web where they search.’
BIBFRAME is a native web standard that allows libraries to publish structured data to make their data more visible on the web. “Previously, the catalogs in this new format were not visible in the library search,” explained Gonzalez. They are not indexed by crawlers. In this new format, all of this [library] data is open on the Internet. Indexers can review this information and provide access to their search engines. Having uniform standards for describing their data makes it easier for libraries to improve their data.
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He added that BIBFRAME data is delivered directly to partners like Google: “We launched the loan option together in 2019 and now people searching on Google in Australia, the US and Canada can find books from a library near them, a university and find public.” Libraries and national libraries around them. Once a particular geographic area has enough libraries that consistently publish data, this can be extended to other countries, he continued.
Beyond Google, the decentralization of data on the Internet means that libraries can be found wherever they want their community to meet, whether it’s faculty websites or community partner websites.
Of course, this openness can raise concerns for libraries as they consider moving their services and systems to the cloud. Once you have your data available on the open network, it can really be used for any purpose, and so when libraries first come to us, they ask about these solutions. “They’re interested in knowing very specific use cases because there seems to be a lot of options that they can do,” Gonzalez observed.
Another concern that is sometimes raised about moving to the cloud is ensuring continuous access to library data.
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We respond to them through our data retention and policy programs. So we not only provide hosting services but also take care of replication and backup of this data on behalf of our clients. So if something goes wrong, it can be recovered, Gonzalez noted.
The long-term sustainability of platforms is a topic Shaw is also pursuing at Lancaster. I know we can buy from a vendor that hosts the cloud, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they own their own cloud infrastructure. They are most likely using Amazon Web Services or something similar. This raises important questions about what happens if a cloud provider fails or decides to take a completely different approach. This is probably something that needs more attention as we move towards a cloud environment.
However, he added a counterpoint: “It’s another thing to weigh against the alternative.” If we have IT in our own buildings, on our servers, you can go and look at the racks where the disks are spinning and say, “They’re in the room we’re locked in,” but that’s not necessarily possible. You will not be broken or vulnerable in any way.’
“Sometimes there’s a tendency to think that digital means we’re not cutting down trees to produce printed books, so it’s greener. The reality is much more complex and the impact of cloud carbon can be significant. Just generating electricity It’s not involved in the devices that people use. There’s a huge amount of electricity generation involved in running servers and cloud data networks,” Shaw noted. “Then there’s the question of where that energy comes from, what’s the carbon footprint, “How sustainable or renewable are each of the resources that provide it.”
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“Lancaster University has declared a climate emergency and across the university we’re really trying to figure out how to react and embrace this momentous announcement. It’s really forcing us to think more deeply about the impact of things like cloud. We’re going to We’re engaging more with our vendors and making it a regular part of the process to ask questions about how their data centers are performing, what they’ve done to understand the impact of cloud environments on them, and what they’ve done. to reduce the environmental impact of their operations. I’m also looking forward to working with our procurement team to see how this can be a larger part of the procurement process.
Gonzalez accepted the challenge: “Especially during the early adoption of cloud-based services, the environmental impact of cloud services was and continues to be an issue. We specifically look for data centers that are three times more efficient than the average US data center. Our cloud provider partner is on track to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2025. He added that EBSCO also has an initiative called EBSCO Solar that provides grants to public libraries to install solar power for their buildings.
Despite the widespread enthusiasm for cloud-based library services, their adoption is not evenly distributed around the world. Gasha Kebede, a freelance consultant in information, communication and knowledge management and former assistant professor at Addis Ababa University, highlights the situation in her country: “There are no cloud-based library services provided by local academic and research libraries [. Ethiopia] (although some international organizations based in this country may have cloud-based library services). And, as far as I know, there are no concrete plans or public discussions to implement cloud-based library management and services by institutions that are usually tasked with coordinating such work in the country (e.g., the Ethiopian Ministry of Education).
However, moving to a cloud-based library service is clearly a top priority on the wish list of every academic library in the country. Awareness grows
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