On Innovation in the ILS Marketplace

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Last month the ILS Discovery Interface Task Force of the DLF called a meeting of library system vendors (including one commercial support organization for open source ILS software) to talk about the state of computer-to-computer interfaces in-to and out-of the ILS. The meeting comes as the work of the task force is winding down. An outcome of the meeting, the "Berkeley Accord," was posted last week to Peter Brantley's blog. The accord has three basic parts: automated interfaces for offloading records from the ILS, a mechanism for determining the availability of an item, and a scheme for creating persistent links to records.

Taken as a whole, these three items are arguably the most sought-after functionality by software developers seeking to extend the functionality of traditional library catalogs. The three enable all sorts of other things to happen with data stored in the ILS. Already, there has been a great deal of discussion cross-posted to the DLF ILS-DI mailing list and the Jangle-Discuss group about the form and format of the mechanism for determining the availability of an item. (Think that is easy? It comes down to the "maybe" case and the various definitions of "maybe.")

All in Favor, Say "Aye"

The statement was signed by Talis, Ex Libris, LibLime, BiblioCommons, SirsiDynix, Polaris Library Systems, VTLS, California Digital Library, OCLC, and AquaBrowser. It would be interesting to go through and calculate the percentage of reach that the signees have in the library marketplace, but for academic libraries I'm guessing it is pretty high. There is one notable exception, but I'll get to that in a moment.

All Opposed, Say "Nay"

Fortunately, none of the representatives disagreed. To disagree with the stated goals would call into question the vendor's seriousness about open data systems and the right of the library to make use of its own data. It would probably also put them at a severe commercial disadvantage.

Abstentions? The Representative from Emeryville?

As some have noted, all of the participating vendors agreed to the principles in the accord with the exception of Innovative Interfaces, which abstained. On Friday, Betsy Graham of Innovative posted a reply on the company blog. (Good to see your post, Betsy! I hope to see you around the blogosphere in the future.) She says, in part:

Innovative considers its commitment of resources carefully. We abstained for what I believe to be a good reason: that without having worked out the details, we simply were not sure what we would be committing to. The participants at this meeting had greatly varying needs and expectations for what the ILS-DI would mean to them. Some, while endorsing, even went so far as to endorse “not just what is on the table”. Not to be too flip, but OCLC has endorsed this document. Does this then mean that we’ll all soon be harvesting WorldCat at our whim? Maybe not.

I'm finding it difficult to reconcile Peter's preface to the Berkeley Accord and Betsy's posting. It seems that the statement was drafted at the meeting out of the parts of the DLF ILS Discovery Interface draft that could be readily agreed upon. When I prompted Peter in a comment on his blog posting asking about the effort to include information other than bibliographic MARC data (e.g. item holdings, serials checkin, and order information) in the harvesting, he said "it was made optional to achieve the larger good of obtaining a baseline agreement."

The accord is good step, and I respect the efforts of the representatives in trying to come to a baseline that everyone could support. So why wouldn't Innovative sign onto the same baseline? Admittedly, the details are yet to be worked out, but the details are mostly about how one is going to sling the bits of data around. It is the principles that are important. I'd be willing to bet that Innovative would be among the first to support the consuming of data described in the accord in advancing its ILS-agnostic Encore discovery layer product. And if others want to support more of the DLF ILS Discovery Interface draft than the three baseline operations described in the accord, then I hope they shout from the highest mountaintop that they plan to do so; but to do so does seem to be above and beyond what is called for in the wording (and my interpretation) of the accord.

Also, without intending to be overly confrontational (particularly since I wasn't at the DLF meeting with the ILS vendors), I'll point out that OCLC's response could have been from the perspective of their European ILS operations and not from WorldCat itself. Although the discussions about what is coming in WorldCat Grid would start to fulfill the three functions described in the accord from the perspective of a union catalog.


It should go without saying, but probably doesn't hurt to explicitly mention in closing, that the views expressed here are my own and not necessarily that of my employer.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.encoreforlibraries.com/main.html to http://www.encoreforlibraries.com/ on June 9th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.oclc.org/olib/default.htm to http://www.oclc.org/en-UK/olib.html on August 22nd, 2013.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.oclc.org/lbs/default.htm to http://www.oclc.org/en-europe/lbs.html on August 22nd, 2013.