If you’d asked anyone a year ago to predict what the biggest factor affecting library services in 2020 would be, nobody would have said COVID-19. But if you ask me today what will impact the success of library management systems in the future, regardless of conditions, I’ll give it to you in two words with 100% confidence: innovate together.
Necessity is the mother of invention
WorldShare Management Services (WMS) was the first cloud-based library services platform—a move that was about much more than technology. In the world before WMS, library systems were siloed and innovation was scarce. Libraries across the globe came to OCLC and asked for a new choice, one that would unify a patchwork of unconnected systems and spark innovation in a slow-evolving technology landscape.
At the time of launch, OCLC articulated the vision like this:
We must now apply systematized thinking and big collaboration to all features of library service and management…. Based on this foundation, our next crucial step is to further develop a virtual and global network of libraries and others in our ecosystem to build, steward, and share the collective collections of the world’s knowledge. “Libraries at Webscale” page 34.
Cooperation, innovation, and choice have been the heartbeat of WMS since its inception. It changed the market. And it changed the way libraries work.
We’ve come a long way, together
At the time, it took courage and faith to make a move like that. Today, it’s so common-sense that we sometimes forget that cooperation is, for libraries and OCLC, a philosophy and the path to innovation. Through innovation, we have choices. Choices are power. And power helps us manage the chaos around us. For nearly a decade, WMS has been a catalyst in the library technology landscape, and I am humbled to be able serve the hundreds of WMS institutions across the world as they strive to exceed the expectations of their communities of users, particularly during these chaotic times.
So where are we now as we consider what will likely be the next seismic shift in library management and new opportunities to “innovate together”? To answer that question, I’d like to break down that three-part journey: cooperation, innovation, and choice.
Since launch, WMS has proven that it is the right solution for a time filled both with challenge and opportunity. WMS has always attracted innovative libraries. In just the past three years, over 50% more libraries have selected OCLC and WMS than the other leading library services platform when searching for a new library system vendor. In 2019 alone, nine times as many libraries selected WMS when switching to a new LSP supplier. And there are now more than 650 libraries worldwide that have made the choice to rely on WMS to help manage their libraries and provide critical tools to researchers and students.
WMS libraries are a true community, richly diverse, unique, and encompassing. National libraries, ARLs, and community college libraries rely on it. Government libraries and international judicial bodies put their trust in it. Elite private consortia and expansive provincial consortia have chosen it. In short, libraries of all types have a seat at the table. Just since 2018, we have welcomed 161 new members to the WMS community.
Among those include Times Higher Education 100 universities around the world like the University of Bristol (UK), Utrecht University (Netherlands), McGill University (Canada), Library and Archives Canada, and the Quebec University Library Partnership (Canada). A diverse group of institutions across the US also joined the WMS community, including the law libraries at both the University of Tennessee and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Texas A&M University–Texarkana.
What’s so gratifying for us at OCLC is that when you select WMS, you stay with WMS. Over the past two years, the number of WMS libraries considering a move to an alternative ILS has dropped by 25%, according to the Library Perceptions 2020 report. This is in sharp contrast to other LSP providers that saw upwards of a 40% increase in customers looking for a better library services platform. This isn’t at all surprising when you look at WMS satisfaction. In the Library Perceptions 2020 report, WMS took top honors among academic library LSP users for overall satisfaction, as well as satisfaction with electronic resource management, satisfaction with print resource management, satisfaction with support, and overall company loyalty. WMS garners accolades from its expansive and inclusive community for two very important reasons: innovation and choice.
From the beginning, we made the conscious decision to build WMS on an open architecture that empowers librarians’ creativity to solve for modern challenges. As a foundational backbone, WorldShare provides WMS with incredible power by allowing individual applications to share information seamlessly and intelligently. For example, License Manager automatically activates and deactivates collections in the OCLC knowledge base derived from the terms of an institution’s electronic subscription agreements. At the same time, License Manager can also automatically add critical information (such as embargo period or use restrictions) into search results within WorldCat Discovery. This smart automation has proven critical in allowing libraries to respond rapidly to the current global pandemic.
In each of the past three years, we’ve introduced more than 200 innovations and enhancements to WMS. The OCLC Community Center and the OCLC Developer Network, virtual hubs for WMS institutions, serve as vital sources of inspiration. In each of the past three years, more than 70% of all new features were inspired and refined by these vibrant communities. Persistent filters and custom search boxes were ideas that originated through extensive collaboration with WMS librarians. Originally designed to allow for specialized searching on specific knowledge domains, these features are now proving invaluable in allowing WMS institutions to focus user research on available electronic and open access resources while physical collections remain shuttered due to COVID-19.
But not all technology innovation comes directly from our member institutions. OCLC employs librarians, data scientists, and software engineers who monitor the information landscape and develop solutions that address tomorrow’s needs today. For example, the OCLC Central Index is currently growing at a rate of approximately 31 million items each month. With that much data coming into our Central Index each month, we needed to improve our load update times so that the information you buy is quickly available to your users. Over the past two years, improvements have accelerated our data load speed by seven-fold. This is one of the key reasons WMS libraries were able to rapidly take advantage of offers from publishers for temporary free access to resources during the global pandemic.
Innovation without security is irresponsible, which is why we have invested heavily in a robust security framework. WMS aligns to ISO 27001 and the NIST Cyber Security Framework, allowing for data to be protected both at rest and in-transit. Keeping a watchful eye over all OCLC systems is a 24×7 Service Operation Center that uses an automated issue identification, resolution, and service restart model to automatically resolve more than 70% of incidents, allowing our security team to focus human expertise where it matters most.
OCLC was the first to move libraries to the cloud, continuing a long history and tradition of technological innovation. As we look to the future, the same three primary inputs guide our development path as an organization: direct research with libraries and their users; a continued investment in understanding the wider information environment; and a commitment to advances in shared technology that provide libraries with economies of scale.
What does that mean today and moving forward?
- Advancing an experience designed for the user first. As student expectations evolve to match those in the broader online world, WMS enables libraries to provide on-demand access to resources when and where they are needed. Our members also see greater work efficiency because WMS leverages WorldCat across the board, with all library operations in a single interface.
- Embracing an adaptable API-first philosophy. Library developers have access to the same APIs as OCLC programmers. We’ve seen member teams work with OCLC’s active community of developers to build and share some amazing new and innovative applications.
- Expanding shared management of the collective collection. WMS furthers library collaboration between administratively separate institutions with flexible configuration, privacy, and policy differences while simultaneously leveraging opportunities for groups to share data, infrastructure, administration, and community.
Recent advances include improvements in reporting and analytics that measure the usage and impact of library collections on student success, a best-in-class sandbox environment that uses a complete copy of a library’s data, and a full set of WorldCat and knowledge base data for staff to train on, try out new features, and test APIs.
Choice is at the heart of what libraries offer. Librarians never force users to go with one particular article, book, database, or resource. That goes against the grain. Students, teachers, researchers, citizens, entrepreneurs, and workers all need access to as many choices as possible.
At its launch, WMS provided a new and different choice in library management that built on a cooperative, cloud-based infrastructure. We actively support any choice a library makes for any of its services through a “vendor-neutral” philosophy, because we’ve always worked well with many, many partners for record creation and metadata services, discovery, syndication, publishing, and web services. And our commitment to cooperation extends to partners as well as libraries, as we seek to help libraries build connections to the wider information landscape. At the same time, OCLC understands the evolving landscape and currently provides nearly 500 collections of open access and open content materials. As a result, WMS seamlessly allows an institution to manage and access its open access, electronic, digital, and physical collections.
But choice is about more than content. WMS is built on an open architecture that empowers institutions with a toolkit to design their own solutions and create special experiences that meet the needs of their individual communities. More than 3 million calls are made against WorldShare APIs each day. That’s 30% more than any other library services platform provider!
What’s behind all that activity? You might be surprised. One of oldest public universities in North America uses WorldShare APIs to create an A–Z list that gives freedom and flexibility to include and interact with data in ways that are tailored to the unique needs of its community. In Europe, one of the world’s preeminent business schools realized its vision of “the library without walls” by using WorldShare APIs to create a mobile experience that allows students to engage with the library and its collections no matter where they are. In the United States, ARL institutions have used WorldShare APIs to create connectors to other systems, thereby creating a faster, easier experience for students navigating large university administrations. Detailed write-ups and pointers to GitHub repositories allow many of these impressive innovations to be shared with the entire WMS community through OCLC’s Developer Network.
The future is cooperative
We’ve seen over the past few months how uncertain the future can be. We know that library staff, like their institutions and users, have many unanswered questions, and they’re working together to answer them. At the same time, we’re working with our teams and with the WMS community to accelerate development where it makes sense, press pause where prudent, and focus on advancements that will best address our shared future.
Regardless of how COVID-19 reshapes the library landscape, and whatever happens next year or the next ten years with technology, economics, or even international politics, I feel confident in the strength of libraries to find better answers when we innovate together.