Monday, September 17, 2007

The Future of Libraries is in Web Services

In her post The future of Web Services isn't the Library website, Karen Coombs highlights the challenges that many of us are facing:
  • Most of the library sees the redesign process as about “fixing” the current website so that it is more usable, up-to-date, and attractive.

  • Trying to make a site that works equally well for everyone has two consequences; huge amounts of resources are devoted to crafting multiple permutations that have to be maintained and you end up with a mediocre site that no one hates or loves.
She also states:
  • The redesign is about defining the types of content the library has to offer its users and getting that content into pieces that can be reused and repurposed elsewhere.

  • Focusing on content rather than look and feel will allow us to provide these different types of services. It will also allow different types of users to potentially selectively access content.

  • These kinds of services that will make of break a library’s virtual presence not the library website.

In my five-part post on Service-Oriented Architecture, I argue that the adoption of the SOA models can help libraries to aggregate the information they create and manage.

The traditional web site represents a siloed information system. The structure of the data/content we create becomes fixed within the web site. The costs in real dollars and staff time required to export, convert, and import into the new site are significant. The question is whether if we should be spending our limited resources running around on the web site gerbil wheel, or, on ways to better manage and syndicate our content.

In SOA, all our information systems would be designed to be loosely coupled. Direct connections to each of our data sources would be available from any of our our web presences. The user experience is enhanced since they could gain access to any of the resources from any of the user interfaces. For example, one could search the course management system and receive results from the eJournals collection.

With SOA, the library could create a single Facebook-like portal which would aggregate all networked resources. New library 'web services' could be built and simply plugged in by the customer. This approach to the design of library systems represents a radical departure from what we have today. At the same time, it provides libraries with an unprecedented ability to create and maintain systems that can quickly adapt to the changing networked information infrastructure.

SOA has the potential to get our resources out to where our customers are instead of, as Karen puts it spending "all our time caught up in look and not enough time working to make the library meet users where they are and be a seamless part of their work processes."

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Alexander Johannesen said...

I've written about this in the past as well. Given the nature of library systems, SOA is the *only* thing we really should be doing at this point. Why there's any resistance to it is beyond me. Here's a couple more technical writeups ; rest-and-soa-as-process-for-application and knee-deep-in-soa.

Eric Schnell said...

Thanks for the heads up! There are many good postings which one can overlook.

SOA is certainly easier said then done. The change in philosophy and rebuilding of systems which is required is a daunting task.