Ex Libris Advances Its Open Platform Strategy
Paula J. Hane
Posted On February 9, 2009
In June 2008, Ex Libris (www.exlibrisgroup.com) launched its Open Platform Program, reaffirming its commitment to openness as a core company value. At the time, the company said, "A setting in which open interfaces are readily available enables the library community to integrate Ex Libris components with other software elements more easily and to collaborate with colleagues on application development." Since then, the company has worked on a number of fronts to provide libraries with enhanced tools and services for digital preservation, discovery, management, and distribution. At the recent American Library Association (ALA; www.ala.org) Midwinter meeting, the company showcased some of its recently announced solutions, including the bX recommender service and the Rosetta digital preservation system, and talked about future road maps for some of its products.
The new bX service analyzes tens of millions of transactions performed by users from research institutions worldwide and captured through a large-scale aggregation of link resolver usage logs. It then provides article-level recommendations based on this collective usage data. Carl Grant, president of Ex Libris North America, says the service is unique. It’s not based on author citations but on users’ patterns—and will improve the more it’s used.
"bX represents an important step toward realizing a range of new services that leverage the existing tools that are widely deployed by libraries," commented Oren Beit-Arie, chief strategy officer of Ex Libris Group. "The bX journey started with the introduction of the OpenURL framework 10 years ago, followed by the deployment of SFX, the first OpenURL link resolver, by Ex Libris in 2001. Now bX mines the wealth of information contained in the usage logs of link resolvers such as SFX to the great benefit of users and librarians alike. We are very excited to be working in collaboration with librarians and researchers on this important library service."
Commenting on the collaborative nature of the project, Sue Clarke of Australia’s Monash University notes that "the bX service is a good example of how Ex Libris is working with customers to shape and develop future directions in which the system learns from users’ searching patterns."
bX is currently being tested by 16 institutions, mostly large academic libraries. It should be generally available by 2Q 2009. There will be a 30-day free trial available on the web. Grant says it will be an "affordably priced subscription service."
In November 2008, version 1.0 of the Ex Libris Rosetta digital preservation system went live at the National Library of New Zealand, and the system is now in general release. Ex Libris calls Rosetta "a first-of-its-kind solution enabling academic, research, and national libraries to maintain the usability and integrity of their digital resources in perpetuity." The understanding that preservation and access belong together—and are not mutually exclusive entities—dictated a design in which preservation support is built directly into the platform rather than serving as an add-on feature.
Ex Libris Rosetta supports the acquisition, validation, ingest, storage, management, preservation, and dissemination of different types of digital objects while enforcing the relevant policies that can vary from one institution to another. People from within and outside of an institution can contribute objects to the system. A set of tools, including APIs and deep linking through persistent identifiers, enable institutions to make their collections easily accessible to users.
Grant says the market for Rosetta is really all libraries and content vendors, many of whom have no preservation policies in place. Because of the hardware requirements, Rosetta isn’t cheap, so consortiums will be important, he says. But the company is partnering with Sun Microsystems and charter members for the system will get especially good deals.
Another Ex Libris product developed in collaboration with libraries is Primo, Ex Libris’ "unified front-end to the discovery and delivery of library material of all kinds." Primo sits as a single-search-box access layer on top of a library’s OPAC. Grant says some libraries would like to replace their OPACs with Primo, so the company is working to add more OPAC-like features in its next release. He says the company is also looking to add deep linking and ebooks. Primo, which first launched in 2006, is currently in version 2.12, with version 3 planned for 4Q 2009.
To support its new strategic direction, Ex Libris created EL Commons, a collaborative web-based platform hosting the Developer Zone, where community members can access documentation for the open interfaces, upload software components that they have written and want to share, and download components from other community members, adapting such components to their needs. The company also holds regular meetings with its customer developers to exchange knowledge and build toward future collaborative work.
As library automation expert Marshall Breeding has described the open platform strategy (www.librarytechnology.org/ltg-displaytext.pl?RC=13434), Ex Libris offers open application programming interfaces (APIs) for its products—it doesn’t have "open source" software. He says, "Open APIs allow customer sites to write scripts that interact with the product without gaining access to the original source code. Depending on the completeness of the APIs offered, programmers can often achieve the same kinds of results with open APIs more effectively than would be possible by reprogramming the source code, thus altering the core product." And, he notes, "The open source movement and programs such as Ex Libris’ open platform strategy provide competing alternatives with similar goals."
Grant says that libraries can "start higher and go further with an open platform. In this economy, [our products and services] help libraries innovate and get more bang for their buck."
Ex Libris is a provider of automation solutions for academic, national, and research libraries. Offering a comprehensive product suite for electronic, digital, and print materials, Ex Libris aims to provide efficient, user-friendly products that serve the needs of libraries today and will enable them to transition into the future. Ex Libris claims an impressive customer base consisting of thousands of sites in more than 70 countries on six continents.