Breaking Open the ILS Silos

In 2007-2008, the Digital Library Federation (DLF) convened a Task Group to recommend standard interfaces for integrating the data and services of the Integrated Library System (ILS) with new applications supporting user discovery. The group produced a report with recommendations in December 2008. After that not much happened.

In February 2010, at the Code4Lib Conference, Karen Coombs (the OCLC Developer Network manager) and I brought together some of the people who had been on that task group as well as other interested parties who were at the conference to take this work to the next stage. At this ad hoc meeting we agreed that we were ready to take this work to the next stage. The next stage, we felt, was to actually create a middleware layer that we could collaboratively maintain.

This middleware layer would allow discovery interface systems like VUFind, Blacklight, WorldCat Local and others to write standard code for interacting with an ILS. The middleware would translate that standard request into what a particular ILS would understand, send off the request, parse the result and pass it back through to the requesting application. As you might imagine, this is very much more difficult than it sounds. While some ILSs support a standard interface such as NCIP, others do not. In some cases, “screen scraping” (extracting meaning from an HTML page) may be required.

Also, whenever a vendor changes their ILS it may break the connector that interacts with that ILS. Therefore, the work of creating (and more importantly maintaining) these connectors is best spread around a large community of developers. Thus, the collaboration. The present collaborators (anyone can join us) include: OCLC (WorldCat Local), Proquest (Summon), the eXtensible Catalog (XC) Project, Talis, VUFind, Blacklight, and several university libraries. Emily Lynema from NCSU, a member of the group, kindly offered the Google Groups site that had supported the DLF ILS-DI work as the working platform for this further work, which we gladly accepted.

Over the intervening months we discussed how to proceed. The primary options on the table were to build out Jangle or adopt the eXtensible Catalog (XC) NCIP Toolkit. Eventually part of the group moved to adopt the XC NCIP Toolkit as the infrastructure we would work with. Just yesterday we announced that OCLC would contribute NCIP 2.0 code from our Web-scale Management Services codebase to expand the capabilities of the XC NCIP Toolkit and bring it into compliance with the emerging 2.0 NCIP standard.

Meanwhile, we have submitted a proposal to talk about these developments as the Digital Library Federation Fall Forum. If you want to hear about this work, make your wishes known via the DLF Community Discussion Forum. You can request access to this by sending an email request of this nature to DLF at clir dot org.

Those of us working on this effort feel like we may be close to busting open our ILS silos — not just for us, but for everyone who can write to one standard interface. If that is you, then join us. We can use the help, although we will keeping plugging away at it with or without you.

Image courtesy of erikref, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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