Monthly Archives: November 2014

Interoperability – Another Step Forward

I’ve written many times about the work of Book Industry Communication (BIC) an organisation with which I have been proud to be associated for over ten years now. Its work covers the whole spectrum of library supply chain activities – from electronic ordering to RFID security and pretty much everything in-between. By designing standards and establishing best practice BIC has launched a number of initiatives that have helped create more open, interoperable solutions.

Over the years, it has been responsible for managing the EDI standards that keep the electronic supply chain moving; creating the UK RFID data model – which is now used by almost every UK library and which completely changed the way libraries buy the technology; establishing BIC categories for classifying stock – and many more.

In this most desperate hour – when libraries are being permanently closed every day and funding is scarce – BIC is still working hard to help libraries survive by helping librarians gain the most value possible from their technology investments and its latest initiative – the Library Communication Framework (LCF) marks another major step forward.

Born out of a growing frustration with the limitations of the Standard Interchange Protocol (SIP) originally developed and gifted to the library world by 3M® in the last century SIP’s narrow focus on circulation meant that suppliers seeking to deliver more functionality with third party applications like RFID were forced to find increasingly proprietary ways of achieving their objectives. SIP’s designers had foreseen the possibility that SIP might need expansion but their solution – extensions – had, by 2011 created a Frankenstein monster of a protocol that was no longer under any kind of control.

Fresh from their success in persuading all the UK RFID companies to adopt a common standard BIC set about solving the SIP problem.

There was clearly little chance of persuading suppliers to adopt a new protocol for communication – many had already developed web services and other APIs to deliver additional functionality for a wide range of third party applications – but there was general agreement among BIC members that a more structured approach to defining the various data elements used in both LMS and other applications would help both suppliers and consumers alike.
Since 2012 a committee comprised of LMS and RFID suppliers, librarians, stock suppliers and consultants (like me!) have been busily creating the framework – which was published in a pre-release version earlier this year. It is in two parts – the list of elements and codes and a sample XML implementation. More samples will follow – but none of them are prescribed!

Over the summer and into the autumn we established the mechanisms for managing this new venture on a daily basis. The hope is that suppliers will use the framework’s elements and values whenever they need to exchange data. At present the framework simply replicates all the functionality that was present in SIP 2.0 (with a few additions) but we expect there to be a growing number of demands for it to be expanded as new technologies – like smartphones for example – seek to interact with the LMS.

In order to make the addition of new elements as speedy as possible BIC is now establishing the software platform and management team that will supervise the process. There are three Technical Editors (TEs) who are jointly responsible for reviewing all requests and making non-controversial changes. The aim is to turn around such requests in 4 weeks. The independence of this group is guaranteed by ensuring that only one is supplied by the commercial sector.
Potentially contentious requests and the day to day deliberations and decisions will be subject to a review process – operated by a Panel (which I chair on BIC’s behalf). The whole process, outcomes and indeed the framework itself will be open to all.

The whole setup phase will be completed by early December. An accreditation scheme for suppliers will be established in early 2015. In the meantime those seeking to purchase new LMS solutions are encouraged to include support for the LCF in their system requirements.
Last week I was back in the UK talking to 3M about their plans for the New Year and also visited the LMS Showcase in London. To my delight – and surprise – I heard very positive noises about LCF from almost everyone I spoke to. Added to the support of all the other UK RFID suppliers we seem to have built some very solid foundations in the marketplace.

Now all we need is the support of the librarians.