I was never very interested in standards myself. The very word suggested conformity, compliance, uniformity – all characteristics that I instinctively shy away from. So it took me some time to adjust to the idea that standards are a good thing, but not quite as long as it appears to be taking some of my colleagues in the library world.

A bit harsh? Let me explain…

Some years ago now I spent four years of my life working with suppliers to persuade them that it would eventually be worth their while to agree on common standards for RFID use rather than each deciding what was easiest for them. The work was carried out under the aegis of Book Industry Communication (BIC) a charity supported by publishers, booksellers and, yes, libraries. Originally founded many years ago to improve supply chain communications but nowadays very active in developing and promoting standards across a much wider area of the technology landscape.

In the library world BIC works with and is supported by the British Library, CILIP, a growing number of library authorities, and individual librarians as well as almost 100% of the companies supplying technological solutions to libraries in the UK and beyond.

Now I realise that 50% of my readers will stop at this point. Been there, done that they will say. Heard all about BIC, RFID, NFC, and the Library Communication Framework (LCF) from you many times before Mick.

Nothing more boring than RFID. And in some ways, they may be right. Well at least partially – about the boring bit. But there are good reasons why I have continued to promote standards and put up with the charges levelled at me on the lists – that I was trying to stifle innovation, or as one of my American critics believed was probably a communist sympathiser set on destroying the capitalist system. (I quite enjoyed that one to be honest).

Let me tell you about three of those reasons that still seem to be relevant now.

First is a difficulty that many libraries have faced over the years: that of changing RFID suppliers. With no national agency to advise them and a dearth of relevant skills amongst librarians it was the suppliers who were left to decide how best to deploy this new technology in the UK. This resulted in a proliferation of solutions with all sorts of data being stored in all sorts of ways. Even the occasional request from a librarian asking for some local information to be stored – which might be anything  from a title to a use counter – was often acceded to without question – without anyone having the slightest notion about how this information might subsequently be kept up to date.

With no agreement on which elements should be stored on an RFID tag (or how it should be stored) there were always going to be problems reading (and sometimes even having to decode) data when new hardware was installed. When the second wave of self-service machines hit the market and librarians wanted to switch suppliers it quickly became apparent that there were (sometimes insuperable) problems to overcome. Sometimes hardware that had become obsolete overnight when a new RFID supplier was selected was even hidden away in cellars and cupboards.

That seemed to me rather wasteful – a common data standard would solve that problem.

Second was the growing interest in developing consortia. It was even being suggested that resources might eventually be shared nationally in much the same way as I had seen in Denmark years earlier. With a national library service infrastructure already in place (and how we’ve struggled to emulate that!) and underpinning it with a common data model the Danes effectively invented the international RFID data standard (ISO 28560) years before it was published. To follow their example seemed to me to be a ‘no brainer’.

Ten years on the Danes have a national public library service to be proud of whilst ours is essentially still in the research stage. Many solutions to this rather gloomy state of affairs are being considered – a single LMS being one of the most popular. The Danes by the way managed to build a national lending service without taking that step, and whilst we’re on the subject of Denmark I’ve not seen much evidence of stagnation, a lack of innovation or the overthrow of capitalism in Denmark either. So maybe standards worked well for them.

Third was the possibility that we might one day use different ways to interact with our collections. The ‘Internet of Things’ was being widely touted as being built at least partially on RFID foundations so the idea of libraries being ready for whatever might emerge by adopting national standards seemed like a good idea to me.

Three problems with the same solution – the adoption of standards – and not a standard dreamed up in some anonymous laboratory but one designed and built by librarians for librarians.

So imagine my disappointment earlier this week when I received in quick succession two emails from Ireland both asking me whether there was really any need for RFID standards (some Irish libraries use ISO 28560 and I had recommended they use it with their single LMS solution); followed the next day by one from a UK university telling me that they might have some difficulty taking advantage of a new ‘app’ on offer from D-Tech because their stock was not encoded with the UK data model.

The Irish want to find a better way to route their Inter Library loans, the university wants to use Smartphones to interact with their collections. Now I’m quite sure that their suppliers will find a way to work around the problem for these three libraries – and maybe the next three – but soon we could have almost as many different solutions to the same problem out there as there are libraries.

Complicated. Expensive.

So why didn’t libraries engage with the standards? Maybe BIC let down its guard too soon? When I ended the series of RFID conferences I ran for several years for CILIP it was because I thought there was little left to say on the subject. I thought we must surely have reached every librarian in the country that wanted to invest in RFID.

Indeed, emboldened by our success in getting all the UK RFID suppliers to support our data model we switched our attention to tackling the more complex issue of building a new standard for interoperability to manage communication between all third party and LMS software solutions. (This is the Library Communication Framework.) We may have underestimated the ability of librarians to ignore free information.

On the other hand, we haven’t been so complacent about LCF. Launched in 2015 BIC has worked tirelessly ever since both to communicate its value to librarians and expand its potential. We’ve run advertising, given breakfast seminars, written articles and blogged on both sides of the Atlantic and even managed to get a slot at a CILIP conference (in Wales) but we still haven’t managed to communicate its value to most of the librarian member organisations – and through them to librarians themselves.

Suppliers have been much quicker to grasp its advantages. There seems to be more belief in the value of enabling systems to communicate among those that sell solutions than those who invest public funds in buying them. It’s not altruism, it’s business sense. No supplier wants to find themselves trapped in a technological cul-de-sac or constantly having to find new solutions to the same problem.

So how best to tackle the apparent disconnect between the work BIC is doing on behalf and with the assistance of, librarians and the actual deployment of the standards we have worked/are still working so hard to build? That was the question on my mind when I tweeted, with some exasperation last Thursday.

Happily my cri de coeur seems to have struck a chord with some – at least it has in Scotland where I am so happy I now live. At their invitation I’ll be writing emails to three organisations north of the border later today to ask if I can come and spread the word about both BIC and the standards I’ve mentioned above. I’m still hoping that one or two from further south may even follow suit before too long.

But in the meantime if you want to benefit from the new solutions currently hitting the market – like CollectionHQ’s Gizmo, DTech’s ‘AppIT’ or any of the other applications busily being planned to exploit the happy accident that is a Smartphones’ ability to use NFC to read (and write) to library RFID tags, it really is time for you to ‘get with the programme’.

For instance, if we are ever going to build a national infrastructure for sharing physical resources those resources will require unique IDs – and we don’t want to repeat the mistake we made when we realised that our borrower IDs weren’t unique – do we? (The way we fudged a solution to that problem that may still come back and bite us in the Smartphone age by the way.) But NFC can bring us many more benefits than that.

Ask anyone at BIC.

“The British Library is to lead an 18-month scoping project to establish the demand for and possible shape of a ‘single digital presence’ for UK public libraries. 

Funded by Arts Council England and the Carnegie UK Trust, the project will investigate user expectations and demand for what a national online platform for public libraries might deliver, and will explore the network of stakeholder groups and organisations best placed to make it a reality.” (Full text here)

For reasons I still cannot quite fathom the theme from Star Wars began playing in my head as I read this announcement last week. Perhaps inspired by a new hope or possibly the realisation that a force was awakening – either way it took me somewhat by surprise, especially as the announcement went on to mention that,

“The scoping project will build on the work of the Single Digital Libraries Presence Steering Group…”

Wait a minute – wasn’t that the name of the group of which I was a member? I checked my notes and found this snippet from the minutes of its last meeting in April 2016.

“The issue of achieving wider engagement with suppliers was discussed. Mick Fortune offered to organise preliminary discussions using his BIC network (as all but one of the major suppliers were already members of BIC) with a view to identifying a single representative to attend future steering group meetings.”

Clearly Carnegie and the British Library had been very busy since then – but it soon became clear from social media and my mailbox that some people remembered my involvement with the Steering Group and were wondering what had happened to that idea of meeting with suppliers – and why had I thought it might be useful in the first place?

So here’s the story – so far…

 

Following the meeting in April BIC (Book Industry Communication to give it its full name) agreed to take up my suggestion that we start talking to the SDLPSG but to meet first with Kathy Settle (CEO of the Libraries Taskforce). I was personally very eager for this meeting to take place as I thought there was more potential for progress than both sides probably believed at the time. (I’ll explain my reasons for thinking this later.)

That meeting was facilitated by Kathy and her team and took place in Whitehall at the end of June 2016 with both parties agreeing that it was a very positive encounter. BIC members were keen to tell Kathy about the efforts they were making to improve system interoperability through initiatives like the Library Communication Framework (LCF), products and services that were already available to libraries that might be deployed to improve the user experience and the frustrations of a procurement process that still depended heavily on ticking off the required elements in a completely outdated UK Core Specification and consequently missed any opportunity to talk about developing the service. (I think both parties were slightly surprised to discover how much their thinking overlapped.)

Since then we have held several more meetings and the group has now expanded to include the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL), industry experts and many other interested parties including – at our most recent meeting in Rugby in July – the British Library’s PLR agency. The philosophy of the group has been very much to try and get anyone with a contribution to make around the table.

I was pleased to receive an email on behalf of the group late last week informing me that the British Library plans to talk to us once the project is underway.

 

That’s the ‘what’, now here’s the ‘why’.

My belief that dialogue with existing suppliers of library systems infrastructure – be that LMS, RFID, mobile apps, or any of the many specific applications that interact with one another in the library systems arena – is likely to be of benefit to the process of building a Single Digital Presence (SDP) is based primarily on my experiences over recent years with projects involving both Scottish and Irish public libraries. Granted almost 30 years as a supplier also plays its part but for the past 10+ years I have been working both through BIC and as a campaigner to try and preserve and even dare to try and develop the public library service.

My experiences in Scotland and Ireland tended to reinforce the discoveries uncovered by BiblioCommons, the SDLPSG and the round table discussion that was the immediate genesis of the new BL project.

The first problem in almost every discussion I have about SDP is – what exactly is it? Attempts at a definition tend to reflect the interest of the definer. Providers of websites offering access to online union catalogues may see it as another website providing access to library holdings whether physical or digital. A digital content provider – like e-books or online reference tools – will most likely see it as providing easier access to their content via any means possible, an LMS provider (and those familiar with managing them) may see it as being a single LMS to run a nation’s libraries.

The consumer (remember them?) probably doesn’t care so much about what form content takes they just want it to be easy to find and use. And I suspect that’s essentially what the SCL wanted when it asked BiblioCommons to carry out their consultancy on building their SDP. The trouble was that BiblioCommons was at the time a commercial organisation that made its money primarily by developing highly customised interfaces to other people’s systems running in a single library service.  So unsurprisingly they defined SDP as being an overlay (probably theirs) to run across the full range of online resources that might be provided in a modern library. All of this was to be an additional charge over and above the cost of buying and maintaining all of the subsidiary systems that would underlay the BiblioCommons ‘wrap’ and would need to be scaled up to handle the entire public library service…

Not quite what you might call an truly integrated solution to the problem but the report did raise some important points that the new British Library scoping project will doubtless consider.

Not the least of these is governance. Let me explain why I think this is so important.

In recent times the idea of a single LMS to run a national library service has become very popular. Personally I have grave doubts about the wisdom of this approach – commercial monopolies rarely see continuous development as being as vital as those that have to differentiate themselves from the competition. I am not opposed to the idea of a single LMS – the US State of Georgia successfully implemented an Open Source solution across its public libraries some years ago but I believe it succeeded because the state took ownership of the system and continues to develop it on behalf of Georgia residents.

This was essentially the thinking behind the Scottish Library and Information Council’s SEDAR project and five years ago I was asked to carry out an evaluation of progress so far.

SEDAR (Stirling and East Dunbartonshire Area Resource) was an attempt to deliver a cost-effective national solution for Scottish public libraries. Open Source solutions were very popular at the time – partly in the (often mistaken) belief that they are much cheaper to buy and run – and four library services had already signed up to use Evergreen. The hope was that all Scottish libraries would eventually run on a single system but the project was encountering difficulties. My brief was to find out why and make recommendations for fixing them.

I discovered that the addition of each new authority’s holdings had led to discrepancies in the catalogue and consequently to how information was displayed. A growing list of workarounds to overcome the problems were making the system increasingly unwieldy to use. The fourth service to join the consortium had added a long list of new requirements that would be difficult and probably costly to implement.

My conclusion was that the system would always need some modifications to accommodate emerging local requirements but that this ought to be readily achievable given compromise and a reasonable degree of co-operation between authorities. To manage this problem required strong governance and an agreed set of rules by which such delicate matters as “who pays what” and “who decides which modifications are made”.

My principal recommendation was that the consortium should improve its governance structure before any more authorities joined the project. I made many other recommendations concerning the maintenance and development of the product but these were less significant.

SEDAR still exists, but only in a very limited form – and the dream of a national LMS is still in abeyance.

Irish libraries approached the idea of a national LMS from a different perspective with their Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) taking the lead on behalf of all public libraries in the Republic. In 2013 I was asked to help the librarians identify a provider that might meet the requirements of a document for a single national LMS that I was told had been prepared by IT professionals working on behalf of the agency.

Irish libraries chose to implement a single LMS.

The problems the librarians were facing were firstly that there did not appear to be any existing system on the market at that time that would operate in the way defined in the requirement (something I was able to confirm) and secondly that there was no real consensus among the different library authorities as to the kind of solution they wanted. They had also only allowed 30 days to resolve their dilemma.

In the event it took almost a year to reach some kind of accommodation and produce an enormously complex specification that satisfied everybody. I have no idea how the evaluation was finally made as my involvement ended with the issue of the tender but the project continues and appears, after some teething troubles, to be going well. It’s a brave experiment that I believe was only made possible because of the existence of a single agency taking responsibility for system acquisition and maintenance. Governance and funding working as one.

Even the problems encountered by the Irish could be overcome by the existence of strong central governance and funding but in the UK we have a completely different situation. Libraries compete for a share of the local budget and tend to do best where funding is maintained at a reasonable level. Where funds are cut and the service pared to the bone they don’t do so well. Building a national model on such diverse and shaky foundations – with no central backing or funding – seems almost an impossible task. Delivering a 21st century library service is the real aim – and it will be difficult – but the first task for the British Library is likely to be to either establish what exactly is meant by a “Single Digital Presence” or abandon the concept altogether and focus on what can already be improved and identify what is to be delivered in the (near) future.

It is the fragmented nature of the public library service that led me some time ago to the conclusion that to try and build a national platform by starting with the library authorities would be too difficult. Even OCLC with its enormous reach and resources had achieved only limited success for its equally limited (but entirely laudable) aims.

When I helped set up Voices for the Library (VFTL) back in 2010 I believed that austerity would inevitably lead to a dogfight for local funds that would be unlikely to be won by librarians. Our aim, I recall saying, should be to try and get the public to view their library service with the same passion and affection as they viewed the NHS. Ah, but I was young(er) then…

My experience with VFTL taught me that there were far too many visions of what a library service might offer for me to be able to make any realistic positive contribution to their future welfare.

There are probably fewer than 30 companies providing automated systems in the UK. There may be ten times that number of library authorities , including trusts and volunteer-run libraries. Easier by far then to try and build closer co-operation and better interfaces between existing systems. Build the future service one system at a time.

It seemed to be a much simpler task. All BIC would have to do was convince suppliers to use new and open protocols, attract the attention of the Taskforce and the SCL – which we did. Librarians would then naturally support our efforts by insisting on BIC standards – which mostly they haven’t.

Ah well. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad.

 

imageRFID companies have been quick to respond to the challenge of keeping libraries open in these austere times. All the major UK providers now offer individually designed solutions to enable cash strapped local authorities to extend opening hours by managing access to buildings outside of staffed hours with some of the more desperate authorities now rumoured to be considering using this opportunity to remove staff from some service points altogether.

With library buildings now being converted to 24/7 operation suppliers have seen the potential to repurpose them as service delivery points for a wide range of council services. Kiosks originally designed to issue books and pay fines now offer citizens the opportunity to pay for other council services. Bibliotheca were first in the field with their ‘My Community
product but others, like DTech’s ‘access-it’ clearly have the potential to develop along similar lines.

In this rapidly evolving landscape LMS company Axiell appear to be taking a rather different approach.

The last few months have seen some major changes at Axiell. With Grant Palmer’s tenure ending earlier this year and Sven Totté, Axiell’s Lund based CEO now working with the Nottingham based UK team it is perhaps unsurprising that the company’s direction now reflects a more Scandinavian view of the library market.

With the concept of the Library Service Platform (LSP) steadily gaining traction in the market place (most recently with EBSCO’s potentially game-changing announcement of support for a new Open Source project in the academic sector) it’s interesting to see similar language being used to describe the new product offers from many LMS and RFID providers, Axiell included.

Axiell have been announcing a steady stream of new products and partnerships since mid 2015 that now seem to be part of a strategy of steering the company towards enabling the kind of library service enjoyed by the Danes – as recently described by my friend Jan Holmquist on his blog.

In addition to providing cross platform support for staff (including volunteers) functions through their ‘Spark’ product Axiell have also announced a partnership with Scottish company SOLUS to provide mobile applications for library users – which could potentially include the possibility of using mobile devices to self-issue items at the shelf.

Perhaps the most surprising announcement – and the original impetus for my call with Sean Meagher (Axiell’s UK Marketing Manager) on Tuesday morning – was their decision to return to the policy of combining LMS and RFID solutions in a single offer. This is made possible by a little known quirk (in the UK at least) in the deal that established Bibliotheca’s European operations. The Danish arm of this company, Bibliotheca A/S is jointly owned by Axiell and Bibliotheca and continues to supply their own portfolio of products to the Scandinavian market.

UK customers of Axiell will now have the freedom to choose between Bibliotheca UK’s range of products and services or be supplied and supported by Axiell – using hardware and software supplied from Denmark.

Both companies support both the UK data model for RFID data and BIC’s Library Communication Framework (LCF) and I am assured that there will be no pressure placed on existing Bibliotheca UK clients to switch over.

So what’s the difference between these options? Well I’d like to think that in part at least it represents a choice between a Scandinavian public library model and the more austerity-driven agenda of UK local authorities, but that’s both an over-simplification of the issues and certainly naive. The real choice is probably between Axiell’s more unilaterally integrated approach to service delivery and the freedom to choose the solutions you want – and integrate them yourselves.

Probably the most important consequence of these changes is that Axiell clients now have a choice offered by no other LMS supplier and the ability to decide which solutions most closely match their vision of the future of their library service and not just which kiosks they like best.

 

Yesterday I was in Birmingham at the offices of Capita Library Services our hosts for a day of coding and discussion. My job, as chair of BIC‘s various Library Communication Framework  (LCF) committees was to kick-off the first LCF “Plugfest” where developers from different library system suppliers spent the day writing and testing applications using the new framework launched last November.

Plugfest

The Plugfest is an important part of the process of developing more interoperable systems as it offers developers the opportunity to verify that the applications they are writing work in practice. It also ensures that the team of Technical Editors charged with the responsibility of maintaining the framework are made aware of new requirements and any problem areas. Plugfests will be an essential and frequent part of the development process as more and more library applications adopt the framework. Yesterday’s event was attended by representatives from 2CQR, Bibliotheca+3M, P.V. Supa, from the world of RFID; Capita, Civica, Innovative and Infor (late apologies were received from Axiell) representing LMS providers as well as third party suppliers Lorensbergs and Insight Media.

Unusually for such a highly competitive market everyone attending had already signed up to share freely the fruits of their labours. This spirit of co-operation appears to be almost unique to the UK as colleagues in Australia and North America frequently express disbelief when I tell them that competitors in the UK library market actually work together to try and find ways to improve both the user’s and staff experience of library automation. “You’d be lucky to get them in the same room here!” is one popular response. Certainly there are plenty of examples of companies meeting to discuss new standards and best practice – America’s National Information Standards Organisation (NISO) has been discussing a successor to the SIP protocol for more than three years now – but it seems to be unusual for competitors to share code, provide hardware and develop best practice together as they do in the UK.

Perhaps that’s why the authors of the other big interoperability event of the day – the publication of the long-awaited ACE funded, SCL initiative on creating a single digital presence for England’s public libraries – ignored invitations to discuss LCF during their lengthy investigation of the UK library systems market.

Now of course I’d be the first to acknowledge that the BiblioCommons report concerns itself with much wider issues than the existing systems infrastructure but a significant part of its recommendations appears to suggest that the only way forward is for them to write new code to create a new BiblioCommons software layer on top of the various existing LMS systems, pending migrating everyone to a new, purpose-built BiblioCommons LMS at some future date. One might argue that the same result might be achieved more cheaply by awarding a contract to a single supplier now and cutting out the highly risky intermediate stage recommended by BiblioCommons. But then that is what they do for a living.

Nonetheless ignoring the significant work already being done in this area seems at best something of an oversight?

I’ll be writing a full review of the BiblioCommons report on my other blog in the near future as its findings and recommendations go way beyond the relatively simple aim of establishing a common framework for interoperability but the irony of the juxtaposition of these two events was irresistible!

Meanwhile, back in the real world, this first Plugfest was a great success and the LCF Project is now well and truly under way. New functionality – that is both interoperable between disparate systems and which can readily be migrated without impact between suppliers – is no longer a system integrator’s dream but a developer’s work in progress.

 

 

 

22nd October saw another important milestone being reached for the Library Communication Framework (LCF) with its official launch taking place at the somewhat unlikely venue of the “Poetry Café” in the heart of London’s Covent Garden.  IMG_5588

The somewhat cosy atmosphere did however encourage conversation – one of the aims of Book Industry Communication (BIC) “Breakfasts” – and everyone I spoke to appeared to have enjoyed the experience.

The three main presenters – Catherine Cooke from Tri-Borough Libraries and Archives, Anthony Whitford of Capita and myself – explained the genesis of the project, its purpose, governance and future development as well as offering advice on what steps librarians and suppliers should take if they want to participate. All the presentation slides are available here.

The heavily over-subscribed event was attended by many of the leading suppliers in the library sector – 2CQR, Axiell Ltd, Bibliotheca, Capita, Civica, D-Tech International Ltd, Ex Libris UK, Infor, Innovative Interfaces, Insight Media Internet Limited, Lorensbergs Ltd, Nielsen Book, ProQuest Bowker, PTFS Europe, SOLUS UK Ltd.; representatives from key library organisations – CILIP, Libraries Taskforce,  DCMS, The British Library, and even librarians – from Buckinghamshire Library Service, Enfield Library and Museum Service, GLL, Tri-Borough Libraries and Archives.

Many of the suppliers present – and some who were unable to attend – had already pledged their support for the framework by signing up for membership of the recently established LCF Consortium (full list here). Consortium members agree to work together to promote the adoption of the framework for the development of better interoperability between library management (LMS) and third party systems. To the casual reader this might sound like a public relations exercise but it’s much more than that. Contributors work together in an entirely open environment, its deliberations and decisions open to public examination and comment. Three Technical Editors – one from JISC, one from the supplier market and a third from the standards arena – are responsible for growing and maintaining the framework on a day to day basis while their decisions are reviewed monthly by a Technical Committee which I chair on behalf of BIC.

Governance rests with BIC who undertake to manage the development of the framework on behalf of the library community. The LCF “Charter” (to be issued before the end of the year) will, among other requirements, bind members to agree to share their contributions to the framework with other users.

The consortium is separately funded from other BIC activities by its supplier members and BIC membership is not be a pre-requisite for membership.

There is a lot more information about LCF available on the web and elsewhere on this blog. Follow @BIC_LCF to keep up to date on developments.

Bibliotheca logoConsolidation continues in the library automation sector as Bibliotheca this afternoon announced their acquisition of 3M’s global library business.

Rumours of a sale had been circulating for some months with China’s Invengo  – specialists in RFID – widely tipped to win the race to seal the deal.

The new company becomes easily the largest supplier of library self-service and security products in the western hemisphere and by combining the already established 3M’s Cloud Library with Bibliotheca’s recently announced Opus product, the enlarged company is likely to provide stiff competition in the e-lending sector for current market leader Overdrive – which announced its latest software product to the UK market only this morning.

Two separate deals – one for North America and another for the rest of the world – have been signed with Bibliotheca acquiring both staff and assets at 3M’s headquarters in Minneapolis.

One consequence that will be of especial interest my colleagues at Book Industry Communication (BIC) will be the potential international boost that this gives to their recently launched Library Communication Framework (LCF). Bibliotheca has always been one of the keenest supporters of LCF from the project’s inception and I am assured that this is set to continue.

More details to follow.

Today sees the official launch of the Library Communication Framework (LCF). Originally conceived as a replacement for 3M’s Standard Interchange Protocol (SIP) the framework has been several years in the making and has, through the active involvement of both suppliers and librarians working together, grown from a simple updating of protocols for running RFID self-service into a significant contribution to interoperability across a range of products and services.BIC

Exactly why LCF was developed has been the subject of many papers and reports over the period. The more enthusiastic reader will find a succinct (if somewhat dated) explanation in the BIC archive.

Having myself first proposed that a replacement for SIP was long overdue back in 2010 it was in fact my colleague Frances Cave who first suggested that a “framework” would offer a more flexible approach for the industry in general. The history of these early discussions and meetings up to the original launch of what was then called “BLCF” (the “B” standing for BIC) can be found here.

Renamed “LCF” (in response to a request from American colleagues, who thought the “B” might be thought by some to stand for “British”) the LCF working party – which it has been my privilege to chair – has expanded both in membership and scope since 2012 and over the last 18 months has seen the establishment of a regulatory mechanism to ensure that the framework remains current and avoids the problems – inherent in SIP – of allowing developers to add new values and functions almost at will. BIC – an independent organisation – will maintain and develop the framework for the benefit of all.

Most heartening – for me – are the number of both RFID and LMS suppliers that have already signed up to the LCF “Charter” – a statement of intent to comply with, promote and of course use the framework to develop better interoperability between systems. The astute librarian will want to scan the list of LCF supporters carefully and perhaps question why some suppliers haven’t wanted to support the aims of this entirely open framework.

Developing better interoperability and ultimately more closely integrated systems has been the dream of librarians for many years. There have been many attempts to solve the myriad problems of multiple formats, different architectures and a lamentable lack of industry standards. Most have sunk without trace. Libraries have responded to these disappointments in a variety of ways – single LMS procurements, moves to Open Source solutions and potentially even API heavy middleware adding significant cost without commensurately improving interoperability. The industry badly needs to put its house in order. The framework provides a starting point for realising that dream.

The framework is officially launched today and the press release can be downloaded here. A BIC Breakfast meeting in London on the 22nd October will provide an early opportunity for librarians and others to find out more about the framework, ask questions about its use and most importantly discover how making it a mandatory requirement in future system procurements will ensure the best return on investment for cash-strapped libraries. I and two of my fellow LCF working party – Catherine Cooke (Triborough Libraries) and Anthony Whitford (Capita) will be speaking – details here.

Note: Please don’t confuse the library communication framework with purchasing frameworks (such as that brokered by organisations like ESPO).

This is a data framework developed by members of the library profession working with their suppliers to improve interoperability. Purchasing frameworks essentially facilitate hardware purchase at discounted rates.

I’ve been talking to a lot of librarians recently.

I’m currently on the road in the UK spreading the word about new issues in RFID – Privacy, the impact of Near Field Communication (NFC) and something that regular readers of the blog will already know a good deal about – the Library Communication Framework (LCF).

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been speaking to heads of service in academic and public libraries beginning in Glasgow and now working my way south via Wallsend, Beverley and Preston. I was also very pleased to be invited to run a CPD session for academic librarians in the South East during March.

One of the many things I’ve learned along the way is that the procurement guide that Mark Hughes and I wrote for the National Acquisitions Group and Book Industry Communication  back in 2011 is still being widely used by librarians seeking to buy or extend their RFID solutions.

Flattering though this is it is also somewhat alarming! There have been many changes since 2011 – most of them flagged up on this blog – which were not addressed in the original guide. Anyone still using it, particularly anyone issuing it without amending the sample questions to reflect local circumstances and/or requirements, is unlikely to be taking full advantage of the new services, standards and benefits that have appeared over the last 4 years, not to mention the danger of making expensive mistakes.

Realising how dated the guide had become I withdrew it from all my sites last year. My plan is to produce an updated version for publication next year but in the meantime there is one particular innovation that I really think ought to be included in RFP you may be planning – RFID or otherwise.

I refer of course to my pet project – the Library Communication Framework (LCF).

The framework was developed over two years by suppliers from both the RFID and LMS (ILS) markets working together with librarians and assisted by consultants from Book Industry Communication (BIC). A great deal of information has already been published about LCF both in print and on the web. I wrote an article for CILIP’s Access journal that contained an explanation of why it was needed and what it is last year and there is a more detailed explanation on the BIC site.

Put simply it is nothing less than an attempt to create a more interoperable environment for library applications. Using it RFID system can speak unto RFID system – and both can speak to the Library Management System. It’s not an API or a web service (although both are supported) it’s simply a set of standard data elements and values that can be implemented in whatever way best suits developers. The LCF is completely open and supplier independent and the whole process is managed by BIC on behalf of the library community.

The framework will grow as new functionality is added and as new application providers come on stream. A management team and website is already in place to make it simple for developers to add new elements and data as required but unlike SIP quality controls will ensure that it maintains its integrity as it develops.

All of this is discussed in detail elsewhere so today I just want to suggest a few additional questions that you should be considering adding to any tender or RFP you might be about to issue – whether based the original guide or not.

Many suppliers are already using LCF to develop new functionality so it’s worth checking to establish whether the one you are inviting to sell you a solution is one of them so I would consider asking,

 

  1. How is your commitment to the Library Communication Framework demonstrated in your future product development plans/roadmap?
  2. What specific functionality are you achieving today via LCF?

Functionality developed using LCF can be readily transferred to any other supplier that supports it while functionality that has been specifically developed by a particular combination of RFID and LMS (ILS) supplier is less likely to be available if you change either so if you’re buying a new RFID system consider asking,

  1. Which functions of your system have been implemented or made possible using integration methods that are unique to your current LMS (ILS) – RFID supplier (i.e. using API’s and/or customised code rather than defined open standards such as SIP2/NCIP/LCF)
  2. What specific functionality will be lost if we choose to change our LMS (ILS) in future?
  3. What services and costs might we have to budget for, in the event we chose to change our LMS (ILS) in the future?

Obviously it would be sensible to ask essentially the same questions of any potential LMS (ILS) provider.

The whole area of interoperability has been a bugbear for librarians and providers alike for many years now. LCF seeks to put this right by presenting developers with the choice of using a more open means of implementing their solutions. In the UK all the major RFID suppliers now support both data standards and the LCF.

Readers from outside the UK – or those with systems that were installed pre-2011 might therefore consider asking a couple more questions:

  1. Are there any proprietary elements of your solution that might prevent another supplier from interoperating with solutions provided by your company?
  2. Please provide details of sites where your solutions work alongside other RFID applications/systems in the same library.

Hopefully anybody currently struggling with procurement using an RFP will find this helpful however if you’re buying through one of the many framework agreements out there I can only wish you ‘good luck’ since – so far as I am aware – none of these issues are addressed by any of them.