Cloud Computing | Feature

The Incredible, Shrinking Cloud-Based Library

By migrating to a cloud-based platform, Bucknell's library services have improved the school's research capabilities while drastically cutting costs.

Today, Bucknell University (PA) no longer runs a local library system. It has no library system server, and it's free from cumbersome data-entry tasks. What it does have are huge savings, freed-up FTEs, and the cloud-based OCLC WorldShare Platform for streamlining library resources.

The OCLC WorldShare Platform, previously called WMS, is an interconnected web architecture that supports OCLC's web-scale services and applications, and provides flexible, open access to library data through APIs and other web services. At Bucknell's Bertrand Library, it's responsible for eliminating time-consuming processes while increasing access to materials around the world.

"Bucknell University made the move to a cloud service because we wanted to give our users a much better single-discovery experience without deploying more and more tools layered on top," explained Carrie Rampp, director of library services and instructional technology. "Until now, that has been the only option offered by traditional integrated library system vendors."

To date, the library has redeployed approximately 2.5 FTE positions from technology and processing duties. It has also saved in the range of $50,000 in annual operating expenses and periodic capital expenses, including hardware, associated with running a local system.

As WorldShare develops over the next 12 to18 months, Rampp and her colleagues predict that the library will eliminate several other duplicative services, resulting in possibly $50,000 more in savings. That money can then be used to acquire more information resources and to expand services that directly benefit Bucknell students and faculty.

Bucknell began considering a move to cloud-based services when OCLC first launched its WorldShare Platform in the summer of 2010. Because of OCLC's longstanding relationship with Bucknell, the university was invited to be an early adopter in fall 2010. The initial results were so promising that, by January 2011, Bucknell had signed on. Just five months later, the system was up and running.

At present, OCLC offers the only cloud-based library solution on the market. However, new developments in the field are expected.

Prior to partnering with WorldShare, Bucknell's library services had been considering an open source system. "When WorldShare debuted, however, we could see the potential and what it would mean for information seekers to have a single, cloud-based gateway to all the information resources available in WorldCAT, the world's largest network of library content and services accessible on the web, with no local subset of that data," recalls Rampp. "We could see that entirely eliminating our local library system would further streamline local acquisition and processing, and would mean that no processing would be required for more than 90 percent of materials."

A Different User Experience
The OCLC implementation radically changes the library experience for students, researchers, and faculty. In a traditional library system, a search of the digital library catalog typically retrieves only those materials owned or licensed by the library. To explore further afield, a patron must access multiple databases, locate items of interest, and then hope that the full text is available. If the library is not a subscriber to that particular content, users must fill out an interlibrary loan form and await delivery.

With OCLC's cloud-based service, however, the research process is more streamlined and simplified: A patron can use the same interface to search the holdings at both Bucknell and WorldCAT--a Bucknell icon indicates which materials are local. In addition, books and journal articles can be searched in one

Since Bucknell's move to the cloud, the acquisition and processing of new material have also been greatly simplified. Previously, Bucknell would place orders directly with Yankee Book Peddler Library Services (YBP) and then receive files via FTP for loading into its catalog. It would then have to update WorldCAT to indicate that the school owned these items. It was a time-consuming process.

More time-wasting occurred whenever the library withdrew titles from its shelves: Staff would have to delete the records from the local catalog and then remove the school symbol from the WorldCAT entries. "In essence, we were keeping a local subset of WorldCAT data, so that it would be in sync with the larger catalog of WorldCAT," noted Rampp. "Today, all those efforts to keep the local database current--to reflect e-content and to display other resources--have gone away." Rampp attributes much of the success to YBP working directly with Bucknell and OCLC to create a seamless data exchange.

To further streamline acquisition and processing, Rampp encourage libraries to work with their book vendors to update information about digital holdings and prepare books for the library shelf simultaneously. When Bucknell orders materials from YBP, for example, the vendor not only processes the orders but also produces the spine labels and transmits book data directly to OCLC. Because Bucknell acquires more than 90 percent of its materials from YBP, all these materials can go directly from the shipping boxes onto the shelf.

A second--and perhaps even more powerful--strategy for enhancing WorldShare is the deployment of the Get It System Toolkit (GIST), an open source add-on to Illiad that allows libraries to process all inter-library loan requests and patron purchase requests through a single interface. "With GIST, we can seamlessly route requests for purchase or borrow, meaning that we are buying more of what our patrons need, and less of what we think they need," explains Rampp. "Turnaround time from request to receipt is typically just a few days at most."

Rampp describes Bucknell as forward-thinking in its use of technology, and believes that support for the library's leap to the cloud was made easier by a campuswide adoption of Google Apps the year before. "We get the cloud and its benefits, as well some of the associated risks and challenges," she noted.

Still, moving to the cloud required a leap of faith. There were some scary moments along the way when Rampp and her staff discovered that some OCLC features weren't yet as robust as they were accustomed to. But they accepted these small hiccups as part of the process and kept moving forward. On the upside, Bucknell discovered several unanticipated features of OCLC that allowed the library to eliminate services--and costs--from its slate.

"The benefit of this move is getting on a very different trajectory for where you are going with library collection management and discovery for patrons," concluded Rampp. "If you are ready to move away from the major limitations that the older models are not addressing, this is the move for you."

About the Author

Alicia Brazington is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR.

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