Welcome to the tenth issue of the Ex Librian newsletter, marking five years of this direct communication channel between Ex Libris and our customer community.
Looking back, I find that one of the most interesting phenomena of recent years is the way in which users have started taking part in the shaping of content and services provided by information systems. Not long ago, vendors were developing closed systems that users accessed in order to retrieve information. Today, however, the flow of information between systems and users goes both ways: users obtain information from a system and contribute information to it. Furthermore, the system “learns” from the users’ patterns of searching behavior. This dual flow enriches library systems and helps them better address user needs.
There are two types of users in the library environment—library staff and patrons—and our role, as a vendor of library systems, is to assist library staff in supporting their users, namely, the patrons. Traditionally, librarians created or at least controlled the content that the library systems offer. In recent years, with the Web 2.0 culture showing its influence in the library arena, libraries have begun taking on additional roles. Among other things, libraries have become more involved in creating, customizing, and mashing up freeware or proprietary software services to better address users’ requirements. At Ex Libris, we are seeing how customers leverage our open interfaces and build extended functionality that fits their environment. This past November, at our Developer Meets Developer meeting at company headquarters, I was extremely impressed by the professionalism of the customers and by the creative ideas that they translate into open-source code, which they then share with each other. Our open-platform program provides the environment and the tools that such developers value.
The changing trends also enable library patrons to wield a great impact on the content of library systems and on the way in which such systems operate. By now, we are all accustomed to taking into account other users’ reviews and ratings of scholarly materials and to following user-generated tags as an alternative path to the information that we seek. The Ex Libris Primo® system is a good example of an environment where patrons can evaluate and annotate information for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of their extended community, thus making the system more relevant for all.
However, library patrons can also enrich a system indirectly through their information-seeking activities. Because so much of the information in the scholarly environment is available online, traditional tracking statistics such as the number of loans per item are becoming less relevant. In addition, methods for evaluating scholarly materials (such as citation analyses and the journal impact factor), which are allied with a traditional, lengthy publication process, should be complemented by methods that are specific to electronic availability. Ex Libris has embarked on the development of new technologies that mine the information already recorded about patrons’ selections and actions and translate this information into user-centered services. Users of Primo, to name one example, can already opt to sort their search results by popularity, which the system calculates from measures of the interest that other patrons have shown in an item. More such services are in the works.
We are in the early days of an exciting era. Searching has become only one way of obtaining scholarly information, while a mesh of links and recommendations expose otherwise elusive materials. The more library systems can learn from users and about them, the more such systems will be able to help users home in on the content they need. This is our objective at Ex Libris, and we look forward to working closely with you to achieving it.
Matti Shem Tov
President and CEO, Ex Libris