The open-platform strategy of Ex Libris recognizes the principles and practice of openness already embodied in the Ex Libris environment and puts them into a formal framework. The strategy further strengthens the collaboration between Ex Libris and its customers and among customers themselves, facilitating the development of software extensions to the Ex Libris solutions as well as the development of applications using services provided by Ex Libris systems.
Ex Libris embraces openness. From the first release of the Aleph® 500 system in the late 1990s, the company has strived to make it open; an integral part of the system’s early design was an application programming interface (API) that enabled client software and third-party applications to interact with the core system. At the end of the ‘90s, when Internet protocols began facilitating the interaction between systems, Ex Libris added the X-Services  layer to Aleph. X-Services were also implemented as part of the MetaLib® metasearch system, enabling customers to develop applications that use MetaLib as a metasearch engine. The SFX® link resolver, to name another example, has an XML API, which was implemented as early as 2001. In recent years, Oren Beit-Arie, chief strategy officer at Ex Libris, affirmed product openness as a strategic direction and one of the company’s core values and set the open-platform program in motion to transform the vision into a concrete plan.
The openness of Ex Libris systems fits well into the academic environment, in general, and the library environment, in particular. Collaborative initiatives are characteristic of librarians and librarianship, from cataloging practices and the setting of data-exchange protocols to negotiations with information providers. Such initiatives extend also to software development; we are seeing the rise of projects such as the Sakai online collaboration and learning environment and Wikipedia, which are built on the content and software-development expertise of members of a larger community. In the context of the Ex Libris community, librarians exchange expertise and software components such as MetaLib connectors and SFX services.
Librarians today invest considerable effort in customizing and adapting the software systems that they deploy at their institutions to ensure that these systems will address the needs of library staff and patrons optimally and will interact as necessary with a variety of other systems, such as those managing virtual learning, student records, and accounting. Aware that patrons spend most of their time in environments other than the library, and inspired by Web 2.0 mashup concepts, librarians are also determined to find ways to embed their services in other user spaces and to build new applications by pulling together the most appropriate features and services from multiple vendors and individual developers.
To help institutions get the most out of Ex Libris solutions, we have formulated the Ex Libris open-platform strategy with the goal of creating an environment in which the open interfaces of Ex Libris systems are well defined, well documented, and readily available to the customer community and in which collaboration is natural and easy to achieve.
Our current activities address three major areas:
- Formalizing the process by which we design, implement, document, and publish our interfaces, to maintain consistency across all products and achieve comprehensiveness
- Increasing our emphasis on service-oriented architecture (SOA) principles in our future product designs, ensuring that our solutions will provide services as core building blocks for applications developed by us or by other parties
- Providing a platform that serves as a focal point for collaboration and as such, actively encourages and facilitates institutional and community initiatives to enhance our products or use them in ways we have not foreseen
Leading the open-platform program is Tamar Sadeh, the director of marketing, who is working with the various teams at Ex Libris to establish the culture of openness from the drawing board through the documentation of the interfaces. Tamar also works with the community of library developers to make certain that their needs are well addressed and to facilitate collaborative projects.
Revital Marck, the Aleph development manager, is heading the open-platform effort on the development side. With the help of Einat Zviran, vice president of development, and Shlomo Sanders, the chief architect of the Ex Libris systems, and with the support of experts from each of the development teams, Revital is now setting the standards for exposing services of the current Ex Libris product offerings in a comprehensive and consistent manner.
At this stage, we have identified four types of interfaces implemented in Ex Libris products:
- APIs, such as the SFX API; Aleph, MetaLib, and DigiTool® X-Services; and the Verde®, DigiTool, Voyager , and Primo® Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) Web services
- Deep links and persistent URLs, such as a URL to a Primo search result page
- Plug-ins, such as cascading style sheets (CSS), format validators in the Ex Libris Digital Preservation System, item enrichment and real-time checking of item availability in Primo, and real-time checking of item holdings in SFX
- Adapters, such as those enabling MetaLib to search in remote resources
To support our new strategic direction, we have created EL Commons, a collaborative Web-based platform that is in the final stages of testing by a representative group of customers and will soon go live. In addition to providing the infrastructure for a wiki that is defined and administered by the Ex Libris user groups, EL Commons includes the Developer Zone, an area that was designed along with a focus group of customer developers and will be open to all Ex Libris customers. The EL Commons Developer Zone allows community members to upload software components that they have written and that they wish to share. These software components are available to all other community members in a well-defined, unified format; library developers can select a component, download it, and adapt it to their needs. Furthermore, leveraging the Developer Zone, developers can embark on collaborative projects in which pieces of code written at various institutions fit into bigger projects that serve the community as a whole.
The documentation of all interfaces is now available in the Developer Zone. Comprehensive, consistent, and easy to use, the documentation includes examples and is accompanied by software development tools where relevant.
As we move forward in our development of new modules and products, we are committed not only to sharing our interfaces so the community can proactively use them but also to following service-oriented principles for our own development process, thus relying on our open interfaces for building our own products. The reliance on well-defined open interfaces will render our products more flexible, easier to maintain, and better able to serve libraries and librarians in the future.
The open-platform strategy of Ex Libris is a different way of thinking, laying the foundation for a new business model in our industry. While building on its core competence—the development of robust, maintainable solutions according to a long-term road map—Ex Libris provides libraries with optimal tools for making these solutions the best fit for the libraries’ environment. Using our open interfaces, the library community can take the customizable, configurable out-of-the-box version of an Ex Libris solution and develop components to meet specific needs. Libraries can control the way they build their applications, integrating parts of an Ex Libris product or the entire product itself with other software elements, and harness community resources to the benefit of all members of the community.
For more information about the open-platform program, contact Tamar Sadeh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed by Tamar Sadeh, director of marketing, Ex Libris Group
 X-Services are Web-based services that accept a URL (an HTTP request) as input and return an XML file as output.
 As of version 7.0, the Voyager system includes a suite of Web services.