Library in the Clouds: Cloud Computing and its Impact on Library Services

AALL Annual Meeting Session Review
Library in the Clouds: Cloud Computing and its Impact on Library Services

Erik Mitchell, Wake Forest University, Z. Smith Reynolds Library
Andrew Pace, OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.
Roy Balliste, St. Thomas University Law Library

I have a firm conviction that library websites need to be easy and frequent information sources for users of the web. As a cataloging services librarian, I know that our current library systems are silos and not very user friendly. However, I don’t have a clear idea how we make the transition, and wonder how cloud computing fits into the picture. For that reason, I attended this program hoping to understand a little more of the “how” of libraries’ transition to a more relevant web presence. The expected outcomes of this program were (1) to enable participants to identify the advantages and disadvantages of cloud-based solutions for their library, and (2) to hear about and evaluate the library management functionality of one vendor’s product, OCLC’s Web-Scale Management Services (WMS).

Erik Mitchell provided an overview of cloud computing, its importance for consumers of information, and its already extensive use, i.e. Google Docs and Dropbox. He defined cloud computing as the act of “storing, accessing, and sharing data, applications and computing power in cyberspace.” Two related concepts essential to making this happen were (1) web services – software systems designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction on a network; and (2) application programming (API) – specifications for allowing programs to exchange data.

Cloud computing can be financially advantageous for libraries as you pay for what you to use and spend significantly less for local IT services and software.
One downside, however, was the possibility of service interruption due to power outages. Mitchell reviewed several cloud based applications such as which might be adapted to libraries.

Mitchell identified several factors which might slow the transition to cloud computing including the trend of open source software for library management systems, which is basically a different business model for the same technology already being used. Libraries also may not have the knowledge base for selecting, implementing and managing these services. Mitchell ended his portion of the program by encouraging us to take individual steps toward cloud computing, such as using Google Docs.

OCLC’s lead person in developing Web-Scale Management Services, Andrew Pace, discussed the benefits of this product. His definition of cloud computing was “web-based application with shared data and services.” Pace identified a major benefit of cloud computing as the “web-scale” aspect. Web-scale refers to how major web presences develop systems and services to scale as usage grows, eventually developing “large gravitational hubs.”

For Pace, the web as all about scale and finding ways to attract users. For instance, in retail the web matches sellers, items, and buyers: the more buyers the better for sellers, the more sellers the better for buyers. Libraries have not been “gravitational hubs” so far. However, with the web-scale concept libraries could be seen as the best access to a class of data. Intersecting circles of infrastructure, data and community diagram how this could translate to the library world. The changing information seeking behavior of our customers to cloud computing and the changing nature of our collections to electronic make this a natural progression. He also pointed out that moving to the cloud can reduce infrastructure costs from 70-30 percent of budget, leaving more staff time for creativity and innovation.

Roy Balliste discussed the ease and benefits of implementing OCLC’s Web Management Services at St Thomas Law Library, and their satisfaction with the product.

This session did add to my understanding of what increasing libraries’ web presences might involve, but included technical information which will take some time to sort out and understand. Having three different presenters did limit the extent to which each could fully explain the concepts and give examples. This was a popular program and the large room was overflowing with standing room only. A downside to the presentations was the inability for audience members to have the handout either in print or electronic to follow along with the discussion, as the presenters did not make them available ahead of time (or afterwards for that matter).

I would recommend Mitchell’s portion of the program for IT librarians who are seriously thinking about implementing cloud computing. However, if libraries were considering OCLC’s Web-Scale Management Services, a more detailed presentation of that product would be recommended.

Beverly Burmeister, Cataloging Services Librarian, Valparaiso University Law Library

1 Response to “Library in the Clouds: Cloud Computing and its Impact on Library Services”

  1. 1 Marjorie Jassin August 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    We have been using QuickBase, a hosted database manager technology, by INTUIT since 2002 with tremendous success. We have designed customized catalogs, check-in systems, password trackers, reference question managers, as well as automated acquisitions systems. The “cloud” has been working extremely well in managing all aspects of librarianship for our law firm client base with minimal down time over the past 9 years. We highly recommend starting with QuickBase if one is so inclined to venture into the cloud for library systems.

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August 2011

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