Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cloud-Computing Solutions; Preparing Library Staff for the Move.

Library Directors are obviously thinking increasingly about how the move to cloud computing solutions like Alma will change their libraries and they have questions as a result. A couple of questions are common to most conversations so it seems like a good time to summarize and share some thoughts in response:

Q: How will the next generation environment change the typical library systems department?

A: The change in responsibilities for your systems people will vary considerably depending on degree of control and flexibility you wish to maintain locally.

For instance, if you go with a total services approach, then a great deal of what the systems department does today will be off-loaded to your vendor. The vendor assumes responsibility for upgrades, basic customizations needed, assuring the system is available, optimized, backed up, etc. Some libraries choose a more reduced set of services from their discovery solution vendor, and in those situations, a higher level of customization might be retained and done by the systems staff and your staff might take on some level of maintenance activities.

However, it is important to remember that moving common infrastructure tasks to the cloud offers your systems staff a chance to become more valuable to your organization. It will be the opportunity for them to develop new skills and perform new tasks that allow your library to excel in adding value for end-users, all in the pursuit of achieving your goals and mission for the library.

It will also likely mean your systems staff will need to learn those new skills. Cloud based solutions are accompanied by "Service Level Agreements" that need to be administered. Such systems (like Alma and Primo) typically come with API’s that can be used as a platform from which to develop and implement specialized capabilities that meet specific site needs. Learning how to use these tools is a valuable skill set. This will also likely become the method of interfacing with other cloud-based systems used by your library and university. The system staff will need to expand their knowledge of authentication, privacy and copyright management systems so that they can be seamlessly integrated, used and related services extended. They'll certainly want to become knowledgeable and competent about privacy regulations all the way from the campus/system regulations, to the state and national legislation that covers this area.

The systems staff, as they see more and more solutions implemented in the cloud, will need to become far more conversant and experienced in "partner management". Understanding how to get all these vendors to work together, often when those same partners compete with one another, takes a whole new level of finesse and expertise.

The systems staff, without these steps, might view the "cloud" with great skepticism and even pose a bit of a roadblock to the move. The Dean taking the time to make sure they understand their role is changing, and not disappearing, will smooth the transition. Show them the path forward and what training you're going to invest in them. This will allow them to see how they continue to make an important and needed contribution to the library going forward.

Q: What changes in responsibilities are occurring or what new skills do libraries need to think about when moving away from the legacy ILS?

A: This is really a substantial topic and could easily be an article, not a blog post. However, here are a few thoughts.

An important part of answering this question will be addressed by the Director’s vision of what the library needs to become in the future. Certainly, as we all know, the role of the academic library is changing rapidly in today's environment.. Given the strategies most frequently heard and discussed, the following list of skills would be highly recommended:
  1. Knowledge of digital preservation processes/workflows. (See my previous blog post with information on available training in this area)
  2. Strong, strong customer service skills. In one of our recent Regional Director meetings, one participant said this was the most important skill set he wanted to see in staff.
  3. Marketing/outreach skills. Libraries have to compete with other information sources and they have to be able to differentiate and explain why that differentiation matters to the end-users, be it students, staff, faculty or administrators.
  4. Data set and e-data management knowledge. Obviously an area of growing opportunities for librarianship this skill set will continue to grow in value and importance.
  5. Data analysis skills. Analytics are a huge part of the future of libraries both to understand how to better serve the end-users and how to demonstrate value for their administrators. Analytics as they exist today are tools and understanding how to use these tools requires training to develop the skill sets.
  6. Partnership management. Libraries will need to move more and more into working closely with other departments on campus. Understanding what motivates the partner and how to ensure their success is key to establishing future partnerships..
  7. Knowledge and experience in developing/deploying mobile applications/services. Recently heard at a conference was the statement that many kids now starting out will never own a traditional desktop or laptop PC. They'll start out on mobile phones/tablets and as that technology becomes more and more powerful, that is all they'll ever know and use. PC's as we know them are facing end-of-life. We need to start investing in mobile applications/services today so that libraries stay on top of this important trend.
  8. Survey development. We have to ensure librarians are externally rather than internally focused and they have to be able to understand how to connect/collect input from users.
  9. Interface design skills. Vendors deploy interfaces that serve a broad range of users. An important way for institutions to add value for their end-users is to tune that interface to meet their local end-user needs. However, good interface design is an art as much as a science (think Apple vs. Microsoft) and good skills here are always in demand.
  10. Skills in understanding scalability. Far too often librarians build face-to-face and un-scalable solutions to meet end user needs. Doing that means the solution is destined to ultimately fail. Students, faculty and staff may be teaching or taking courses anywhere and never even set foot on the campus. The university becomes merely the platform, where all of these groups may come from across the state, nation or world libraries to connect and learn. As a result, the library has to be in all those same places and the only way to do that is with scalable cloud-based solutions, accompanied by mobile interfaces (see above). While face-to-face solutions are always nice, the reality is that they can't really meet the needs of tomorrow’s learning environment. We have to always remember to ask ourselves when developing solutions; Will this scale? Do you have the people in place that understand what that means?
There is a lot more to be discussed on preparing staff for the transition to the cloud, but hopefully this will help get the discussions started at your library. As always, we at Ex Libris stand ready to assist you and to share thoughts and ideas.