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(Draft, subject to revisions. last edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, Wednesday, August 29, 2007)

The ILS-API working group has been convened by the Digital Library Federation to analyze issues involved in integrating integrated library systems (ILS's) and discovery systems, and to create a technical proposal for accomplishing such integration. ("Integration" in this context includes both two-way communications between such systems, and context-sensitive one-way links from one system to the other.)

Most larger libraries use integrated library systems to manage a library's acquisitions, catalog data, and circulation, as well as to provide a public interface (known as the "OPAC") to the catalog. This integration has been useful for streamlining library operations, and the data managed by ILS's is highly valuable information about a library's collections and holdings. In recent years, however, there has been increased interest in providing improved discovery tools and other applications that allow users to find appropriate resources in their libraries and in other resources such as remote databases, repositories, and online forums. Once users have found what they wanted, they should then be able to get it from their libraries or other sources, where appropriate through the underlying ILS.

The OPAC software currently provided by most ILS's is not up to the demands of users in a world where the availability and sophistication of digital resources and web applications has increased significantly. Even if the OPAC software itself improved, the variety of uses that libraries now want to make of their bibliographic data argues for the ILS becoming a platform which supports appropriate interfaces for discovery applications living on top of it, instead of needing to do everything on its own.

The ILS-API group, made up of library and systems experts at various DLF libraries, will work from approximately July through December 2007 to recommend specific technical strategies for integration. We will

  • Survey the needs and discovery applications implemented and desired by libraries in DLF (and other similar libraries).
  • Review the state of the art and practice in our ILS's, discovery systems, and the protocols and interfaces they support.
  • Compile a high-level summary of specific abstract functions that discovery applications need to be able to invoke on ILS's and/or their data to support desired discovery applications, as well as outgoing services from ILS software to other applications.  
  • Suggest approaches for concrete bindings for these functions (i.e. specific protocols, APIs, data standards, etc.) that can be used with future and/or existing ILS's. (Producing a complete concrete binding and reference implementation is beyond the scope of this small, short-term group; but we hope to provide sufficient requirements and details that others can produce appropriate bindings and implementations.)
  • Produce a report of our findings and recommendations, in a form that will enable and encourage libraries, ILS developers, and discovery application developers to expeditiously integrate discovery systems with ILS and other sources of bibliographic metadata. (A draft is now being compiled in the Draft Recommendation area.)

As the group is distributed across the US, we will do most of our work through digital and telephonic means. We do hope to meet face to face as well, ideally in the early fall among ourselves and then again at the DLF forum in November with other interested library, developer, and vendor representatives invited.

This work has wide interest in the digital library community; indeed, there were many more nominees for this group than could be accommodated. We hope to draw on the expertise and interest of this wider community to as large an extent as feasible. Much of our work, therefore, will be shown in public areas of this wiki and other open forums. Many of the Wiki pages here are open for comment by the public at large.

Reflecting the need to move quickly and work with the resources available to the library community, we hope to make our recommendations as simple as possible while still meeting the requirements of our constituency. We will also attempt to reuse as much as practical standards and practices already in existence and use, and not unnecessarily reinvent the wheel.

We look forward to helping bring out the full potential of our libraries and our users' research. Watch this wiki for further developments.

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