Project ReShare is a new initiative to build a fully open source resource sharing, Interlibrary Loan (ILL) system for use in stand-alone and consortial interlending scenarios. Perhaps much more significantly, ReShare is rethinking the roles of software vendors and solution ownership in the context of library service networks. In this editorial Ian talks about the genesis of the ReShare project and tries to answer some questions about where we’re heading.
Some background – how did we get here?
As a team Ian, Chas and Neil have had a long association with interlending systems. Our first encounters came as members of EU research projects such as DALI way back in 1995 whilst working together at Fretwell Downing Informatics. Those early days led us into the development of VDX and early collaborations with many of the people involved Project ReShare today. When the opportunity came along to get involved with re-imagining this application, we all jumped at the opportunity to renew some old associations, and make some new friends.
The seeds of ReShare were planted in the FOLIO initiative (Twitter). FOLIO (Maybe the Acronym came later: “The Future Of Libraries Is Open”) is an EBSCO and community funded initiative to create an open source Library Services Platform defined and owned by libraries themselves. At the moment, FOLIO is very tightly focussed on the core library mission – Acquisitions, Circulation, Discovery, etc. As many ILL librarians will know and lament, resource sharing functions might not always be near the top of that list. As such, RS/ILL is something FOLIO would dearly love to have in its catalog of services, but not something likely to be developed as a part of the core offering in the short term. However, when one looks at the core drive behind FOLIO: community ownership of the solution, one is immediately struck how this approach might be fundamentally compatible with the DNA of the ILL and resource sharing community. In particular, the collaborative relationships that institutions forge when they work together in consortia are crucial to the functioning of the resource sharing ecosystem.
Libraries’ internal IT systems are rightly concentrated on the operational priorities of the institution. As a consequence the operation of “network connections” such as ILL tends to be delegated to external systems. Then one day an community wakes up to the realisation that a proprietary system is now in control of all the interactions between peer institutions. Even worse, all the data underpinning the network is locked into a silo with a restrictive data license that makes it incredibly hard to exercise the choice and freedom that a healthy marketplace needs to function properly.
The seed of ReShare has taken root in the current libraries system marketplace, driven partly by concern for the various vendor relationships and partly by a desire to have more influence over the way solutions are developed. However, the community itself very quickly realised that whilst dissatisfaction with the current environment was a good catalyst, it is not a good vision for where we want to go and what we should build. The FOLIO approach then (a UX process led by specialist interaction designers, but backed up by software specialists and a community of practice) provides a great environment in which to take those green shoots and develop them into an innovative and robust solution fit for purpose today, and able to adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.
What’s being done?
ReShare is developing a solution which is designed to act first and foremost as an independent resource sharing platform. The design also supports those modules being installed alongside existing FOLIO Library Services Platform. Where an institution wishes to use ReShare as a part of a FOLIO deployment, the modules can be installed and will integrate with core modules. Where an institution has an in-place Integrated Library System it can use ReShare as a stand-alone resource sharing system.
January has seen us start development in anger. The development team has started setting out modules and core services we know will be needed. In parallel, Filip from Samhaeng has started the UX process and is visiting interlending departments in a number of institutions. We’re going to regroup at the end of January and join our two paths into a single unified roadmap which will see us delivering a minimum viable product at the half year mark.
Knowledge Integration is investing time in the engineering effort and development of ReShare alongside IndexData in the belief that a fundamental shift is needed in the Library Services Platform market. We’re working with the Open Library Foundation and partner institutions on a collaboration to build open source solutions. This collaboration is the fundamental core of ReShare, where the open source software (and if your erstwhile editor has any sway, open licensed data) is a part of the medium within which that collaboration takes place. The open licences are an assurance to institutions that they are not contributing time to a proprietary initiative. Similarly, there is no vendor lock-in because anyone can take the software and run it on their own infrastructure or recruit a specialist firm to do that for them.
What are we going to get out of it?
This might all sound a bit like motherhood and apple pie, who could really object to the community owning the process and software that underpin our services? Yet the astute reader will inevitably ask, “what’s in this for companies like Index Data and Knowledge Integration that makes it worth your investment?” We’re hoping to be able to build services and capabilities on top of the core software, from hosting through migration and implementation support, training and bespoke development services. Whilst we hope that the investment we make in the initial effort will pay off in working relationships and in-depth knowledge of the systems we’re not going to compromise the open source nature of the software. If someone comes along and is able to do a better job for less, we would expect institutions to act in a way that makes sense to them. What we aren’t going to do is to try and lock people into a specific solution with no way out. We want to rely on our smarts, our collaborative approach and our quality of service to keep institutions as customers.
We need your help
We are really lucky with our partners in the USA to have an awesome range of participating institutions. We would absolutely love to also have some UK institutions get involved to help shape how ReShare might need to adapt to UK and European circumstances. The Knowledge Integration team is composed, amongst others, of Ian, Chas and Neil – all of whom can trace their ILL systems experience back to the early days of the FDI VDX system, so we’re no strangers to the UK consortial interlending scene. We’re keen to find local libraries to talk to. Anyone interested in hearing about what we are doing, or getting involved can follow Project ReShare on Twitter, and feel free to email ian.ibbotson at k-int dot com.