Not as “open” or “linked” as we could be

The National Library of Australia has a long and impressive tradition of innovation with Library Information Technology.  However their national interlibrary lending network in Australia is managed as a commercial operation: “Libraries Australia”.  While theoretically this interlending network is “open”  it implements VDX’s version of ISO/ILL and has a Z39.50 search interface which has a “visitors not welcome” sign at the front door.   That is, their Z39.50 service is only available to members – effectively this means only to other Australian member libraries.  This also means that a rich source of metadata is locked away.   That engine house of innovation, Google, has shown what possibilities can be presented when information is put out there with a rich range of API’s and free access.  Indeed the fantastic success of Trove should also hint to the National Library what potential interest there is for such metadata access.  Certainly, there are Pacific Island countries who would greatly benefited from access to this rich store of metadata. 

Unfortunately, the interlending framework itself is opaque, expensive and effectively proprietorial.  The ISO/ILL platform as it is implemented simply acts as a barrier to entry by competitors rather than being a tool for open/flexible integrating.  This is brutally demonstrated by the very small number of inter-operable implementations around the work.  As an inter-networking protocol this is unfortunately a failed venture.  NISO N39.83 (NCIP), being XML based, and with even with only a rudimentary ILL framework, already has more implementations than ISO/ILL.

In the world of possibilities opened up by Linked Data Sets and metadata extensibility, mash-ups and integration, it is libraries should be the last institutions to lock away their metadata.   Fortunately many are turning to catalogues that have open service interfaces – they are OAI/MPH and open search capable.  They are therefore accessible separately but amenable to a federated search.   Modern protocols for inter-connection of library services open up possibilities for distributed platforms for information sharing that are nevertheless richly interconnected.   Still, a preexisting national network of metadata presents a really valuable regional resource and would be nice to see this large, central, network more visible to achieve its full potential.   It is important in a new era of globally linked data and rich metadata discovery that accessibility to national resources such as this is encouraged, and Libraries Australia should be mindful of this.

Libraries are under challenge, and their response to this challenge should be to ensure that their platforms are open, extensible, and where possible favor visibility and accessibility.   Libraries should position themselves to be the metadata and publishing hub for their organisation or community, taking their place in a network of valuable local resources interconnected by the rich possibilities for distributed discovery now available.


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