Three Takeaways for Academic Libraries from the 2023 Library Systems Report

Marshall Breeding offers insight into the future of open source and AI.

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Independent library consultant Marshall Breeding published his hotly anticipated “2023 Library Systems Report” in American Library Magazine this month. The report analyzes data Breeding gathered through surveys of for-profit and nonprofit organizations and various sources of publicly available information and highlights the investments libraries are making in technology products, primarily library system platforms (LSP) and integrated library systems (ILS). His report spans the full spectrum of libraries, from public to school to research and academic, both domestic and abroad, so we wanted to draw out the key takeaways of the report for research and academic libraries.

Read Breeding’s full report.

Open-source LSPs made gains, but have an uphill battle.

The Library of Congress’s contract with EBSCO’s open-source library systems platform FOLIO, announced in September 2022, signals a potential turning point in the struggle between open-source and proprietary LSPs. Open-source alternatives to proprietary library systems software have been around for years, but many libraries have resisted adoption out of concern for their sustainability and functionality, not to mention the labor of changing to a new system. Breeding reports that only 10 percent of academic libraries and 17 percent of public libraries use an open-source ILS. These statistics show that open-source alternatives have a long way to go to achieve dominance in the market, but the decision of the LoC to adopt FOLIO is, at the very least, a sign of confidence in FOLIO in particular.

Breeding, understandably, predicts greater adoption of FOLIO, thanks to the LoC decision. He also notes that the surge in for-profit and nonprofit companies offering support for open-source systems will likely increase open-source adoption.

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Ex Libris continues to dominate academic and research libraries.

As mentioned above, proprietary LSPs continue to hold the biggest share of the library tech market,. Though open-source alternatives may chip away at them, they are not in any immediate danger. Ex Libris’s Alma is the most widely adopted LSP among academic and research libraries and shows continued signs of growth. Breeding reports, “Last year, 139 organizations contracted for Alma, bringing total installations to 2,365 libraries.” Ex Libris has been busy creating new features and products, including cloud app development, support for controlled digital lending, and resource-sharing software. Its unstinting pattern of development may likely deter libraries from looking for shinier alternatives.

Where should we expect growth? Where else? AI.

Breeding concludes his report by anticipating which technologies to watch for. Unsurprisingly, his prediction centers on AI and AI analytics. The formal integration of ChatGPT into current library systems, such as reference services and discovery, is quickly approaching. Alongside integration will no doubt be the creation of new products, services, and businesses leveraging AI. Breeding warns that concerns about bias and user privacy will accompany these technologies—and indeed, they already have—but this likely will not stop their rapid development and proliferation in the very near future.

Read Breeding’s full report for American Libraries.

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