In December 2020, the Swiss Library Service Platform SLSP goes live after six years of preparation.
From then on, library users will use their SWITCH edu-ID account to register with their research libraries and catalogues. This is expected to affect between 0.5 and 1 million users – especially all Swiss university members.
“In today’s knowledge society, unrestricted and timely access to scientific information is of great importance. By guaranteeing access to diverse information resources, academic libraries play a central role in research and teaching at universities, but also in the lifelong learning of the population. SLSP sees itself as a service provider for all academic libraries and contributes to establishing a seamless flow of information for the knowledge society”.
SWITCH edu-ID for the education, research and innovation community in Switzerland
With edu-ID, SWITCH not only offers an authentication and authorisation solution for the services operated directly by the university IT, but also for all the services of the Swiss education, research and innovation community at university level.
Academic libraries are a very important source of information for students and researchers – probably the most important of all from the point of view of dissemination. And libraries are often used far beyond university membership, sometimes even into old age. In other words, a long-lasting service that supports lifelong learning. And that is precisely what SWITCH edu-ID is designed to do.
A challenging path for libraries
Confronted with the announcement of the end-of-life of the library software Aleph (Ex Libris) and Virtua (Innovative) used so far, the Swiss libraries and associations concerned formed and were looking for a new software solution as well as a new organizational structure for future operations. The historically grown structures, which in some cases required libraries and associations to operate the same or similar systems in parallel and possibly also to manage users several times, are now a thing of the past.
“When the idea of “SLSP” was first presented at the Conference of the Directors of Education of French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino in 2014, there were many prophecies that it would not be possible to bring together and maintain the libraries of Switzerland across the language regions in such a project. The reasons given were cultural differences, library policies that had previously been lived separately from one another with regard to existing close cooperation with library structures in neighbouring countries, the customary principle of small states, “local egoisms” and, last but not least, scepticism that there could be a system with a technical solution at all.
The SLSP idea nevertheless prevailed and has continued to grow in strength to this day. The project impressively underlines this overarching cooperation and the common spirit: the plurilingual team of the SLSP, the energetic cooperation of about 150 people from all libraries in Switzerland in various subject areas over a period of almost 4 years, participatory committees that act in a jointly supported policy, the willingness to make compromises and to revise old patterns of thought and finally a library system that provides technical solutions”.
In 2017, 15 university libraries joined forces and founded SLSP AG, which will operate a central library platform for them from 2020 and offer them further services in the library environment.
This was preceded by a feasibility study and a period of preparation from the idea to the realisation of this large and ambitious replacement project, which initially potentially involved over 540 libraries.
After an extensive tender and evaluation, the choice fell on the software solution Alma / Primo VE from Ex Libris. Subsequently, the starting signal for the actual replacement work was given in Sept. 2018.
At the same time as selecting the future solution, SLSP also decided to use SWITCH edu-ID for authentication.
“Even before choosing Alma, it was clear to SLSP that we wanted a centralized user management in SLSP, i.e. one account per person that could be used in all SLSP libraries. In order to implement this in Alma, we need a central source of user data and an authentication option open to all SLSP clients, in which each person appears only once. SWITCH edu-ID has fulfilled these requirements perfectly”.
For the replacement, SLSP designed step-by-step scenarios with the components to be replaced. For example, SWITCH edu-ID will replace the identities in the Shared User File (SUF) used for the use of identities in the networks of the scientific libraries of German-speaking Switzerland.
Customizing for library users
Following the early establishment of access to library content via edu-ID for national licences and Swissbib, followed by the opening of access to e-resources at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland for school teachers, a large number of users will be using SWITCH edu-ID for new or additional access to library content after December 2020.
Libraries require not only a minimum of data on their users, but also additional contact data, for example, especially for notifications, dispatch or invoicing.
Accordingly, library users have to fill out more fields than is necessary, for example, when registering with the university, where previously only a small amount of data was stored in the edu-ID account and additional information was collected by the university and stored in the university directory.
As providers of services that could potentially last for decades, libraries could in future play a key role in checking and maintaining the data quality of user accounts.
“It is important to us that library users are able to enter and change their personal data independently and easily in their SWITCH edu-ID account. Library specific data, such as information on active loans and transactions, are managed and adapted by librarians directly in the library management system”.
Libraries represented on the SWITCH edu-ID Advisory Board
The new composition of the Advisory Board reflects the importance of libraries as a stakeholder group. The Swiss Library Network for Education and Research SLiNER consists of 43 academic libraries in Switzerland and is represented by Christian Oesterheld. This representation ensures that the sometimes special needs of libraries are taken into account in the further development of SWITCH edu-ID.
The longer the more the cooperation of large national service providers in the university environment is required. The SLSP and SWITCH teams, which are currently working intensively on the optimal implementation and roll-out, show that this works. The time will come in December and SLSP will start operating.
“SWITCH and SLSP share the common goal of developing and operating innovative and future-oriented basic infrastructure with and for the academic community in Switzerland. The close and cooperative collaboration as part of the SLSP team is an exciting enrichment for me as a SWITCH employee in a subject area that is new to me.”
The collaboration between the service provider SLSP and the identity provider SWITCH will not come to an end as a result, but will be continued within the framework of the further development of the services. In this respect, this type of close collaboration certainly represents a model for the future and could also find its way into other areas of SWITCH’s work in future.