If we dumb it down a little, we can conceptualize the history of Springshare like this:

  1. The iPhone launches, sparking the wildfire of a point-of-need ethic making libraries painfully aware their web presence — whether its total lack, or bottlenecked by city, county, or institutional IT — would fail to respond to increasing demand for services and content.This had been kindling for a few years. “Web 2.0” was a thing; the 23 Things, encouraging organizations to experiment with blogging, videos, and social, launched just a year or two prior. However, it was the iPhone that first put the internet in our users’ pockets.
  2. Springshare takes advantage of this zeitgeist with their new content management system (LibGuides 1) in several key areas:
    1. it requires little to no technical knowledge or systems support. These live in the cloud, and they just work. This is an important point because at this stage there hadn’t quite been that web services boom in our discipline, which influences things later. More on that below.
    2. LibGuides relieves libraries of overbearing IT departments. Librarians are empowered to make content unencumbered by bureaucracy or code. Here, the return on investment is huge, whether it’s measured by outreach, patrons helped, time saved, expertise inspired – all this compounded by the organizational agency libraries were now capable of exercising on the web.
    3. LibGuides are specifically branded for libraries. Without developers and the like in the decision-making rooms, more powerful alternatives like WordPress or Drupal — the names of which, at a glance, are sort of meaningless — were barely on the radar. I suspect this mattered more than the fact that they both require some technical expertise, especially back then. Libraries jump through hoops to make shitty vendor products work, so I suspect Springshare’s specific branding is to credit.
  3. Five or six years ago libraries increasingly reallocated their staffing budget to create new web services positions, create spaces for in-house designers and developers. Library schools rebrand themselves, merging with communications or computer sciences colleges, and churning out not the first but singularly-focused web librarians. LibGuides hadn’t much changed while the WordPresses of the world were much improved. The job LibGuides is designed to do — painless hosting and content management, largely — is being done better by other services, and now there is growing expertise at decision making tables to identify this.
  4. So, Springshare identifies a new job and pivots.
  5. LibGuides 2 is released as part of a larger suite of LibApps, which extend the benefits above by providing solutions to library-specific problems like event management, staff scheduling, virtual reference, assessment – all of which are individually available as WordPress plugins or Drupal modules, or even other SaaS, but are still exponentially more attractive as part of an emerging ecosystem of Springshare services. It’s easier to use, content is already there, and it doesn’t require much technical knowledge or systems support to administer. This time, however, it’s not just convenient hosting but tools that are core to modern librarianship.

We are crossing into the Library DevOps Era

The big libraries are now hiring entire developer teams, no longer with the “librarian” pretense tagged-on to job titles, but full-on “software developers” – or, in enterprise speak, “business analysts.” Smaller institutions will follow.

What this means is that it is cheaper and easier than ever to spin-up homegrown solutions. With a reasonably sound WordPress developer and a few hundred dollars to spend on premium plugins, libraries can host their own website, with event management, chat, robust statistics, internal staffing, editorial roles, not to mention a baked-in and crazy robust API offering out-of-the-box virtually unlimited extensibility to your homegrown system. Host it with Amazon Web Services for dollars a year. Spare thousands from the budget.

So, what to do then with Springshare?

Developers will seek alternatives when LibApps no longer appears serviceable to their increasingly complex needs. If they were extendible, malleable to change and integration in the same way WordPress can be extended through plugins and APIs, then to developers LibApps in these edge cases are no longer obstacles but already part of the solution.

WordPress is the model, here. It’s not only that the platform is easily shaped to purpose but there is a robust community of developers. Beginning with the WordPress Plugin repository, a curated app store — hello, fellow kids! — allowed for an economy of supply and demand where solutions needed were solved publicly under a GPL license. As the repository grew, demand for further functionality grew, demand for developers grew, who contributed to the growth of the repository.

The value of such community can’t be understated. It’s what sustains the virtuous cycle, the trust that even if WordPress isn’t the best tool, it could be the right tool. WordPress is always an option.

If Springshare can be that for libraries, they’ll outlast even the integrated library systems.

Michael Schofield is a service and user-experience designer specializing in libraries and the higher-ed web. He is a co-founding partner of the Library User Experience Co., a developer at Springshare, librarian, and part of the leadership team for the Practical Service Design community.