Cloud computing for libraries: review
Cloud computing for libraries, by Marshall Breeding, is published by the American Library Association (2012) in The Tech Set series. The aim of the book is ‘to equip libraries with the information and practical advice needed to evaluate the many opportunities to take advantages of cloud computing for the benefit of their organizations’.
The first two chapters introduce cloud computing and its potential benefits and place the subject in its technological context. The focus here is on cloud computing in general, rather than on library-specific matters. The discussion assumes no prior understanding of the subject and is entirely accessible to non-techie readers. A distinctive strength is the presentation of different forms of computing (local departmental computing; hosting options; various layers of cloud computing) along a more or less continuous spectrum.
Subsequent chapters such as ‘Planning’ and ‘Implementation’ deal much more closely with the specifics of libraries. The treatment is rounded out by chapters on organisation matters, marketing, best practices, and metrics. A final chapter attempts to capture developing trends (a somewhat thankless task in such a fast-moving field).
Breeding’s stance is judicious rather than evangelical. He argues that adoption of cloud computing offers many benefits and is in any case to some extent inevitable. He has a firm eye, however, on the costs, problems, and risks attached – his discussion of such matters is notably sharp. Overall, he emphasises that adoption should be led by strategic assessment and cost-benefit analysis – and should disregard the notion that cloud is ‘cool’. (One chapter includes the sub-heading ‘Jump into trendy technology only as it meets strategic objectives’.)
If I have a criticism if the book, it is that it is exclusively library-centric. That may sound an odd thing to say, given the title of the book. What I mean is Cloud computing for libraries has surprisingly little to say about developments in the provision of content (and in social reading) through cloud publishing. Enterprises as diverse as 24symbols, Copia, HP MagCloud, Issuu, LibraryThing, Jellybooks, Meritocracy, Packt, Pubslush, and Veomed are changing the landscape of online publishing and reading. Coverage of such developments would have helped the book to achieve its stated aim even more fully than it succeeds in doing.
That said, this is an extremely helpful professional resource – one that I have no hesitation recommending. The writing is clear, concise, and authoritative throughout.
A note on the index
The index is less professional in quality than the rest of the book. It is particularly lacking in cross-referencing. For example, readers wanting to read about bandwidth will need to think to search for ‘Internet bandwidth issues’: there is no ‘bandwidth. See Internet bandwidth issues‘ entry. (Similarly, there is an entry for ‘Large-scale data’ but none for ‘Data’). The entry for ‘Application programming interfaces (API)’ has a sub-entry for ‘comparison with SaaS’, which directs the reader to p. 23. But it is questionable whether ‘comparison’ is the best term: on p. 23 Breeding writes ‘It is reasonable to consider ASP as a subset of the broader concept of SaaS’, so ‘relationship to’ would be accurate than ‘comparison with’. The index effectively undersells the book (the treatment of bandwidth and of ASPs are among the strengths of the book, yet the index obscures the matter).