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Cloud computing can be defined in a number of ways, making it confusing for librarians to understand what is available and what it delivers. Although computer scientists and technologists may have a strict definition of cloud computing involving "on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources" (see the NIST Definition of Cloud Computing), for non-IT librarians it's enough to think about cloud computing as library data and services hosted beyond the library's walls and accessible via the web. More and more electronic resources and software used in libraries are hosted in the cloud.
Why the cloud?
There are many uses for cloud-based systems in libraries, from discovery layers to citation management to mobile apps (see "What's in the Cloud?" p. 51), and the future holds even further possibilities. Cloud-based offerings such as the HathiTrust digital repository, discovery layers, and library management systems implemented on top of large, shared, community bibliographic databases have the potential to revolutionize library systems. In a September 2011 Computers in Libraries article (ow.ly/80AhW), Vanderbilt University director for innovative technology and research Marshall Breeding predicted the upcoming demise of the integrated library system (ILS) and its replacement with a "library services platform" that will be cloud-based and, supposedly, egalitarian. Any size library will be able to implement such cloud solutions, if they can afford them. From a technological and access standpoint, a large portion of what a library does could be done in the cloud, freeing librarians' time for other pursuits. For some libraries this may be a boon, but one size may not fit all. Some libraries will want to make sure they can mitigate any potential downside of the cloud by simultaneously hosting everything locally. Outsourcing mundane operations to the cloud, however, could allow librarians to provide more access to local and unique content.
Cloud pros and cons …