New York Public Library reads up on the cloud

Four years ago, the New York Public Library began to move its web properties to the cloud.

Today, the library system has all of its approximately 80 web sites in the cloud. The library has shrunk the number of on-premise servers by 40% and is running those web properties 95% more cheaply than if it had bought the hardware and software to do it all by itself.

The library took a risk on the cloud, and on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and it paid off.

“We’ve grown but we’ve grown in the cloud,” said Jay Haque, director of DevOps and Enterprise Computing at the library. “Today, we’re primarily focused on the digital identity of the NYPL. How our properties look. How they merge and integrate. How our patrons use the site … Without the cloud, we wouldn’t have the time to focus on the customer experience.”

The NYPL is the largest public library system in the U.S. based on the size of its book collection and the amount of materials borrowed annually.

With more than 90 neighborhood branches, four research centers and about 67,000 free programs under the library’s umbrella, the system houses more than 51 million items, including books, to e-books and research collections. The collection also includes a 1493 copy of Columbus’s letter announcing his discovery of the New World and a collection of 40,000 restaurant menus dating as far back as 1843.

The library system serves more than 17 million patrons a year through all of its branches.

The NYPL is also focused on serving millions of people online, reaching out to a global audience that can’t regularly walk through its doors.

With the library system’s 80 web sites, users can browse its immense collections, find a list of library-recommended international novels, download e-books, find blogs, watch videos of author interviews and view more than 800,000 digitized items, such as maps and photos.

Making all of that work seamlessly, quickly and without pause is Haque’s job.

He started at the NYPL as a page in 1992, then went on to work in IT as a support technician until he left for another job in 1997. However, the library work called him back 17 years ago and he’s stayed on since then, designing web pages, taking care of servers and working his way up.

What would that have cost? Likely between $1 million to $2 million.

The NYPL IT team wasn’t unfamiliar with the cloud, and already used different cloud platforms for certain projects.

Between 2009 and 2010, the library system made its first cloud move, trading in IBM’s on-premise Lotus Notes for Google Apps. The library also migrated from Oracle’s PeopleSoft human resources software to cloud-based WorkDay.