One of my many library automation tasks is maintaining the lib-webcats directory, which I started about 5 years ago. This site is mainly used by the general public to find libraries and their catalogs on the Web, but it also serves as a tool for tracking automation systems. I've recently redesigned the site, and it now has a new URL (www.librarytechnology .org/libwebcats). lib-web-cats is a completely voluntary, nonprofit endeavor. I maintain it to support my interest in library automation and to provide a service to those who find it useful.
According to ALA, there are about 13,000 public and academic libraries in the U.S. alone. lib-web-cats currently lists about 6,000 libraries worldwide and is growing fairly rapidly. At this level, it can't be considered a comprehensive resource, but it offers a significant sample of libraries-especially among those in North America-which makes it a reasonable tool for studying automation trends. lib-web-cats does a fairly good job of listing libraries-academic, public, medical, law, and government agency-that have publicly available Web sites and online catalogs. Keeping track of corporate, K-12, church, and small libraries is much more challenging since many of them can't be found on the Web. So even though there are thousands of these institutions, they have only sparse representation in lib-web-cats.
While lib-web-cats' Basic Search page aims to take general users to library Web sites in the most efficient way possible, the Advanced Search page offers tools for doing comparative analysis and automation trendspotting. One of the main data elements in each record lists the automation system that's currently used by each library; another set of fields holds information on any previously used system. The service also records the date that a library implemented its system. This data, used in conjunction with other facts that are recorded about each library-such as type, collection size, country, state, and affiliations with consortia and other organizations-allows users to track automation trends.
Since lib-web-cats is less than a comprehensive data set, I treat the trends that I see as informal indicators. The site is useful, but not definitive. Keep these caveats in mind as you use it.
Finding Reference Sites
As an academic discipline, library automation has few devotees lately. It's more of a practical interest that comes to the fore when one gets involved in selecting a new system. That's when a tool like lib-webcats is especially useful.
One of the key steps in choosing a system is to find peer institutions that have direct experience with it. From these institutions, it's common practice to select a handful of reference sites for more indepth review. One might conduct a telephone interview with key staff members at that library or pay a visit to examine their system.
Finding libraries that have previously gone through the same system migration can be a big help. Not only can the staff members share their overall impressions of the product, but they may still have the software tools that were used to extract data from the old system and import it into the new one.
lib-web-cats can help identify reference sites. When performing queries by type and collection size, you get a broad list of results. You can then enter your current system and those in your short list of considerations. This query will find libraries that have already gone through the same migration. The city, state, and country categories can then be used to narrow the set of reference sites to those that are nearby.
Systems Gaining Ground
While it's always important to look at all functionality aspects when choosing an automation system, it's also important to know which products are currently successful in the marketplace. Regardless of how good a system might be, a small customer base makes the selection riskier. It's better to obtain a system from a vendor with a healthy and growing customer base than from one in decline.
On a basic level, it's helpful to know which systems are being used out in the field. It's easy to do a lib-web-cats search by "Current Automation System" to get raw figures on which libraries are using what system. But numbers can be deceiving. You might notice that a large number of public libraries use Dynix, for example. But those figures include sales that occurred several years ago. Some systems may be no longer available. It's important to see recent sales and to observe which systems are increasing in numbers. One of lib-web-cats' newest features allows you to limit queries to the year the product was implemented. This helps in identifying current sales trends. Not all of the library listings include this information, so remember that the results are representative at best and not absolute.
The following are some patterns that emerge with current systems. These results are basically consistent with more comprehensive analysis that I've done for other projects.
Ex Libris' ALEPH 500 shows a strong rate of selection by big academic libraries. Although this system has been marketed in North America for only a few years, it has seen a great spike in sales to large, complex libraries.
Innovative Interfaces' Millennium system has had a steadily growing customer base. While its recent sales continue to be strong, they build on a long history of incremental growth. Very few libraries drop Innovative's products for those of its competitors.
Though still fairly modest in numbers, Gaylord Information Systems' Polaris is gaining ground, especially among midsized public libraries.
Endeavor Information Systems' Voyager is extremely popular among academic libraries.
SIRSI's Unicorn system continues to sell well across many different library types: academic, public, and government agency. lib-web-cats shows that Unicorn's customer base has been steadily building for many years.
Although currently few in number, Virtua, the next-generation system from VTLS, shows a steady increase of new customers, especially in international libraries.
The Library Corp.'s Library.Solution sells very well in the medium-sized public and academic library market.
Systems in Decline
While it's important to know which systems enjoy rising popularity, beware of those with an eroding customer base. A number of systems that have been widely adopted in the past are no longer being developed. lib-web-cats shows a pattern of steady migration away from certain systems. No real surprises emerge from the following, but the rate of change is interesting.
NOTIS, the IBM mainframe-based system owned by epixtech, has endured much longer than many had predicted. Several libraries that had delayed system migrations pending the further maturity of replacements have recently made their way through the selection process. In the last year or so, large sites such as the Florida Center for Library Automation, Harvard University, and the State University of New York have migrated from NOTIS to other systems.
Dynix, one of the major systems for medium to large public libraries, is now beginning to show a significant amount of attrition. While epixtech continues to do some minor development and remains committed to lending support, Dynix is still an aging system. epixtech naturally has a strong interest in seeing the former Dynix libraries move to Horizon, its next-generation system. Early indications are favorable. As represented in lib-web-cats, more libraries have switched from Dynix to Horizon than to any systems from epixtech's competitors.
The DRA Classic system has been in decline for a number of years. While SIRSI has enjoyed considerable success in wooing DRA libraries to Unicorn, its competitors have similar intentions. SIRSI has not monopolized the libraries that are migrating from DRA; Innovative and Endeavor have also won a significant number of them. Inlex/3000, another asset of the former DRA company, is also in rapid decline. No clear pattern is apparent for migration from Inlex/3000. The libraries that have switched from it have chosen a variety of systems.
Though considerable pockets of use remain, a steady number of libraries are migrating from VTLS Classic each year.
The Library Corp.'s Carl.Solution, a large-scale system designed for big municipal libraries and consortia, is difficult to track. It shows both steady erosion and some recent large sales.
lib-web-cats affirms the trend of libraries giving up their locally created systems in favor of those that are commercially developed and supported. Only a minuscule number of libraries in the database now rely on systems they built themselves.
As you use lib-web-cats, you'll find that some libraries have migrated from top-selling systems such as Unicorn, Voyager, and ALEPH. The question is whether these moves indicate true dissatisfaction with the systems or if they are simply anomalies in an overall positive trend. When I see migrations away from top systems, I generally do further research to determine the circumstances. It's almost always the case that the switch occurred not because of strong dissatisfaction, but because of organizational issues such as changing from operating a system independently to relying on automation services from a consortium.
The one overwhelming trend that libweb-cats illustrates-which is very much consistent with my broader research-is that libraries are using a relatively small number of automation systems. For each library type, the number is dwindling to three or four. Few if any new systems are taking hold. If these trends continue, the legacy systems will fade into extinction in the near future.
Another aspect of consolidation is that libraries are entering into automation arrangements through consortia rather than going it alone. It's becoming much more common for a large group of libraries to share a single system than it is for individual libraries to adopt one independently.
Maintaining lib-web-cats takes a lot of time. My hope is that those who use the directory will participate in its upkeep-it's very helpful when visitors submit information about their own libraries. Forms are available for either creating new listings or updating existing ones. For those who are willing to get involved by submitting or updating specific groups of libraries, the site provides a link for volunteers.
Any article I write on library automation trends is a static snapshot. If it's kept up-todate, a resource like lib-web-cats is a dynamic tool that can reveal current automation patterns. So whether you're just curious about the topic or are selecting a system, come by and take lib-web-cats for a spin.