Sagebrush Corp., one of the largest companies specializing in school library automation, has released its new integrated library system (ILS). “Sagebrush InfoCentre” is a next-generation system that builds on the strengths of Sagebrush’s existing library automation products: Winnebago Spectrum, Sagebrush Athena, and Accent.
InfoCentre is positioned as the upgrade path for libraries currently using Sagebrush Spectrum, Sagebrush Athena, and those still running the older DOS-based Winnebago CircCat system. InfoCentre, available for both Windows and Macintosh computers, follows a distributed architecture, meaning that copies of the software are running in each library. (Sagebrush continues to offer Accent—which is based on Sirsi’s Unicorn software—for centralized, district-wide automation.)
The server component of Sagebrush InfoCentre runs on Windows, Mac OS X, or Novell NetWare servers, and clients are available for Windows and Macintosh computers.
This next-generation system draws the best features and technologies from the company’s existing products. Sagebrush InfoCentre includes all the features expected in a library management system for school libraries. Modules built into the system include circulation, cataloging, inventory, reports, and administration.
In addition to the basic modules, InfoCentre delivers features previously considered add-ons such as: an integrated Z39.50 server; the Visual Search interface; the WebServer component to deliver the Web Catalog interface; and multiuser licensing. A utility called “PatronPorter” loads user data into InfoCentre from other databases. The search interface can be configured to display results from a single library, a group of libraries, or all libraries in the organization.
So that libraries need not worry about any sort of conversion project to upgrade to this system, InfoCentre works with the same barcode schemes supported by its preceding products.
Sagebrush’s add-on products are fully compatible with InfoCentre. Sagebrush Pinpoint—the metasearch interface based on technology from iXmatch Inc.—can be used with InfoCentre to enable students to simultaneously search multiple information resources. Libraries using InfoCentre can take advantage of Sagebrush’s MARC Source cataloging utility to obtain high-quality records of K–12 materials. Users too can benefit from the Sagebrush EnrichMARC service that enhances the library’s MARC records with valuable data from Accelerated Reader, Scholastic Reading Counts, or Lexile measure information.
Authority control processing and retrospective conversion services are also available. Hardware products such as the SLIP printers and barcode scanners are fully compatible with InfoCentre. Sagebrush also offers Sagebrush In-Hand, a hand-held barcode scanner for inventory, remote circulation, and tracking in-library use of materials or libraries using InfoCentre.
InfoCentre does not include a serials control module, but Sagebrush offers an add-on product called “Serials Manager” for libraries that require this capability. Unlike academic libraries, serials control tends to be a module less frequently needed in K–12 school libraries.
According to Director of Technology Marketing and Corporate Communications Mark Wilkes, Sagebrush will continue to provide support for Athena and Spectrum for as long as necessary. Both of these systems enjoy an extremely large installed base; more than 33,500 libraries use one or the other of these systems.
The InfoCentre announcement does not imply the need for libraries running Sagebrush’s existing products to make an immediate change; instead it makes available a more modern system when libraries are ready to upgrade.
The Sagebrush K–12 Landscape
For Sagebrush, InfoCentre allows the company to focus its development efforts on a single system. The company had been developing both Sagebrush Spectrum and Sagebrush Accent, products it obtained through business acquisitions.
Based in Minneapolis, Sagebrush first became involved in the library automation industry when it acquired Dallas-based Nichols Advanced Technologies in October 1998 in a transaction handled by Growth Capital Partners. (Nichols, founded in 1983, became a major player in the school library market with its DOS-based MOLLI automation system. It launched Athena, one of the first automation systems with a graphical user interface, in October 1994.)
For the first year following Sagebrush’s acquisition, Nichols Advanced Technologies operated as an independent subsidiary. But by August 1999 the company was more fully integrated, ultimately changing its name to “Sagebrush Technologies.”
In January 2000, Sagebrush acquired Winnebago Software Company, the second-largest provider of library automation software to K–12 school libraries (second to Follett Software Company).
With headquarters in Caledonia, Minnesota, Winnebago Software Company was founded in 1982 by George B. “Jeb” Griffith, and it was one of the pioneering companies in producing PC-based software for libraries. Winnebago’s DOS-based CircCat product, released in 1982, was installed in thousands of libraries. The company released its Winnebago Spectrum automation system in May 1999.
Prior to its acquisitions of library automation companies, Sagebrush had acquired Econo-Clad Books, American Library Publishers, and Catalog Card Company, all companies focused on K–12 education and libraries.Sagebrush Corporation is privately owned; Jim Zicarelli serves as CEO.
With the release of InfoCentre, Sagebrush has consolidated its flagship automation systems from three down to two. The company’s library automation offerings now focus on Accent, designed for centralized automation of school districts, and InfoCentre, a distributed system that can be implemented either for a single library or for a district.
This path has been a gentle one for libraries that use any of Sagebrush’s automation products. Seven years have elapsed since the company acquired Athena and five years since it acquired Winnebago Spectrum. A transition period of this length to consolidate product lines reflects a strategy that respects the loyalty of libraries to the products that they purchased. Yet, over time a company must eventually consolidate overlapping products.
The launch of InfoCentre takes place in the context of a major market trend away from systems designed for automation of individual libraries toward one of centralized district-wide automation. In the last three years, the school library automation market has experienced a dramatic shift. Sales of automation systems for individual libraries have dropped dramatically.
Since Winnebago Spectrum and Sagebrush Athena belong to a genre of software that is experiencing much lower sales than previous years, the pressure to modernize and consolidate is intense. Sales of both Winnebago Spectrum and Sagebrush Athena have been declining for the last four years. New sales of Winnebago Spectrum and Sagebrush Athena have declined 65 and 57 percent respectively since 2001. The sharpest decline occurred in 2004, with new sales at about half that of the previous year.
This drop in sales is consistent with that in other products targeted to individual school libraries. As more school districts move toward district-wide automation, sales of library products for individual schools have precipitously dropped. Sagebrush’s archrival Follett experienced a similar drop in new sales for its Circulation Plus/Catalog Plus product as did Book Systems’s Concourse product.
Sagebrush InfoCentre began shipping in July 2005. Early sales have been strong, with almost 2,000 preorders shipped on the initial release date. In the next few years we can expect InfoCentre to become a major product in the K–12 library automation arena.