In order to be prepared to write this newsletter and other projects, I'm constantly monitoring many different sources of information for library technology news. My main focus lately has been library automation products and discovery systems, but I keep an eye out for any technology story that might have an impact on libraries. I find it quite a challenge to synthesize all of this incoming information into a balanced representation of what is happening in the library automation industry as it cycles through different phases.
One of my highest priorities is to identify any new products or technologies that show potential for a positive impact on libraries. I'm especially interested in any information on the development of new systems, especially ones that break out of some of the long-established norms in library automation. This isn't to suggest that products or technologies are better just because they're new, but more that new products are important to probe and evaluate. Librarians, like any other profession, seek options from a wide palate as libraries seek new tools to meet their strategic goals. While it's important for existing products to see ongoing development and enhancements, I think that readers would be especially interested in early information on emerging products that offer libraries new alternatives. But does an emphasis on new products and emerging trends do justice to the library tech vendors that churn out new releases of their products year after year and continue to represent the majority of the industry activity?
As I report the news of the library automation industry through this newsletter, my website and other publications, I'm very mindful of trying to maintain a balance among the major themes in play. The current struggle between open source and proprietary systems, for example, can be challenging to navigate. One of the major competitive issues in the industry in recent years is the dymamic of open source ILS products challenging the longstanding proprietary systems. In this phase of the library automation industry, both options remain viable choices and many libraries find themselves at a crossroads where they must decide between one or the other. The volume and tone of how these issues are treated in the professional press, in the blogosphere, and other media can factor into those decisions. One challenge in reporting on the position of open source software in the library automation industry stems from differences in the ways that the respective players communicate. Those involved with open source systems tend to make much more information available than their counterparts that work with proprietary systems, and tend to be more engaged with social media. The inclination to divulge more may emanate from the same principles of openness behind their model of software development, but it also has competitive implications. The more that libraries hear a constant litany of their peers adopting open source automation, the more that they feel reassured that it's a viable approach for them. I observe that firms working with open source systems tend to broadcast every time a new library adopts the products they support, regardless of how small or large, while companies offering proprietary products make public announcements only on a very small portion of their business activities. This disproportionate output of communications could lead to the impression that open source adoptions already outpace those choosing proprietary systems. According to my research, proprietary systems continue to comprise the larger proportion of the industry, especially for larger-scale projects. In economic terms, open source projects still represent a small portion of the industry, though its impact will likely increase in coming years. Events can be interesting initially because they stand out as an exception to prevailing trends; they become even more interesting if they become the new norm.
This month's issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter shows how this effort to maintain a balance can unfold. As I review the press releases, announcements made on discussion lists, and activity on social networks like Twitter over a given month, several stories on open source advancements stand out, and led me to develop a piece laying out some of those themes, such as the expansion of Evergreen beyond North America. In the same timeframe, there were a few announcements of larger libraries selecting proprietary systems. So while there isn't nearly as much to write about the latter activities, I think that it's important to include them, to stay in tune with the realities of the industry. Readers should expect open source and proprietary technologies to be treated without bias. In a similar vein, we include a story about a new subscription-based pricing model for self-service equipment offered by 3M. It's worth reporting since it breaks from traditional patterns, and it's yet to be determined whether it may be the beginning of a new trend.
So am I successful in keeping the balance? Since my colleagues engaged with open source projects sometimes suggest that I give too much attention to proprietary systems and those involved with proprietary products worry that I lean too much toward open source, I can believe that I've been at least somewhat objective in the way that I cover the library automation industry.