The main feature in this month's issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter is on Innovative Interfaces' announcement of its new library automation platform. I continue to be impressed by how the library automation industry seems to be gearing up for a new phase, one where a new guard of systems is lining up to eventually replace at least some of the veteran systems in the ranks. We've been through this change before, several times.
In the 1990's, we saw a similar situation— a slate of legacy ILS products turned over to new flagship systems. Many of the major vendors that had created products in times where computer terminals prevailed reinvented their wares with client/server designs and graphical user interfaces. Examples from this period include NOTIS to Horizon, DRA Classic to Taos, INNOPAC to Millennium, the telnet clients of Unicorn being replaced by WorkFlows, and ALEPH 300 to ALEPH 500. Some new systems emerged in this cycle, such as Voyager from what was then called Endeavor Information Systems. An even earlier cycle in the 1980's saw transitions such as CLSI Libs100 to PLUS, GEAC GLIS 8000 and 9000 to Advance, and the demise of systems such as BLISS and DataPhase. Each cycle is ushered in through changes in the broader computing industry that made older technologies untenable. In very broad terms, the same basic functionality survived through each of these technology cycles. The basics of circulation, cataloging, acquisitions, serials, and online catalog carried forward from the earliest ILS products through the ones in place even today.
We seem to be in a similar period now, though perhaps with a more gentle twist. Earlier transitions happened when obsolesce of a system's underlying hardware, operating systems, or architectures made them essential. The new phase currently unfolding seems to be driven more by opportunity and functionality. All systems today run on commodity hardware and none of the underlying systems are going away. But the shift away from client/server architectures to Web-based computing, service-oriented architectures, and cloud infrastructures provides new opportunities for increased interoperability consistent with the reality of libraries that are more interconnected among themselves and their parent organizations. It allows for more efficient computing models to operate, as opposed to locally installed servers and complex desktop applications.
The need to deliver new kinds of library functionality stands as a critical factor in this transition. The earlier cycles carried a fairly stable body of functionality through new generations of technology. Now we need new kinds of functionality to meet important changes in the work and missions of libraries. As we enter a time that will likely encompass the completion of the shift from physical to electronic resources, in book as well as journal collections, and an increasing emphasis on creating local collections of digital content, the basic shape of the infrastructure that a library needs to operate changes significantly.
It's good to see relief in sight in the form of new products under development that might better serve libraries in the near future. Yet, if the patterns of the past can predict the future, the transition will not happen quickly. Over the next decade I expect to see a similar pattern over the next decade where the numbers of libraries adopting the new generation systems ramps up very slowly at first, gaining momentum only after a year or so. It's rare in the library automation industry to see a groundswell of activity following the initial release of a new system. Libraries tend to move with caution and have slow and deliberate planning and procurement cycles. It will be interesting to follow the migration trends over the next few years to see whether this new set of systems find use in libraries any more quickly than the sluggish adoption cycles of previous times.