Typically, news in the library automation industry tends to be clustered around major conferences, and larger conferences tend to attract bigger news. The American Library Association Annual Conference (held each summer) and the Midwinter Meeting (held early in the year) have traditionally stood out as the venues where library automation vendors make big announcements. The conferences of the Special Library Association and the Public Library Association often provide the backdrop for products or services oriented to those particular sectors.
Making an announcement at a major conference can amplify the attention given to a new product or service and generate buzz among conference attendees, journalists, and through social media. News travels fast through a conference and shortly afterward, moves through the general awareness of the broader library realm. I hope that this newsletter and my other efforts help ensure that those with an interest in library technology can stay current on industry events and developments. The cycles of news that revolve around major conferences lead to some dry spells when it seems like nothing is happening in the industry. The months preceding the two ALA conferences are especially quiet as companies tend to save up any brewing developments. I often have to dig hard for newsworthy topics for this newsletter during those months.
But droughts often turn into deluge in the conference seasons. No vendor wants to be perceived as without accomplishments, so press releases are plentiful and range from game-changing events to minor advancements in existing products or previously announced initiatives. It can be quite a challenge to discern the significant and substantive developments among the flood, so to speak.
Another interesting aspect of reporting library automation news is observing the different patterns by which different vendors and players in the industry publicly announce their new products. Some companies like to “launch” products early—often when it's not much more than an idea and a blueprint. I generally like this approach since it lets libraries know early in the development cycle so that they can have more time to think about whether the product is something that might be useful to them. This method also opens more opportunities for libraries to have some input into the shape of the product. Early announcements, however, can leave companies vulnerable to complaints about “vaporware” products and can be riskier should the product development take longer than what was originally anticipated.
On the other end of the spectrum, some companies hold off on public announcements until they have largely completed development. This approach can be advantageous for an especially novel concept where there is an opportunity to begin actively marketing the product before the imitators come along. In my observation, the library automation industry is one where new concepts and features eventually find their way into the competition's product lines. It's a “me too” kind of industry where product differentiation gets blurry over time as each of the rival companies work to match the accomplishments of the competition. This arms race of functionality can benefit libraries as innovative advancements often become mainstream features within the given product genre in the next product cycle.
I'm writing this edition of Smart Libraries Newsletter just after the 2012 ALA Midwinter Meeting, and most of the stories covered relate to announcements made at or just before the conference. Overall, it wasn't one with earth-shattering news, despite the fact that we're in a very active phase in the library automation industry where several new game-changing products are in the works. But the announcements regarding these products have been on the table for a while and the current industry narrative tells more about their respective progress in development and deployment. This month's issue covers some of the more interesting technology news surrounding the conference.