School library automation has seen a major shift in the last three years. More and more, school districts are moving away from products installed in individual school libraries and toward systems designed for centralized automation. Products designed for installation in individual schools have experienced steady sales declines over the last few years, while emerging technologies, produced for centralized, district-wide automation, chart sales increases.
Given that a school district may include dozens of individual libraries, installing library automation software on computers in each school library can be quite a burden on the IT staff, while operating a single centralized system offers great benefits in terms of manageability and technical support. Centralized systems also provide advan- tages for the acquisition and cataloging of new materials and offer great opportunities for sharing materials throughout the district. What's more, the costs for licensing a single centralized system can be less than purchasing software for each of its individual libraries.
Among the library technology vendors, Follett Software Company is a pioneer in the K–12 school software territory. Its venerable Circulation Plus and Catalog Plus PC-based automation systems have been installed in more than 35,000 individual libraries. And as sales for its PC products slow, Follett reports strong interest in its new Destiny automation system, which set out on its course in 2003.
Destiny follows an all-Web approach, meaning all access to the system for both staff and students is done through a Web browser, eliminating the need for installation of local software. Since Destiny began its journey, Follett reports it's been selected by almost 200 school districts in the United States.
In 2004 alone, the company reported 141 new sales for Destiny. Many of these sales have been to large municipal school districts, including Miami-Dade County in Florida (for its 320 schools), the borough of the Bronx, New York (116 schools), Clark County in Nevada (301 schools), as well as to Polk (120 schools) and Pinellas (132 schools) counties in Florida. In the transition from PC-based systems to centralized district-wide automation, Follett has preserved its status as the leading software provider.
The Automation Trail
Most other companies in the K–12 school library market also are heeding the call for centralized automation. Sagebrush Technologies--the only other company that approaches Follett's market presence—offers Accent, a 2001-launched school automation system based on technology from Sirsi Corporation.
Additionally, in 2004 several of the smaller companies specializing in K–12 schools launched products for centralized automation, including Book Systems, Inc., Mandarin Library Automation, and Surpass Software.
Softlink America, a subsidiary of an Australian-based company, likewise has shifted its course to centralized Web-based systems. The company targets a wide range of library types, and it offers customized versions of its Web-based Liberty3 automation system for each, but Softlink Oliver is the company's product customized for K–12 school districts.
Softlink recently announced a partnership with VIP Tone, a company specializing in administrative support software for schools. VIP Tone offers the School MATRIX enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. According to the vendors, Softlink's Oliver system will be integrated into the School Matrix School Portal to provide library automation for the district in an environment completely integrated with the schools' other administrative functions. The system providers say this environment will allow the library automation component to share student and staff data, eliminating the need to re-key or duplicate information.
To date, Softlink has been a relatively small player in the United States K–12 school library automation market, but this relationship with VIP Tone enables it to expand its presence in the states.