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Technology update from the National Online Meeting and IOLS 1997

Computers in libraries [July/August 1997]


Editor's Note: For complete contact information on any of the companies covered in this article, check the Addresses of Companies section of the directory, which starts on page x .

This Buyer's Guide issue of Computers in Libraries provides a wealth of information about computer-related products, systems, and services of interest to libraries. For the last few years I have contributed an article that summarizes the technology demonstrated at a recent library conference. The first articles were based on the exhibition hall of the American Library Association Annual conference. For this year and last year, however, I base the article on the technology demonstrated at the annual National Online Meeting (NOM) and IOLS conference held in New York City. While National Online does not attract as many technology vendors as ALA, it does draw a group of vendors highly focused on library technology interests.

This article describes some of the products that I considered noteworthy and some of the trends I observed at the National Online Meeting in New York (May 13-15, 1997). I focus primarily on library automation systems and Web-based information publishing technologies. I do not cover the large number of exhibits that dealt with online services and specialized information products. Few major announcements of new products or technologies were made at the conference. None of the items reported here are totally new. Rather, what follows is a progress report on each of the companies in their ongoing product evolution. The sampling of automation developments at this conference cast light on the general trends of the industry.

Library Automation Systems

Part of the exhibition hall of the National Online Meeting was dedicated to IOLS vendors, all conveniently clustered together. None of the vendors brought their larger-scale exhibits, but came with scaled-down versions. Most of the IOLS vendors presented just a selection of their products to show at the conference, but were well-stock with literature. In many ways I prefer the more practical, focused, and intimate style of the IOLS exhibits compared to the more elaborate approach characteristic of larger conferences. Typically, the companies were represented at this conference by regional or local sales staff--few brought high-level executives. All the company representatives that I spoke with were extremely knowledgeable about their products. I was concerned, however, that several important vendors were absent from the conference, making it impossible for one to perform a systematic survey for an IOLS selection. Those that market systems for special libraries were better represented than those designed for academic libraries. As I describe the systems represented below, I'll also point out the conspicuous absences.

Ameritech Library Services, with the combined product line of the former Dynix and NOTIS companies, ranks as one the top vendors of library automation software. While Ameritech had one of the largest exhibits among the IOLS vendors at last year's NOM, it was absent this year. Ameritech has recently undergone a change in its executive management with the appointment of Lana Porter as president. Many have speculated that Ameritech will eventually divest itself of its library products. While the company consistently denies any slippage in its commitment to its library services division, its absence from conferences such as this one somewhat erodes confidence in this claim.

Auto-Graphics, Inc. specializes in online catalogs for library consortia. Its products include Impact/CD, a CD-ROM-based online catalog that has been available for a number of years. Auto-Graphics' new product is Impact/Web, an online catalog based on a Web interface. For most consortia, the libraries' database resides on a central server maintained by Auto-Graphics. The libraries provide access to their online catalog by having a link on their Web pages connect to a Web gateway at Auto-Graphics. The public libraries in Tennessee have recently selected Auto-Graphics to host their union catalog.

Cuadra Associates, Inc. offers a sophisticated database-management system called Cuadra STAR, upon which it has built a number of information-management products. Cuadra STAR is respected as one of the most advanced search and retrieval systems on the market. Cuadra offers STAR/Libraries, which uses STAR as the basis for an integrated library system that includes support for all the expected modules: circulation, cataloging, serials control, acquisitions, and an online catalog. STAR offers a Windows-based client that provides a graphical user interface and has recently developed STAR/Web, which allows Web browsers to search STAR databases.

Data Research Associates' library automation system is well-established and mature, and it has a large customer base of academic, public, and school libraries. DRA's system was originally developed on VAX/VMS and now runs primarily on DEC Alpha systems under OpenVMS. Also in the DRA fold are two other library systems gained through corporate acquisitions: MultiLIS and INLEX/3000. DRA provides support for these systems and even continues some development on MultiLIS. Although the company is still not ready for a formal announcement, DRA has been talking about its next-generation system, which will eventually supersede the DRA system, MultiLIS, and INLEX/3000. In some ways, the system will be totally new; in others, it will be an evolutionary change from its classic design. The new system has yet to be named or unveiled, but we can expect this to happen at this year's ALA conference.

EOS International, produces integrated library systems for school, corporate, and special libraries. This company is part of the Dawson Holdings, PLC, which also owns Faxon, Information Quest, Quality Books, and Turner Subscription Agency. In 1993, EOS purchased a competing library automation product called The Assistant, from INLEX and acquired The Information Navigator/TINLIB, through its merger with IME in 1995. This company is making progress toward developing and re-working the library systems of the previous companies that now comprise EOS into a more unified product line. The product lines of EOS's library automation systems currently include:

  • Q Series--A new client/server system with a graphical user interface. This software evolved from technology developed by IME. This system is MARC-based and uses Windows NT servers and Windows 95 clients. EOS currently has OPAC, Circulation, and Cataloging modules available. Serials and Acquisitions modules are under development. We can anticipate that the Q Series, once fully developed will be the flagship product of EOS.
  • GLAS (Graphical Library Automation System)--The current version of the library automation software developed by Data Trek, EOS's corporate predecessor. This software originated as a product called Card Datalog and later evolved into the DOS-based Manager Series. GLAS operates under Microsoft Windows and offers a graphical user interface for all modules. GLAS reflects the gradual migration of the former Data Trek Manager Series product into a Windows-based environment, but lacks the sophistication of either Professional Series or Q Series.

EOS continues to offer its DOS-based Manager Series and Professional Series integrated systems as well as the Unix or DOS T Series (formerly known as The Information Navigator or TINLIB).

Follett Software Company continues to rank as the library automation company for school libraries with the most sales. Follett offers its Circulation Plus, Catalog Plus, and Alliance Plus products for MS-DOS and Macintosh computers. Follett has redesigned these products in the last few years to operate under a more unified architecture that it calls Unison. While the Macintosh versions of these products offer a graphical user interface, the DOS products still use a text-based interface. A Windows OPAC, called Search Plus for Windows, is available. Follett indicates that it will have complete Windows versions of its programs that use client/server technology available by the Fall of 1997/98.

Gaylord Information Systems has long offered an integrated library system called Galaxy that runs on VAX/VMS computers. The company announced Polaris, its next-generation product, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting last February. Polaris will operate using Windows NT servers as well as Windows 95 and Windows NT clients. A Web client will also be available for the OPAC. Polaris will use a distributed client/server architecture and TCP/IP networking, and it will rely on a relational database management system. The primary OPAC client will be Web-based, making use of Java and ActiveX applets. Polaris includes all the usual functions of an integrated library system. It divides the functions into modules called Patron services, which include circulation, reports, notices, media booking, document delivery, and patron accounting. The cataloging module supports full MARC records, imports records from a variety of sources, and has authority control. Acquisitions, serials control, and accounting modules are also available. One of the unique characteristics of Polaris lies in its lack of modularity. To make a more seamless interface, its developers intentionally avoided any artificial grouping of the functionality into modules. This software is still under development and will be beta tested at the Montgomery County Library and Information Network in Pennsylvania.

Geac Computers, Inc.'s product line is also in a state of flux. Geac currently markets two host-based products: Advance, which it developed, and PLUS, which evolved from the Libs100PLUS system it acquired from CLSI. Geac's main development efforts, however, concentrate on its new GEOS2 client/server system. Components of this system include the GeoPAC, a Windows-based OPAC; GeoWeb, a Web-based online catalog; and GeoCat, a windows-based cataloging system. Work is underway for the acquisitions and serials control modules for GEOS2.

Innovative Interfaces, Inc. demonstrated its Innopac library automation system, a mature and well-established product. Innopac, primarily marketed to academic and public libraries, was originally developed as a host-based system and is steadily evolving toward a client/server architecture. In addition, it has gained a Windows-based graphical user interface and a Web-based OPAC. Innovative has announced its latest product, INNOPAC Millennium. Although only preliminary information is available, this system integrates the library's online catalog into a Web environment, using Java applets for all modules.

International Library Systems Corp. (ILS) has long offered the SydneyPLUS library automation system, which offers a rich set of features and is marketed primarily to special and academic libraries. SydneyPLUS has consistently evolved over the years. ILS now offers a client/server version of the system, and most of the modules are available with a Windows-based graphical user interface. The system was originally designed with a text interface, and for the last three years ILS has been developing Windows versions of each module. A Web-based OPAC was released in September 1996.

The Library Corporation continues to promote its new integrated online system called Library.Solutions, originally announced at the ALA Midwinter Conference. This system is based on Windows NT servers and Oracle databases. Library.Solutions will feature all the usual library modules, including an OPAC with access to other databases, MARC cataloging, the ability to retrieve records from Z39.50 servers, circulation, course reserves, acquisitions, and serials control. An integrated Z39.50 server will allow other libraries with Z39.50 clients to access the system. A Web-based OPAC will allow access from Web browsers without special client software. The Library Corporation also offers other library automation products, including the ITS (Integrated Technical Services) Workstation for Windows, a cataloging system with authority control for creating and editing MARC records as well as a Z39.50 interface for retrieving records.

SIRS, Inc. demonstrated both its integrated library system and its database products. The company's original business revolved around database products, but has since expanded to CD-ROM network hardware and software for distributing these databases in a library. For the last couple of years, SIRS has been marketing the Mandarin Library Automation System, which it acquired from Melchior Management Systems. Mandarin and was designed for school libraries, but has gained customers from academic libraries as well. Recent developments in Mandarin include the development of Windows versions of the OPAC and the serials and acquisitions modules.

SIRSI Corporation is currently preparing for the release of Version 9 of Unicorn. As an enhancement to this version, SIRSI has developed a new set of staff client applications, which it calls WorkFlows. This software allows library staff to operate Unicorn with improved efficiency and versatility. WorkFlows brings to Unicorn an interface with much better integration into the Windows environment. This software introduces some new screen designs and incorporates into the client software several sets of wizards that combine multiple operations in a single button. SIRSI also demonstrated WebCAT, Unicorn's Web-based online catalog. WebCAT allows a library to make its online catalog available on the Web so that users can access it with a standard Web browser.

Winnebago Software Company, a library automation company specializing in software and services for school libraries, demonstrated its new Spectrum software, which uses a client/server design and a graphical user interface. Winnebago has long offered DOS-based and Macintosh versions of its CIRC and CAT systems for school libraries. Now it has developed Spectrum CIRC and Spectrum CAT, which operate under Windows 95, Windows NT, Windows 3.x, or Macintosh. Spectrum uses TCP/IP networking, supports Z39.50, and can offer access to a number of periodical and reference databases in addition to the library's own online catalog. Winnebago is one of the largest software companies for school libraries, with a customer base of more than 25,000 libraries.

Noticeably Absent

While a significant number of the major library automation system vendors participated in the IOLS exhibits of the National Online Meeting, several were nowhere to be found. Of course, not all vendors can exhibit at all library conferences. One must, however, be careful to note which of the major contenders are not represented when gathering information for a system-selection process.

I noted earlier that Ameritech Library Services did not attend. This company, with its Dynix and Horizon product lines, still stands as the leading library automation system vendor. It is striking that the market leader chose not to participate. Other notable absences included VTLS, Inc., Endeavor Information, and CARL Corporation. Endeavor has developed Voyager, a client/server library automation system that has significant potential. VTLS has been promoting its new Virtua client/server system for the last year or so. Many, if not most, of VTLS' recent sales have been in the international sector, so its absence here is not so surprising.

Trends in the IOLS arena

In reviewing the library automation systems represented at the National Online Meeting and IOLS, I see definite trends:

  • The evolution from non-graphical systems is almost complete. All the former terminal and DOS-based systems with text-based interfaces now sport new graphical interfaces.
  • The dominant platform for client systems is now Windows 95. However, the transition from Windows 3.x to Windows 95 has been relatively quick, especially compared to the industry's slow movement from DOS to Windows.
  • Practically no Macintosh-based systems were demonstrated at the conference, whether for library automation systems or any other category of software. With Apple's diminishing market share, few developers are continuing to develop applications for this environment.
  • Windows NT is gathering strength as a server platform for library automation systems. Some of the systems that run with NT servers include ILS's SydneyPLUS, DRA's new system, Winnebago's new Spectrum software, Gaylord's Polaris, and Library.Solutions from TLC.
  • Web OPACs are universal, and intranet computing has spread rapidly. Companies, organizations, and campuses have all developed environments where the preferred client is the Web browser. Library OPACs must offer this option to remain relevant to their organizations.

The library automation systems generally have a very mature level of functionality. The set of features expected in an integrated library system is well-defined and almost universally implemented. There may be minor differences in how each system implements these functions, but most systems cover all the basics. The differentiating factors today involve interconnectivity, architectures, and interfaces. Library systems must be able to communicate with other systems through Z39.50 and be accessible by Web browsers. The computing environment in most organizations demands a client/server architecture. Most libraries have powerful desktop computers and networks, and they want a library system developed for this environment.

The trend that stands out the most involves the integration of information sources. No longer is the library's OPAC a self-standing entity. Libraries must continue to provide access to their own holdings through their online catalogs, but they are also expected to deliver a myriad of other information sources. The prevalence of electronic resources continues to grow at an incredible rate. The library catalog is but a single piece in an information environment that includes electronic serials, online publications, Web-enabled databases, real-time news sources, business information sources, and many other forms of online information. As libraries continue the trend of spending increasing amounts of their collections budgets on electronic materials, their library automation systems must keep in step. Any online catalog lacking the ability to integrate into this electronic information environment will not be adequate to meet the needs of the library or its users.

Web-Based Information Publishing Systems

One of the dominant trends among the vendors that specialize in creating and delivering information services is an orientation toward Web-based systems. Companies in the business of providing information seem to agree on the Internet/intranet model. Those vendors that formerly produced database products based on proprietary search clients now tend to offer their services in a Web environment. One of the major trends in the industry involves the implementation of Internet-style technologies. An increasing number of organizations are building internal networks and information systems around Web servers and gateways. This model usually involves creating a Web interface for existing database servers and other information services. Intranet has become the popular term for describing an organizational network that follows TCP/IP network protocols and that includes Web servers and gateways as the primary means for accessing information.

The National Online Meeting and IOLS exhibition included a number of vendors that developed tools to facilitate the process of publishing information in a Web-based environment. I have already noted the trend for library automation systems to implement Web access, but the same trend exists for almost all online information providers. Here are a few of the Web publishing and search and retrieval systems that could be seen at National Online.

Dataware Technologies specializes in search and retrieval software. Dataware's NetAnswer product underlies many CD-ROM-based applications. This company is keenly aware of the general migration away from CD-ROM format to Internet access. In response, Dataware has evolved its NetAnswer search and retrieval system to accommodate electronic publishing on the Web. The latest version of Dataware's software allows information producers to distribute their products via the Internet, on CD-ROM, or through a hybrid approach. Dataware's latest software allows the information producer to load and index records in much the same way as previous versions. But this version allows the information to be accessed through a Web browser. The publisher can then distribute the processed records on a CD-ROM or mount them on a server and allow subscribers to access the information via the Internet. Using a combination of these strategies, the publisher would distribute the information on CD-ROM and allow subscribers to access recent updates via the Internet.

Information Dimensions, Inc., a company owned by OCLC, showed the current versions of their TECHLIBplus library automation system and the BASISplus WEBserver. These products rely on the BASISplus search engine, the search and retrieval system that Information Dimensions developed as its key technology. The BASISplus WEBserver integrates the BASISplus search engine and a document management system into a flexible Web publishing environment.

Ovid Technologies has gained much recognition in the last few years for its database searching technologies. Ovid has migrated away from a Novell NetWare-based system, toward a Unix oriented approach. Recent developments have included support for Z39.50 and the creation of a new Windows-based graphical search client. For the last year, Ovid has been promoting a Web interface for its ever-growing list of information products. Ovid's most recent accomplishment is its new Java-based Web client. Many vendors find it difficult to provide the same number of features through a Web interface that they are able to offer through proprietary clients. Through the use of Java programming, however, Ovid has been able to bring many of the features of its proprietary Windows client into the Web environment. Ovid's choice of Java-based technology is very much in step with the direction of the computing industry.

OCLC's demonstrated its recent enhancements to its SiteSearch product. SiteSearch is a complete toolkit of programs that allows a library to create a unified Web-based interface to a wide range of information sources. SiteSearch has been available for a number of years and has included the software to create local databases, to access any local or remote z39.50 system, and to create highly-customized search interfaces. Library catalogs, bibliographic, image, and full-text databases can all be incorporated into a Web-based environment through OCLC's SiteSearch. The showcase of SiteSearch software is the Galileo project, collection of information sources searched through a common interface developed by the State of Georgia. The recent additions to SiteSearch include the ability to manage interlibrary loan transactions. This feature will be valuable to institutions that use SiteSearch to create multi-library shared catalogs.

SilverPlatter Information, Inc. demonstrated the latest version of WebSPIRS, its software for accessing databases through a Web browser. SilverPlatter offers a variety of options for accessing its information products . A library can purchase the products on CD-ROM and make them available to its users through a traditional CD-ROM network or through an ERL (Electronic Reference Library) server. With ERL, the library loads the CD-ROM data onto a Unix server, making the information available throughout the library's TCP/IP network. SilverPlatter offers ERL-compatible clients for Windows, Macintosh, DOS, and Unix. WebSPIRS runs on the ERL server, allowing Web clients to access the SilverPlatter databases. WebSPIRS can be used to access subscriptions to SilverPlatter databases offered on both the Web and local ERL servers.

Conclusions and General Observations

Web-based technologies have permeated the computing industry at an alarming rate. The realm of library automation has been no exception to this trend. Libraries and other information providers have converged on the Internet and internal Web servers as the preferred method for delivering information. I noted above the almost universal deployment of Web-based OPACs for library automation systems, and the overwhelming majority of the information products demonstrated at the conference have an option for Web access.

This rapid convergence on Web-based technologies has great potential for shaking up other trends in library automation. For the last several years, there has been a gradual, but steady, shift toward client/server systems with Windows-based graphical user interfaces. This model required the use of very powerful desktop computer to support the client software. The intent of the client/server model involves offloading much of the overall computing activities in the search and retrieval process away from the server and onto the client. The web-based computing model uses the Web browser as a client, and moves the vast majority of the computing tasks back to the servers. Many organizations balked at the expense of acquiring and supporting the high-end desktop computers required for client/server based systems. Many now hope to reduce the cost of desktop computing by moving to a Web-based environment. Web-technology and client/server systems are complimentary, not opposing models of computing. I believe that we are seeing just the beginning of the changes to come as the Web revolution hits the library automation world. We can expect, for example, to see an increasing amount of reliance on software developed in Java.

The National Online Meeting & IOLS '97 exhibition shows a library automation and information services environment that totally embraces Web-based technologies. The Web has proven itself to be adaptable to a broad range of applications and stands as the most widely used interface for all information sources. The great benefit of this convergence on the Web lies in the ability for users to access a large number of information sources without having to deal with multiple software applications on their local computers. Through these developments, individual users have access to an incredible amount of information, most of which can be accessed without libraries acting as intermediaries or brokers. Most of these information sources are based on business models that allow end users to purchase information incrementally. While Web-oriented technology offers great benefits to libraries, it also challenges them to compete among many other information providers in an increasingly complex information environment.

Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst for the Jean & Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University. He is Editor in Chief of Library Software Review and has edited or authored several books on library technology and Internet-related topics. He can be contacted by e-mail at Visit his home page at

View Citation
Publication Year:1997
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in libraries
Publication Info:Volume 17 Number 07
Issue:July/August 1997
Publisher:Information Today
Place of Publication:Medford, NJ
Subject: Library automation -- product reviews
Record Number:1224
Last Update:2022-12-05 16:44:19
Date Created:0000-00-00 00:00:00