The American Library Association's Annual Conference, held in late June in New Orleans, traditionally stands as the prime venue for breaking news in the library-automation industry. Industry news (such as mergers and acquisitions or major, new product announcements) often has first public airing during ALA's yearly summer venue, and usually, the press-announcement volume is higher in the days surrounding this conference than at any other time of the year.This year, however, was not one for major announcements; indeed, it was great to see ALA Annual give New Orleans a much-needed and appreciated boost, but things were a bit uneventful among the library-automation companies.
Following a phase of consolidation that culminated in the emergence of SirsiDynix in August 2005, the industry--despite continued fragmentatio--finds itself in a quiet period in which no immediate movement is afoot for further company restructuring and investment strategy.With its acquisition of library-technology companies, Sisis Informationssysteme, Fretwell Downing, and Openly Informatics, OCLC has been the focus of attention in recent months, and the recent news that long-standing competitor RLG would be merged into OCLC marks a seminal event in the bibliographic-services arena. Earlier in June, prior to ALA Annual, came word that RLG-member organizations had voted in favor of joining with OCLC (according to the terms proposed in the May 2006 announcements). OCLC will be very busy over the next year as it strategically integrates these new organizations.
Vendor-Developed Next-Gen Catalogs
So although it's quiet on the ILS front as far as mergers and acquisitions go, the next heat of activity in the product-and-technology race centers on the next generation of library interfaces. For the last couple of years there has been a recurring clamor among library professionals--many in library circles have been busy lambasting the current generation of catalogs and pointing out how distant they are from meeting library-users' needs and expectations.
One next-generation library catalog that has received considerable attention was crafted by the North Carolina State University Libraries (NCSU), which utilizes Guided Navigation technology from Endeca. NCSU replaced the native OPAC associated with its SirsiDynix Unicorn ILS with a search interface based on Endeca software, which offers relevancy-based search results with the ability to refine the results using facets to narrow results.
Those at Endeca have established the company as a powerhouse in the local-search arena, applying the vendor's technologies to information-access applications in many industries (including retail, healthcare, financial services, and government). Although Endeca has gained recent attention in the library world, libraries remain a small portion of its client base. Still, Endeca's search and navigation technologies seem well suited to the information-discovery and user-navigation issues currently of concern in libraries.
The Library Corporation (TLC), a company that focuses on automation for public libraries, established a business partnership with Endeca in June 2005; the agreement allows TLC to offer Endeca products to its library-market customers. Phoenix Public Library will take advantage of this partnership and will become the first public library to offer a library catalog based on Endeca's Guided Navigation interface. In addition, Chicago Public Library purchased Endeca technologies as part of its $13.8 million contract with TLC for its multi-year project to upgrade its library-automation environment.
In May 2006, Endeca announced it had been awarded a patent (U.S. Patent No. 7,035,864) for its Guided Navigation approach, which is described as “a hierarchical data-driven navigation system and method for information retrieval.” As the concept of faceted browsing gains ground as a preferred technique for Web-based, information-retrieval interfaces, this patent covers important territory. The patent applies to Endeca's implementation of faceted navigation, though not to the concept itself; it reflects the company's role as a key innovator in this key arena of information discovery and interface navigation.
Another interface gaining use in libraries is AquaBrowser, developed by Medialab Solutions and distributed in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the Philippines by TLC. Outside of these countries, Medialab markets directly or engages other distributors. In 2006 alone (and so far), TLC has sold the AquaBrowser Library to more than twenty-five libraries, including the Hartford Public Library. AquaBrowser provides a search interface that spans the library's catalog, its Web site, and the electronic resources to which it subscribes.
Two additional ILS companies, Ex Libris and Innovative, have announced plans to develop next-generation library interfaces that will go well beyond the traditional library catalog—not only in the style of interface employed but also in the expansion of the scope of the catalog (to include many other information sources along with traditional library holdings). Primo, from Ex Libris, was covered in the March 2006 (26:3) issue of SLN, and a report on Encore, from Innovative Interfaces, was featured in last month's issue (26:7). Although Primo provides an independent platform that facilitates access to the library's various collections, Encore extends Millennium to provide access to other content sources.
As for the biggest ILS firm, SirsiDynix, it promotes its Enterprise Portal Solution and SirsiDynix Rooms as its next-generation library interface. The Enterprise Portal Solution provides a comprehensive environment that provides access to all of the library's content, including the library's collections of books and journals, databases, and local digital collections, which can be extended further through the use of optional federated-search and OpenURL-linking products.
Rooms (now available in v. 2.1) is a content-management system that contains collections of specifically selected content organized into virtual spaces or “rooms.” At ALA Annual in New Orleans, SirsiDynix showcased its EPS and Rooms products recently launched at the Cherry Hill Public Library in New Jersey. Highlighting the use of Rooms in the K–12 environment, SirsiDynix also announced a collaboration with the INFOhio (“the information network for Ohio schools”) consortium to develop content for SchoolRooms, an implementation of Rooms to serve as a portal for K–12 schools.
XC Underway Too
Outside the commercial sphere, a University of Rochester River Campus Libraries-based project worth following involves what project developers call the eXtensible Catalog (XC). With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the institution will conduct planning-and-requirement analysis for an open-source system that will, eventually, provide unified access to the broad array of library resources, including both traditional ILS content and digital resources.
The current project does not necessarily involve creating a finished system but does include an in-depth assessment of its feasibility, the open-source resources that could be used toward its development, the metadata considerations, and its functional requirements based on an analysis of needs in academic libraries.