The Library Corporation announced that it is developing a new integrated library system called LS2. This product will ultimately become TLC's strategic automation product, though it will continue to develop and support both of its existing ILS products indefinitely. The initial module of the system, the LS2 PAC, has been completed and has been implemented by the Shenandoah County Library System in Virginia.
In the current library automation arena, we mostly see integrated library systems that have followed an evolutionary path, gradually reshaping themselves to accommodate current preferences for technology architectures and the gradual accumulation of desired features. It's rare to see a completely new system announced—recent attempts to do this in the market have not gone forward successfully. The Horizon 8.0/Corinthian project initiated by Dynix Systems before it was acquired by Sirsi Corporation stands as the most recent example of an aborted effort to create a new ILS. Yet many libraries express some dissatisfaction with the approach embodied by the older systems and may welcome a product that begins anew.
The Library Corporation has been at work on its next generation automation platform for more than a year. Its initial efforts have been focused on a new online catalog. This project, initially launched under the code name Indigo, features a sharp new look, embracing many of the features of next-generation library catalogs. TLC has recently adopted the LS2 brand for this new family of products. The company's plans for LS2 involve much more than a new interface—they will use the technology framework and agile programming methodologies established as the first step toward creating an entirely new integrated library system.
The LS2 PAC, the first module of the new system completed, can be used as a catalog replacement for TLC's existing products, Library.Solution and Carl.X. The LS2 PAC includes the standard functionality of a library catalog as well as many Web 2.0 features like the capability for user supplied tags, ratings, and reviews. It supports faceted navigation and relevancy ranked search results, which have become common expectations in the next generation catalogs. The product sports a rich visual design, presenting cover art and other graphical elements. LS2 supports RSS both in the ability to offer search results as a feed and to present information from external RSS sources.
The development of LS2 marks the beginning of a new long term strategy for The Library Corporation that addresses the realities of its current circumstances. Since the time of its initial release in 1996, the Library.Solution ILS experienced strong rates of adoption by public libraries. By the end of 2007, the number of installations of Library.Solution totaled 682. In recent years, however, TLC has seen somewhat modest gains in the adoption of Library.Solution, with 35 sales in 2007 compared to 74 in 2001. In an increasingly saturated ILS market in North America, other companies have seen similar reductions of new sales. The company has seen some attrition of libraries from Carl.Solution, its system aimed at large municipal libraries. In recent years, TLC reengineered Carl.Solution, which was designed for the high-availability line of Tandem hardware into Carl.X (which runs on Unix and Oracle). This change was needed both to modernize the Carl software and because the Tandem hardware was being discontinued by its manufacturer. Beginning in 2004, the company was extremely successful at marketing AquaBrowser as a next-generation interface and served as its exclusive distributor in the United States, Canada, and Singapore. With the June 2007 sale of Medialab Solutions, the Dutch company that developed AquaBrowser to R.R. Bowker, TLC was no longer able to hold exclusive marketing rights to the product. This combination of factors makes the creation of a new library automation platform a logical move for The Library Corporation.
Although the number of new ILS sales made by TLC in recent years is down, the company continues to see some growth and benefits from a large base of customers currently running its products. The company focuses almost exclusively on library automation products for public libraries. By not attempting to serve a wide variety of libraries, the company has been able to maintain its position as one of the leading providers of automation products to public libraries for over 20 years.
In the library automation arena, a number of approaches are available to move products forward, each with their own challenges. It's often possible to evolve a product through new generations of technology, keeping the core intact while changing out components and gradually modernizing the system. There also comes a time when it's better to develop a new system from scratch, recreating the functionality with a new technology platform in step with current architectures.
The Library Corporation has adopted a strategy that involves continued development of both of its existing products as it creates its next generation library automation platform. In the long term, libraries running Library.Solution and Carl.Solution/Carl.X may opt into LS2 as their forward path for automation, once that new system demonstrates that it offers the full set of features available in their current system, with a modernized approach and new benefits.
Libraries do not tolerate abrupt changes in their automation products well. Anytime a company announces that it will cease to develop a product, it causes great uncertainty or the libraries that use the product and erodes their confidence in that company. Even as TLC engages in a project to develop a new system, it plans to continue developing its existing systems. Had the company chosen to stand down development of its existing products, it might reduce the chances that the majority of its customers would remain loyal and eventually adopt its future system. While the costs of maintaining development and support on its two existing systems as it designs and creates a new system might be higher in the short term, it aims for a better long term outcome based on building the loyalty of it customer libraries by continuing to attend to its current products. By delivering a new user interface as the first module of its new system that also works with its existing products, its customer libraries gain immediate benefits where they matter most.
In the long term, it's advantageous for a library automation company involved in multiple automation products to work toward a single strategic technology platform. Companies that have made abrupt moves to accomplish this result have caused disruption and have lost portions of their customer base. The gradual, longer-term approach that The Library Corporation has adopted may avoid the alienation of library customers. While the approach that The Library Corporation has taken in phasing in its new automation platform seems cautious, the introduction of a new automation system in a market that favors evolved systems is a bold move.