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Flavors of the Decade Past

Smart Libraries Newsletter [February 2011]


The library automation arena saw incredible change in the first decade of the new millennium. Even in an inddustry that is characterized by relatively slow movement each year, the cumulative change over the last ten years reshaped the options available to libraries in terms of the way they use technology to support their work. In very broad strokes, the following are some of the events and trends of the last decade that shaped the current state of the industry.

Open Source Library Automation takes hold

The emergence of open source library automation software represents one of the major trends that played out over the last decade, and it changes the landscape for the next. The first open source ILS to gain traction was Koha, developed by Katipo Communications, a consulting firm contracted by a group of small libraries in New Zealand called the Horowhenua Library Trust, to replace an outdated system not ready for the imminent arrival of Y2K. Following its initial successful deployment (January 2000), Koha slowly gained momentum. Its adoption by the Nelsonville Public Library (August 2002) serving Athens County in Ohio was a catalyst that sparked interest and ultimately led to its spread throughout the United States, though it has also spread worldwide. Interest in open source library automation created opportunities for the emergence of businesses specializing in related services including installation, data migration, hosting, and ongoing support. A model of sponsored software development emerged where libraries would pay to have specific features developed for the system that could subsequently be shared by others using the software. LibLime was formed in January 2005 as the first Koha support company in the United States, gaining a steady flow of clients, including both public and academic libraries. PTFS, a well-established library technology services firm began providing support for Koha in January 2009; in March 2010 PTFS acquired LibLime. ByWater Solutions was founded in April 2009 to provide Koha-related services. Today PTFS/LibLime and ByWater Solutions stand as the largest Koha support companies in the United States, with a dozen or so other support firms operating in different geographic regions worldwide.

Evergreen, an open source ILS developed for the PINES consortium by the Georgia Public Library System, came to life in September 2006 and has since seen adoption by other consortia of public libraries as well as a few academic libraries. More recently, Evergreen has extended its reach into the high-volume municipal arena when the King County Library System in the state of Washington went live in October 2010. The Institute for Museum and Library Sciences awarded a grant in September 2009 to King County and other institutions to facilitate the adoption of open source library automation software, promoting the concept of open source software and funding non-technical infrastructure involving support, training, education, planning and project management. With many large-scale automation projects brewing, adoption of Evergreen has gained substantial momentum.

These events taken together establish open source library automation as a viable competitor to those involving proprietary licensing. Open source library automation systems still represent a minority position in the field, in terms of new selections and even more so in terms of the overall base of installed systems. It's inevitable that the proportions of libraries using open source software will increase over the next decade. Yet, proprietary ILS products continue to dominate and will likely to continue to do so into the future.

Industry consolidation

Fueled to a large extent through investments from private equity, the library automation industry has consolidated into a much smaller group of companies since the decade began. Companies that were common names in 2000 that have been absorbed include Dynix Systems, Data Research Associates, Sirsi Corporation—all now integrated into SirsiDynix; Endeavor Information Systems became part of Ex Libris Group in December 2006; Geac was acquired by Golden Gate Capitol in March 2006, with its library automation division emerging as Infor Library Solutions. In the school library automation arena, the decade began with the acquisition of Winnebago by Sagebrush, which was in turn acquired in July 2006 by Follett Software Company, which stands as the dominant automation company in the K-12 school arena. The consolidation of the library automation industry has been underway for two decades, resulting in smaller number of ever larger companies providing technology products in this sector.

Industry continuity

The companies that have endured for multiple decades under the ownership of their original founders also tell an important part of the story in the library automation industry. This trend speaks to both to the ability of a company to build and maintain a stable customer base, and also to steer its products through multiple cycles of technology changes. Companies in this track include Innovative Interfaces, which has been in continuous operation since 1978; VTLS operating within Virginia Tech University since 1974 and as a private company since 1985; The Library Corporation, operating under family ownership and management since 1974; Auto-Graphics, founded in 1950, has evolved its business activities from publishing, to databases, to library resource sharing and automation; Polaris Library Systems has undergone some business changes, including a separation from Gaylord Bros and a name change, but has operated continually since 1975; Follett Library Software, part of the family owned Follett Corporation, has been around since 1985.

OCLC grows as an industry force

Over the last decade OCLC has become a greater force in the library automation industry. The company has expanded well beyond its original focus on bibliographic services and has emerged as a major player in all aspects of library automation. It acquired a number of ILS products on the international front, Sisis Sunrise, Fretwell-Downing's OLIB, Amlib, as well as the LBS and CBS products developed by PICA. It also acquired OpenURL linking technology through its acquisition of Openly Informatics, and EZproxy from Useful Utilities. In addition to this arsenal of technologies gained through business acquisitions, OCLC has developed major products based on its WorldCat platform, WorldCat Local and Web-scale Management Service. In the bibliographic services arena, OCLC grew through the acquisition of competitors, most recently RLG. SkyRiver was launched by Jerry Kline, the owner of Innovative Interfaces, as a new competitor in the bibliographic services arena. The decade closes with OCLC positioned as a major force in bibliographic services, resource sharing, and library automation, though dampened somewhat by the lawsuit underway initiated by SkyRiver.

The fragmentation of the integrated library system

At the beginning of the past decade, the integrated library system reigned as the dominant software for automating a library. As the decade progressed, new genres of software emerged to supplement or replace ILS functionality. OpenURL link resolvers, initiated by the commercialization of SFX by Ex Libris in 2000, help libraries manage and provide access to their expanding collections of e-journal content. Federated search utilities, including WebFeat, MuseSearch, MetaLib, and later 360 Search, also emerged early in the decade to provide simultaneous cross-searching of electronic resources. Innovative Interfaces launched its Electronic Resource Management product in 2002, followed by others in this genre such as Verde from Ex Libris (2004), Meridian from Endeavor Information Systems (2005) and 360 Resource Manager from Serials Solutions (2007). Discovery interfaces, also known as next-generation library catalogs, began supplanting the online catalog module of the ILS for end-user access to library collections and services beginning with the launch of AquaBrowser in 2002, followed by other offerings such as Encore from Innovative Interfaces, Primo from Ex Libris, Summon from Serials Solutions, EBSCO Discovery Service, BiblioCommons, WorldCat Local, SirsiDynix Enterprise, as well as open source products like VuFind, Blacklight, and SOPAC. Over the course of the decade, libraries needed to expand their portfolio of automation products to achieve comprehensive automation. As the new decade begins, projects such as Kuali OLE and Ex Libris Unified Resource Management provide a glimmer of hope that this fragmentation may eventually give way to a more systematic approach to library automation.

These broad events and trends provide context for what lies ahead. Smart Libraries Newsletter and its predecessor Library Systems Newsletter, launched in July 1981, have chronicled the library automation industry in some detail as it has unfolded for now almost three decades. As libraries formulate their technology strategies and make decisions regarding technology products or services, it's important to have the detailed information that this newsletter aims to provide.

View Citation
Publication Year:2011
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 31 Number 02
Issue:February 2011
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:16122
Last Update:2023-01-30 13:57:17
Date Created:2011-10-07 10:47:23