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Auto-Graphics: A Library Automation Pioneer Strengthens Its Position for Library Consortia

Smart Libraries Newsletter [February 2012]


Auto-Graphics has been landing an increasing number of consortial contracts for its AGent VERSO ILS, demonstrating its standing as one of the stronger mid-level library automation vendors in the library automation industry. Their newest clients include a large statewide consortium in Tennessee. This project stands as a significant win for Auto-Graphics and also marks the first time that Tennessee has sponsored a statewide library automation initiative. In a phase of library automation where open source automation projects gain considerable attention, it demonstrates that proprietary systems continue to be regarded as viable alternatives.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives has entered into an agreement with Auto-Graphics to provide AGent VERSO ILS to public libraries throughout the state. Though not intended as a comprehensive statewide system, the project will provide the AGent VERSO ILS to as many as 100 public libraries across the state, with 52 committed to adopt the system in the initial year of the four-year contract. The libraries in the initial phase span a wide geographical area across the entire state. The contract supplies these libraries with the AGent VERSO Consortial Edition ILS, including its basic cataloging, reporting, and circulation modules, the CILL module for connecting the ILS with the statewide interlibrary loan system, and the AGent Iluminar discovery layer. The contract may provide acquisitions and serials management as needed, as these modules are not necessarily required by the smaller libraries targeted in this project. The contract was bid and evaluated competitively through an RFP-based procurement process.

Integrated with Statewide Resource Sharing

This new consortial ILS builds on existing infrastructure which happens to also be supplied by Auto-Graphics. In 1997, Auto- Graphics created a Web-based union catalog and interlibrary loan system for the 228 public libraries in Tennessee. This union catalog provided a valuable resource by incorporating the holdings of public libraries throughout the state, but did not displace the automation systems used in each library. TSLA implemented the AGent Cataloging and Resource Sharing system in 2000 to enhance its statewide union catalog and interlibrary loan service. In 2004, TSLA renewed its contract for AGent Resource Sharing® and extended it to include ISO ILL and Z39.50 modules. Through its support for these protocols, the statewide resource sharing environment was able to communicate with the many different ILS products in place throughout the public libraries in the state. In 2003, the Tennessee State Library and Archives selected AGent VERSO to manage its own internal collections. This pattern of library automation procurements reflects an ongoing positive partnership between the Tennessee State Library and Archives and Auto-Graphics as a technology provider. Prior to this project, individual libraries in the state had been purchasing automation systems from many different vendors, with no single dominant product.

Financial Details

Funding for the new shared AGent VERSO implementation comes both from the state and from local funds. Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett made funds available through grants available to Tennessee public libraries, making an effort to target those with an annual circulation of less than 100,000 transactions. The grants offered through the state stipulated that the libraries provide matching funds. Most of these libraries will migrate from outdated PC-based systems such as Winnebago Spectrum and Concourse from Book Systems. Some libraries involved will be implementing AGent VERSO as their first-ever automation system. Libraries beyond those receiving grants may also opt into the shared system. Terms of the contract include $200,000 provided through the State of Tennessee in 2012, $30,000 in 2013, plus funds contributed annually by each of the participating libraries. Should participation grow to the maximum of 100 libraries, the full five-year term would total $1.1 million. Costs per library were negotiated at $5,486 for the first year and $1,400 annually for the remaining 4 years, quite a bargain for small libraries to gain access to a modern library automation environment.

This project marks the first time that the State of Tennessee has sponsored a shared library automation system for public libraries. Previously, libraries in Tennessee implemented their automation systems entirely independently, or through cooperative arrangements within the regional libraries. The Tennessee State Library and Archives operates twelve regional centers that provide services to libraries within their respective geographic areas. Services offered by each regional center vary, but they typically include cataloging, training, and resource sharing. Two of the regional centers offer a shared automation system for their members: the Fort Loudoun Regional Library operates a SirsiDynix Symphony ILS for 16 libraries in east Tennessee comprising the IRIS Consortium and the Northeast Tennessee Library Network operates a Millennium ILS for public libraries in the region, along with East Tennessee State University. Libraries participating in these existing shared systems, or any of the larger municipal systems, are not part of the new statewide consortium.

Resource Sharing Opportunities

For the most part, public libraries in Tennessee have not previously had the opportunity to join a cooperative statewide system, despite the fact that this has been a growing national trend. This project offers the chance for the smaller public libraries with limited financial resources to move away from outdated systems, but also offers them a chance to gain advantages associated with a shared consortial environment. The new AGent VERSO system will be implemented in a consortial configuration that allows patrons to search across the holdings of the participating libraries. It will also include the Circulation-Interlibrary Loan Link (CILL) module which provides an easy interface from the AGent VERSO ILS to the statewide resource sharing system based on Auto-Graphics' AGent Resource Sharing product. CILL makes use of the NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol (NCIP) to manage the communications between the ILS and the interlibrary loan system. This combination of products results in an environment that allows library patrons to easily discover materials held in libraries throughout the state and to place requests for them. Library staff using AGent VERSO will have the ability to manage both reserves or holds and ILL activity within the same workflow.

Implementation Details

Although the system will be implemented in a shared configuration, each participating library will have the ability to make local configuration choices like lending policies, material types, patrons' access, and other features. Not only will each library be able to make cosmetic customizations in the AGent Iluminar public interface, but it will also have be able to choose whether to scope the default search to the library's own holdings, for its region, or for the entire consortium.

The new AGent VERSO system will be hosted by AutoGraphics out of its facilities in Pomona, California. This Software- as-a-Service option allows the libraries to avoid the need to maintain local servers or to install and manage software. As an entirely Web-based system, there will also be no need to install client software on staff or public computers in the libraries.

According to Auto-Graphics Vice President for Sales Albert Flores, “AGent VERSO relies on a suite of Microsoft technologies, including the Microsoft .NET framework and Microsoft SQL Server. The entire suite of AGent products shares the same architecture and design principles, making it simple for libraries to integrate the ILS and resource sharing products, resulting in a unified workflow that joins circulation with interlibrary loan.”

Other Alternatives Considered

The Tennessee State Library and Archives also considered and evaluated open source alternatives as the basis of this new shared automation system. A number of states have embarked on projects based on one of the two major open source ILS products, Evergreen and Koha. State Librarian and Archivist Charles A. Sherrill indicated that TSLA saw a number of barriers to implementing an open source solution, including both the availability of sufficient personnel with technical expertise and a lack of financial resources. Based on cost analysis, the implementation of an open source product would have been considerably more expensive per library than the proprietary solution ultimately selected from Auto-Graphics. The selected Software-as-a-Service delivery is void of a heavy upfront license fee.

The state also considered OCLC new WorldShare Management System, but felt that it was not cost-effective for their specific needs. The small libraries involved in this project currently do not belong to OCLC. The cost of membership plus the additional subscription fees for WMS would have been prohibitive. Though WMS may involve incremental costs to existing OCLC member libraries, for small libraries with very limited resources, OCLC membership subscriptions may pose a considerable challenge.

Steady Growth for AGent VERSO in the Automation Marketplace

Since its launch in 2005, AGent VERSO has been selected by increasingly large groups of libraries. Initially, the product saw sales mostly to small public libraries, purchasing it individually. In the last few years, Auto-Graphics has enhanced the product with features designed to appeal to midsized libraries and consortia. The company has also created the AGent Iluminar interface, which produces a rich interface that competes well in the arena of new-generation discovery. These efforts seem to have achieved their desired results. The Winding Rivers Library System, based in La Crosse, WI, selected AGent VERSO and CILL in January 2011 for its 35 library facilities; the Southwest Wisconsin Library System licensed AGent VERSO for its 30 libraries in October 2010; 13 public libraries in Northwest and North Central Kansas opted for AGent VERSO in August 2010. A mid-sized company, AutoGraphics' AGent VERSO ILS has been implemented in about 300 libraries spanning almost 400 individual facilities. The current niche for AGent VERSO lies in public libraries, either purchasing individually or organized in consortia. It has not broken into ranks of large urban libraries. Through its multiple large state-wide implementations of its union catalog, resource sharing products, and bibliographic services, AutoGraphics reports around 5,500 total library customers.

Auto-Graphics Corporate Background

Auto-Graphic stands as the company with the greatest longevity in the library automation industry. With a history of almost 62 years, it's survival has depended on its ability to navigate through many cycles of media and technology, and to continually evolve its product and service offerings accordingly.

Auto-Graphics was originally founded as Cope Typesetting by Ira C. Cope in 1950. It initially was a typesetting and printing company. The company has reinvented itself many times over its corporate history. Following almost 20 years in the printing and typesetting business, the company became involved in the creation of library catalogs in 1970, using computer databases. These catalogs were produced in different media over the years, beginning with computeroutput microfilm (COM), to CD-ROM, and eventually to online and Web-based services. (The September 1992 issue of Library Systems Newsletter included a story on the three options of COM catalogs Auto-Graphics produced.)

Auto-Graphics has created products based both on technologies it has acquired and through its own development efforts. The company's products span library management, resource sharing, and bibliographic services. In 1970, it acquired a company called Leaps as the basis for its start in computer- based printed Library Catalogs. Later, the company developed Microform capability including a patented roll-fiche reader.

Auto-Graphics acquired the LIBerator Library Management System in 1990 from Denver-based LIBerator Information Systems and Services, which became the Impact/SLiMS automation system that the company sold to mostly small libraries through the 1990's. In February 2001, it acquired Maxcess Library Systems, redeveloping that company's technology into the AGent VERSO ILS.

In June 2001, Auto-Graphics purchased the Wings Request Management System from Pigasus Software, Inc. to take advantage of its ISO ILL technology. This deal eventually unraveled due to dissatisfaction with the quality of the software. Auto-Graphics has also created other spin-offs and business ventures. A-G Canada was formed in 1997, bringing in assets mostly related to bibliographic services, including the Library Information Services Division of ISM Information Systems Management Manitoba Corporation. Once a separate subsidiary, its operations are now part of AutoGraphics, Inc., which still maintains its office in Toronto to serve its Canadian customers. In 2000, the company created two new companies, LibraryCard, Inc. which launched the site offering bibliographic and references services to the public, and Dataquad, which developed and marketed the company's XML and SGML-based content management system.

Auto-Graphics stands as the only public company in the North American library automation industry. The company was taken public in 1979 and is traded under the AUGR symbol. From 1979 through 2004 the company was listed on the OTC Bulletin Board and followed mandatory SEC reporting. In May 2004, Auto-Graphics completed a process to terminate its registration, freeing it from the extreme costs associated with Sarbanes-Oxley filing requirements, an option available to public companies under specified circumstances.

The library automation industry has not proven to be a haven for public companies. Most of the companies are privately owned by founding families or small groups of investors that have been acquired by private equity firms. AutoGraphics is very small relative to most publicly traded companies. Even the largest companies in the library automation industry like SirsiDynix or Ex Libris would be considered too small to go public in today's environment. Other public companies in the industry have either gone private or have been acquired by private companies. Data Research Associates, founded by Michael J. Mellinger in the mid-1970s, went public in 1992, and was acquired by Sirsi Corporation in June 2001. DRA no longer exists and its library automation products, including DRA Classic, MultiLIS, and INLEX have gone extinct. BiblioMondo, which was organized as a public company in Canada with library customers throughout the French-speaking Canada and France, became private in 2008 when its President Ronald Brisebois acquired exclusive ownership.

Corporate Reorganization

In 2010, a corporate reorganization formed a new public company named Agent Information Software, Inc., traded under the symbol AIFS. This serves as the top-level holding company for Auto- Graphics and other business ventures. Auto-Graphics is now a wholly owned subsidiary of AIFS. Paul R. Cope (third generation) serves as President of AIFS and Chairman of the Board.

A new company called AgentLegal, Inc. (see: was formed in 2008 to create and market products related to the electronic resource and research management for law firms. As part of the corporate restructuring in 2010, AgentLegal operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of Agent Information Software, Inc., with Paul Cope serving as its President.

The Passing of a Pioneer

Robert (Bob) S. Cope founded Auto-Graphics, served as its President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board for many years until his retirement. Cope died on December 15, 2011. His key accomplishments with the company he founded included taking it public in 1979, and having the vision to see it through changes in technology through print, microfilm, CD-ROM, online systems, and ultimately Web-based technologies. His son Paul R. Cope currently serves as President and Chairman of the Board of the newly constituted Agent Information Software, Inc. and its subsidiaries, including Auto-Graphics, Inc. and AgentLegal, Inc.

View Citation
Publication Year:2012
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 32 Number 02
Issue:February 2012
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: Auto-Graphics, Inc.
Products: VERSO
Record Number:16854
Last Update:2024-07-21 10:54:59
Date Created:2012-05-25 10:25:27