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Smarter Libraries through Technology: The Ever Narrowing Range of Choices for Library Automation

Smart Libraries Newsletter [June 2013]

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In developing the articles for this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, I became a little more aware of, and a bit more concerned about, how few products are available to libraries for their critical automation systems. While in the last few years the industry has not seen business consolidations that eliminate competing companies, we are in a phase where ongoing paths of development result in fewer competing products. In some cases, this narrowing comes as the downstream result of company consolidation that transpired many years ago.

In the academic library market, Ex Libris has grown into dominance. In early phases of academic library automation, Aleph and Voyager competed as archrivals. That dynamic changed quickly when Ex Libris, with its flagship product Aleph, acquired Endeavor Information Systems, the developer of Voyager. For a while after the merger, both products continued to see some new sales, though the number of new libraries purchasing Voyager diminished fairly rapidly. Both Aleph and Voyager to this day continue to receive support—and even some new development as needed—but neither is actively marketed. Following a period of intense investment in research and development, Alma has been completed in its initial release and Ex Libris is pulling out all the stops in marketing it. We can expect only a few remnant sales of Aleph, which may continue to be a good choice for some libraries that need complex automation support, that see an eventual path to Alma, but that require a mature product. As a choice for academic libraries looking for a new product today, the once diverse product offerings of Ex Libris have consolidated into Alma.

Innovative's Sierra also continues as a strong choice for academic libraries. In contrast with Ex Libris as solely focused on academic and research libraries, Innovative designs its products for a wider range, also including public and special libraries. OCLC's WorldShare Management Services likewise addresses all types of libraries, has seen adoption by a wide variety of institutions, but has not yet seen a great deal of traction in the large academic library arena. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic of specialized versus more general systems plays out, but we might anticipate that the specialized systems might have an edge for those libraries with the more complex automation requirements.

CompanyProductDatabase Technologies
Innovative InterfacesSierraPostgreSQL
Equinox Software / Open SourceEvergreenPostgreSQL
Polaris Library SystemsPolarisMicrosoft SQL Server
SirsiDynixSymphonyOracle, Microsoft SQL Server, C-ISAM
The Library CorporationLibrary.SolutionOracle
Open SourceKohaMySQL

Emerging candidates for academic libraries would include the open source Kuali OLE and Serials Solutions Intota. Neither of these products is available quite yet, giving Ex Libris a good head start, which it has reaped with over 150 library commitments to date.

The options in the public library arena seem equally sparse. In recent years, Polaris has seen almost unstoppable momentum among the larger public libraries, including municipal systems, county systems, and consortia. Later in this issue we mention some of the major accounts Polaris has been able to attract. Polaris' winning streak in larger public libraries has seen only a few interruptions, notably the recent selection of SirsiDynix Symphony by the Houston Public Library in Texas.

Within SirsiDynix, the dual offerings of Symphony and Horizon remain for support and development, but Symphony has been the sole focus of marketing for many years. A few new contracts for Horizon are made each year, primarily as add-ons to existing implementations. SirsiDynix is doing some interesting work to layer modern service-oriented and cloud-based technologies on top of both Symphony and Horizon, which seems to be the company's direction toward its next-generation automation platform.

Among smaller libraries, Apollo from Biblionix has become quite popular, offering a relatively simple Web-based system deployed in a modern, multitenant architecture. For libraries interested in open source automation software, Evergreen and Koha continue represent a significant portion of new automation migrations. Evergreen's main strength lies in consortia, primarily comprised of small to mid-sized libraries, with a mix of consortia and independent libraries opting for Koha. The Library Corporation also continues as a major player in the public library arena. Though it continues to develop and support both Library.Solution and Carl.X, all new sales for many years have been for Library.Solution.

Auto-Graphics continues to see some growth in sales of its VERSO ILS to public libraries. VTLS made a big splash in the US public library arena with the adoption of Virtua by the Queens Public Library and internationally through the Hong Kong Public Library implementation, but so far this has not turned into a broad stream of sales.

While my intent is not a comprehensive treatment of the players for academic and public libraries, the the discussion here does reveal only a few really strong options available for these categories of libraries. And therefore, as libraries pursue new automation solutions, they will find only a small handful of options available well suited for their type and size. This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter includes an article discussing the selection of Polaris by the Salt Lake County Public Library (SLCPL). Among the many announcements of new library automation projects made each month, I found this one to be especially interesting. The purchase decision spanned a variety of initiatives, including updating the library's automation system, a major initiative to implement RFID-based technologies, and a systematic analysis of its processing workflows.

The procurement of the ILS stands out in two ways, both related. One involves the library's interest in limiting the slate of candidates it would consider to those that employ a specific vendor's database technology: in this case Microsoft SQL Server. Adding this facet narrows the field of qualified contenders drastically. The table above gives a quick look at the permutations available for the mid to large public library options when limited to specific database technologies.

When considering the most popular products for larger public libraries, a requirement for Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, or PostgreSQL would result in only two qualified products. For true multitenant software-as-a-service deployments, the database employed would be almost an abstract concept. Multitenant implementations would never provide individual organizations adopting the service direct access to the database engine, but would provide other tools to deliver equivalent access to customer data. Such systems might also rely less on traditional SQL-compliant relational database management systems, but might employ database technologies such as seen in the Apache Hadoop and Cassandra projects.

While any library may have strong business reasons for specifying a given name brand technology, it should also realize how drastically it limits its options. Database technologies and other technical middleware infrastructure are evolving rapidly in the shift from client-server to cloud technologies.

The other interesting aspect of the SLCPL procurement relates to the vendor challenge to the process. The story mentions Innovative's protest to its elimination since Sierra is not based Microsoft SQL Server. Challenges to the outcome of a library procurement process take place only rarely, but they do happen. Some have resulted in hearings, such as the case here, with a local library board; others have involved lawsuits. Most are settled out of court under terms of nondisclosure. They rarely become part of the public discourse.

As the library automation industry becomes ever more competitive, with fewer players vying for a limited number of opportunities, libraries should expect ever closer scrutiny in the way that they conduct a selection and procurement process. I observe that libraries conduct their business with the highest level of integrity and transparency. I am also reminded that the competition for major contracts is brutal, and that the organizations involved are increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of the competition.

View Citation
Publication Year:2013
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 33 Number 06
Issue:June 2013
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:18054
Last Update:2022-12-05 15:34:54
Date Created:2013-06-22 12:31:02