I find that one of the key challenges in covering the field of library technology is finding the right balance and perspective in both the selection and the development of the stories that you write. It's important to highlight emerging trends, especially when they have some potential to make a broad impact, but it's just as important to place any new developments in the context of the routine activities of the broader industry.
In this current phase of the evolution of the library automation industry, for example, we're seeing a lot of activity involving open source ILS products. For the last five years, an increasing number of libraries have adopted the open source approach, and there have been many interesting stories as this relatively new niche of the industry has unfolded. Still, this niche remains small relative to the entirety of the library automation industry. The library automation marketplace totals over $500 million in annual revenue per year; I estimate the open source portion of that at no more than $5 to $7 million.
It's typical that companies in an emerging sector of the market will trumpet every success. I regularly receive press releases for each new contract signed and for each library that successfully implements an open source ILS. It's great to receive that information and it provides important data that helps me document the trajectory of new trends.
The volume of activity in press announcements, blog postings, and Twitter tweets or re-tweets can give the impression that open source has taken over the field. Yet in reality it remains a relatively small (but growing) competitor to the proprietary products that dominate the library automation economy.
It's not that I want less information from companies on new developments, but rather that it would be helpful to have more data on the routine business activities that comprise the mainstream of the industry. The established companies routinely make large deals that often get much less attention. The ongoing success of the companies offering proprietary library automation products do not necessarily spark a lot of attention in the press, even though they comprise the majority of the business activity.
As I select the events and issues to cover in this newsletter, I am continually aware of the need to frame the emerging and new developments into a broader context.