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The NOTIS History Webpage


Jerry Specht, Coordinator Created October, 2014; last updated April 12, 2017

Note: This is a mirror of the official NOTIS History Webpage

Table of Contents

  1. Synopsis
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. Chronology
  4. Why was NOTIS as successful as it was?
  5. Intimations of integration
  6. Sample ISDO programs/documents
  7. NUGM (NOTIS Users Group Meeting)
  8. The marketing/changing of NOTIS for the market
  9. NOTIS' Competitors
  10. Was splitting NOTIS off as separate company a good idea?
  11. Was the sale of NOTIS Systems, Inc., to Ameritech a good idea?
  12. Was the "divestiture" of NOTIS Horizon by Ameritech a good idea?
  13. Questionnaire responses from former NOTIS staff members
  14. Questionnaire responses from former NUL/ISDO staff members
  15. Questionnaire responses from former customers
  16. Interviews
  17. Bibliography
  18. NOTIS Newsletters
  19. In Memoriam
  20. NOTIS Trivia (Spoiler alert: preceding sections contain answers to many questions)
  21. People (when you click on a hyper-linked name, it takes you here)
  22. Acronyms/Glossary (hyper-linked word or phrase, takes you here)
  23. Endnotes


1. Synopsis

NOTIS (Northwestern On-line Total Integrated System) was developed at Northwestern University Library beginning in 1967, installed at other sites starting in 1979, spun-off as a separate, for-profit company in 1987, sold to Ameritech in 1991, and last used by any library in 2012.

2. Acknowledgments

Thanks to:

James Aagaard, Velma Veneziana,and John McGowan
Left to right: James Aagaard, Velma Veneziana,and John McGowan

3. Chronology

NOTIS was born (or at least, "conceived") in 1967 when Velma Veneziano was appointed Library Systems Analyst and Dr. James Aagaard, NU Computer Science and Electrical Engineering professor, joined the project. John McGowan, then Associate University Librarian (later to be University Librarian), who had been tasked with applying computer technology to the new University Library, was instrumental in these appointments.

The "pre-NOTIS" history of automation at NUL (as well as the early NOTIS years) is described in Dr. Aagaard's "Computers and the Northwestern University Library."

NOTIS Chronology
Jan 1970Real-time Circulation module, including self-check stations, implemented at NUL to coincide with the opening of the then-new University Library building
Oct 1971Real-time Acquisitions/Serials/Cataloging
1972From Northwestern University Library History: "A group of five prominent German librarians visiting in 1972 were dazzled by what they found: 'Northwestern University Library was a surprise with its extraordinary activity in the automation sector. . . . [It] has the distinction of being at the very forefront in automation among American libraries.'"
Fall 1975Public LCUS (Library Circulation User System) terminal installed to display circulation status information.
May 1976System officially named "NOTIS" (Northwestern Online Total Integrated System).
Sep 1977"NOTIS 3", internal redesign of NOTIS: VSAM for data management; CICS for online transaction processing; IBM 3277 CRT terminals (with low-cost lower-case capability).
May 1979Biblioteca Nacional de Venezuela installs NOTIS. Jorge Fernandez/Randy Menakes interview [6:40-15:00]
May 1979Input of authority records (from the NUL card file) begins.
May 1980LUIS (Library User Information System), an OPAC, is introduced -- with author/title access.
1981University of South Alabama installs NOTIS.
xxxx 1981University of Florida converts NOTIS to MVS and installs.
Jun 1981Subject access is added to LUIS.
Spring 1983Harvard installs NOTIS.
Jul 1983Attendees at 1983 NUGM: Central State University (OK), University of Cincinnati, Clemson University, University of Florida, Harvard University, University of Illinois -- Chicago, University of South Alabama, Tulsa Public Library, National Library of Venezuela, Washington University of St. Louis. List of people from each institution.
1983Central State University (OK) develops OCLC Transfer programs – and gives them to NOTIS!
Dec 1983Jane Burke starts as director of the NOTIS Office.
Mar 1985New circulation system implemented at NUL (and in the distributed NOTIS software), using item records and barcode labels in place of punched cards. Analyst: Bruce Miller .
Jul 1985Jim and Velma receive the LITA/Gaylord award for Achievement in Library and Information Technology.
Jun 1986MHI (Merged Headings Index) debuts at Northwestern.
Feb 1987Keyword/Boolean added to distributed LUIS (via BRS software) (initially, MVS only).
Sep 1987NOTIS Office split off as separate, for-profit company, "NOTIS Systems Inc.", with Jane Burke as president; moves from library to Shand-Morahan building at 1007 Church St. in Evanston.
Dec 19871987 NOTIS staff photo (PDF version with with names identified)
Fall 1988New Merged Headings Indexes (MHI) added to LUIS; cross-references (based on Library of Congress Subject Headings) added.
Fall 1988NOTIS software in use at more than 100 sites, a number serving multiple institutions' libraries.
Jun 1989MDAS (Multiple Database Access System ) online.
Apr 1990First KEYNOTIS installation.
Oct 1991Northwestern University sells NOTIS to Ameritech for $6+ million 2 ($10+ million in 2014 dollars).
Jan 1994Paul Sybrowsky named General Manager of Ameritech Library Automation Services.
May 1994Ameritech "divests" itself of NOTIS Horizon; Ameritech Library Services (ALS) formed, with Paul Sybrowsky as President.
Feb 1995Tom Quarton named President of Ameritech Library Services.
Nov 1996Lana Porter named ALS President.
Jul 1998Northwestern University Library ceases to use NOTIS as its integrated library system, switching to the Endeavor Voyager product.
Dec 1999Ameritech Library Systems sold to 21st Century Group, LLC, and Green Leaf Ridge Co., LLC, investment companies and renamed to epixtech.
Jan 2000 ~30 sites (as measured by number of contracts) still using NOTIS
2012The National Library of Venezuela, the first site outside of Northwestern to use the system, becomes the last to stop using it.

4. Why was NOTIS as successful as it was?

NOTIS went from 1 site outside of Northwestern in 1979, to 180 (as measured by the number of contracts) in 1994. Accordign to data in Library Technology Guides, 1,102 organizations representing 1,102 libraries implemented NOTIS. (Note: a small number of former NOTIS libraries are missing from the database.)

University of Florida (1980-1) documented its decision process with a detailed comparison of NOTIS to three other systems.

Arnold Hirshon, Associate Provost and University Librarian, Case Western Reserve University, is the author of the 1986 Automated Library Systems In ARL Libraries article, presenting the underlying reasons for 12 ARL libraries' decisions relating to the design and implementation of automated library systems. It includes detailed info on University of Michigan, Vanderbilt University, and Rice University in regard to NOTIS.

He wrote in a recent email:

There are a number of reasons why NOTIS was successful. By the mid-1980s, there were alternative locally developed library systems (such as TRLN and VTLS) that were still in development and not well positioned to enter into the marketplace. Second, NOTIS was prepared to take off at a time when a number of the early commercial "turnkey" integrated library systems companies imploded (e.g., DataPhase and CLSI). There were some newer turnkey systems (e.g., III, GEAC) that were entering the marketplace that not yet complete, but were competitive, and they were the strongest competitors to NOTIS for the attention of ARL and other large libraries. The greatest appeal for large libraries that had the resources to mount a large system on their own mainframe or minicomputers, NOTIS was customizable. This seemed of great benefit at the time, but only later would people realize that customizability came with a large maintenance cost, and so the blessing was also a curse. Left with only two choices -- turnkey or locally managed systems -- NOTIS went head-to-head against the new turnkey market competition. There are two other major factors that gave NOTIS an edge. First, NOTIS had programs in place for libraries to locally load databases such as Medline, making it unique product. Second, it was a proven solution that was moving from being a single institution's local library system into a commercialized product. Third is the importance of the intangible: the library market always liked (and to some degree still does) jump on the latest bandwagon. This not only gave the illusion of their being a "shared wisdom of the marketplace," but at the time libraries also liked to cite the other customers as an early library example of a too-big-to-fail kind of insurance policy, i.e., if NOTIS failed then many other libraries would have to come together to shore it up since everyone would be in the same boat together.

Howard Dillon (Ohio State, Harvard, Fashion Institute of Technology) notes (in an email): "Marketing a product designed and administered by a single institution gave more autonomy and flexibility to the system designers and the marketing team than did the less agile, cooperative undertakings of the Ohio College Library Center or the Research Libraries Group."

Velma Veneziano in her interview expresses the same idea in a somewhat different way: "The more money and people you throw at a project, the longer it takes. There's something to be said for a lean, efficient operation."

See also the section on NOTIS' Competitors below.

5. Intimations of integration

In his Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the Late 20th Century [Endnote 3] Christopher Brown-Syed writes: "Library consultant Rob McGee, who was himself associated with the pioneering work done in Chicago, quite rightly traces the origins of the integrated library system concept to the early issues of the Journal of Library Automation. McGee says, 'Charles Payne defined the original concept at University of Chicago, in a proposal that received national R&D funding in 1965-66. The first "proof of concept" systems were implemented at the University of Chicago, and the University of Toronto.'" [Endnote 4] Note: though this R&D funding occurred in 1965-66, it seems that Charles Payne was thinking of "integrated library systems" much earlier.

Stephen Salamon's "LITA's First Twenty-Five Years: A Brief History" discusses COLA (the Committee on Library Automation) and other forums and efforts as far back as 1961.

An email from Howard Dillon (at Ohio State and Harvard University libraries in those days) describes his involvement in the formation of COLA, in 1964-5:

It has been a long time since I read Stephen Salmon's overview of the early history of library automation and the formation of LITA within ALA. I'm sure he got it right. He had a better understanding of the dynamics and internal politics of ALA than I.

I'll share with you the small portion of the history I know well.

There was a group of librarians with whom I corresponded, individually, from 1962-64 when I was given half-time responsibility to investigate automation for The Ohio State University.

See pp [7-8] oral history transcript titled Interview with Dr. Lewis C. Branscomb by Dr. Paul Underwood [June 5, 1985]

In October 3-4, 1964, in Philadelphia, two-dozen or so of those librarians and I assembled just prior to the annual meeting of the American Documentation Institute (ADI). The regional IBM office in Columbus, Ohio, picked up OSU's cost to rent the hotel meeting room for two days. They did not participate or ask for quid pro quo.

Following the meeting I sent a chatty open letter to 30 persons--those who attended and a few who had been identified during the meeting on 3-4 Oct. I received responses detailing projects, experiments or ambitions from many, including Barbara Markuson who was then leading such investigations for the Library of Congress. I compiled those responses to share with my Director, Lewis C. Branscomb and his OSU Library committee that was overseeing my work. The report was titled Newsletter on Library Automation, issue #1, December 10, 1964. I also sent copies to the 30 and asked that they not quote or cite.

Responses came quickly. The writers welcomed the opportunity to share work in progress privately among peers. Issue #2 was dated December 23, 1964. By fall 1965, I had moved to Harvard. Twenty-nine librarians assembled in D.C., October 9-11, prior to or during another ADI annual meeting. Having been known as the Dillon committee to that time, the participants chose the more appropriate name Committee on Library Automation and elected leadership.

"The Committee on Library Automation (COLA) is an informal group of librarians formed to provide a beams of exchanging information or research and development of automated systems applicable to libraries. The group customarily meets twice a year, prior to the annual conferences of the American Documentation Institute and the American Library Association, for two days of discussion.

"Membership in the Committee is open to all who are employees of research libraries actively engaged in research and development of automated systems, and who are primarily responsible for this library's automation program. Normally, only one person per library is admitted to membership. Applications for membership should be sent to the Chairman. Applications to attend particular meetings as an observer will also be accepted.

"The Committee issues a newsletter on library automation which is distributed to members only.... Contributions are published with the understanding that they will not be cited or quoted."

The first officers were chairman Anthony Hall (UCLA), vice chairman and chairman elect Charles Payne (U Chicago), secretary Connie Dunlap (U Michigan), treasurer, Sidney E. Matthews (Southern Illinois U), and editor Howard W. Dillon (Harvard).

Newsletter #14 was issued November 1965 bearing the new title Committee on Library Automation.

Just to bring the story to quick conclusion, the final COLA Newsletter, #44, was issued September 1969 and we entered a new world.

Though Dr. James Aagaard and Velma Veneziano had no involvement in any such forums until after 1967, they were likewise thinking in terms of integrated systems. Jim, in his Feb. 27, 1964, memo, "Suggestions for a Proposal: Library Data Processing", having been asked to evaluate an IBM library automation proposal, wrote: "We should propose an integrated approach to all of the library's operations, since this represents the greatest economy in data preparation. That is, the same set of punched cards, for example, may be used for many different functions once they are punched. However, we must propose that this integrated approach be implemented gradually. This permits solving problems a few at a time, instead of having the entire operation suddenly collapse."

{Other memos from the same time, in connection with the same (IBM) proposal are "Suggestions for Operation of an Integrated Library Data Processing System" and "Comments on IBM proposal for Deering Library".}

Likewise, Velma, -- quite independently -- via her experience with the Chicago Board of Education and GE (in the mid ‘60's) --, was learning the value of total, integrated systems. [See the top of page 2 of her interview .]

Sample NUL Catalog card
Sample NUL Catalog card

6. Sample programs/documents of the Information Systems Development Office

7. NUGM (NOTIS Users Group Meeting)

NUGM (NOTIS Users Group Meeting) was held

NOTIS customers and NOTIS staff presented sessions to attendees and, equally importantly, customers communicated with NOTIS staff about changes/additions to the system.

The following shows the month in which each NUGM was held and the NOTISes issue(s) which reported on it:

Month/YearNOTISes issue(s)
Jul 1983List of attendees
Jul 1986Sep 1986
Jul 1987Aug 1987 (not available)
Jun 1988Jul 1988
Sep 1989Oct 1989
Oct 1990Jun 1990, Jul 1990
Oct 1991Jun 1991, Nov 1991
Oct 1992Jun 1992, Nov 1992
Oct 1993Jun 1993, Oct 1993

The annual "Bum Steer Roast" was held on an evening towards the end of each NUGM from 1990-7.

8. The marketing/changing of NOTIS for the market

As Bruce Miller suggests in his interview , in 1979, when the National Library of Venezuela asked for the NOTIS programs, Northwestern realized that they had a desirable product on their hands. In 1980, consultants from EDUCOM recommended that the university begin to offer it as a commercial product, and Florida and Harvard expressed interest in buying the software.

The University of Florida was the first U.S. site to sign a contract (1981), and The University of South Alabama, the first to implement the system (1982). Harvard University signed a contract in Fall, 1982, and installed the software in Spring, 1983.

Kenton Andersen, Bruce Miller, Peggy Steele, and others formed the "NOTIS Office" for the purpose of installing/supporting the software and marketing it. It should be noted that, except for the conversion of the programs to run under MVS, there was little effort to add features to the system of interest to libraries outside of Northwestern [Endnote 5]. (Central State's OCLC Interface was added to the system in 1983/4, but this did not require any development on ISDO's part.) That changed dramatically when the library hired Jane Burke in 1983 to market NOTIS more actively. Jane was a master at measuring features' importance to customers, and making sure those with the greatest importance were added. There was a cost to the addition of these features, in terms of additional Development staff, but they resulted in the system and the company growing to the largest size possible. It grew from 5 employees and 12 customers in 1984 to 150 employees [endnote 6] and 180 customers in 1994 (946+ customers with consortia disaggregated) [endnote 7]

Velma Veneziano speaks (in her 1993 NUGM speech) of the "disastrous marketing operation".

Bruce Miller and Kenton Andersen feel that NOTIS could have had quite a bit of success even without marketing. ("I think NOTIS' reputation was so good that it would have sold reasonably well.") See interview [1:41:40 and 2:32:00].

John Kolman suggests, "There might have been another road. We could have still been profitable – not wildly profitable, but...". See interview [0:40:00].

But this is a complex equation.... As suggested by Dr. Aagaard in his interview [1:23:40], the software was being sold at a very low price in the early '80's. The profits were not large. If the price had been higher, it is likely that fewer sites would have been interested, and, the profits would still have not have been large.

As also suggested by Dr. Aagaard in his interview [1:21:10], CLSI had a very broad base of customers. Jane was familiar with marketing not just to ARL libraries but to all kinds of libraries ... and did.

Functions/products added by NOTIS Systems, Inc. included:

If NUL had stuck with a strictly-ISDO version of NOTIS, most of the above features/products would never have been added and the system, though more consistent, would have been installed at only, perhaps, one-quarter of the sites that it ultimately was. And the profits would have been much smaller.

9. NOTIS' Competitors

Carl Grant's assessment of NOTIS' three main competitors (Geac, III, and DRA):


Strengths: Had really good functionality. Was tightly integrated solution of hardware/software so you truly only had one service point. This was a real advantage over separate hardware/software vendors such as III and DRA. Geac was part of a much larger corporation, thus there was a layer of security to dealing with them (not unlike IBM offered with NOTIS).

Weaknesses: They lost a lot of ground with the emergence of mini-computers and UNIX. Also the corporate parent began undercutting some of their development to fund larger revenue generation portions of the company. Eventually, in the competitive mix, they just lost so much ground and then their proprietary operating system and software languages really started to undercut them.

III (Innovative Interfaces)

Strengths: Built a loyal following with a OCLC interface module. Good service. Although expensive, it was very good making it easy for librarians to like them. They used UNIX which was huge in academic libraries and once they started delivering ILS modules, it was an easy and familiar step for librarians to upgrade to using those new modules. They also had a VERY strong serials module with a check-in system that was much like the card systems librarians had used before automation. This made it very easy for librarians to migrate to the technology. Good multi-lingual support. They specialized in this and did it well, long before the days of UNICODE. This allowed them to build a global customer base, although they didn't always treat those customers as well as they did the North American customers.

Weaknesses: EXPENSIVE, even when compared to IBM/NOTIS. While they took the attitude of "you get what you pay for", customers found it very hard to afford and often they simply couldn't. Service was also expensive. Each new thing you needed meant breaking out the check book. Service remained solid however, so customers frequently paid the cost, even while grumbling. Of course, it was also a 'black-box' approach to library automation. Everything was behind menu's and you couldn't easily touch the innards of the system -- if you did, you'd get a lot of grief from Innovative. This issue lasted for many years. If you wanted something done, you were to call the service department.


Strengths: Ran on Digital Equipment Corporation Minicomputers. The company that did a lot of damage to IBM. Originally on PDP and later of VAX machines, with rich operation systems (RSTS and VMS respectively), these operating systems were highly functional and far more user friendly than UNIX. The DRA library software, ATLAS (A Total Library Automation System), was closely developed with Cleveland Public Library's help, so it was written for a large public library system and the functionality was powerful. Later it had to be adapted a bit for academic libraries and it did this well, but not as well as III or NOTIS. Still they built a large customer base in both segments. Later they developed a really powerful keyword search capability for OPAC users, but this capability didn't get integrated into the staff modules requiring staff to move back and forth between modules.

Weaknesses: Customers frequently called the system "A diamond in the rough" or noted it had the "footprints of programmers all over it". User friendly was not part of the inherent design. Things like library branch codes were a six digit sequence (010101), which staff had to remember to use the staff modules. The codes were only translated to English terms in the OPAC. OPAC capabilities, including a separate keyword module were never fully integrated into the staff system (which III had done with their far more limited keyword searching) so they lost ground on this point frequently. Also, dealing with the company President could be trying for some people. While a technology genius, the people skills were lacking, and this sometimes alienated potential as well as current customers.

(end Carl Grant section

Marshall Breeding adds in a recent email:

I do think that LS/2000 was a significant competitor to NOTIS, though it also predates the commercial distribution of NOTIS by a bit. LS/2000 was a system that OCLC acquired around 1983 from Online Computer Systems based in Germantown MD. By the time that OCLC sold off its Local Systems Division to Ameritech in 1990, there were 126 LS/2000 systems installed.

DOBIS was another main competitor to NOTIS. It was built and supported by IBM and included quite a few international sites. [js: I would note that it was never much used in the U.S.]

Biblio-Techniques ["BLIS"] went out of business in 1987. I think that they had only 7 or 8 systems deployed. [js: This was in response to my observation that BLIS was viewed by NOTIS marketing as a major competitor. I think was due the fact that they ran on IBM hardware. There were certain potential customers who were wedded to IBM and any ILS that ran on IBM mainframes was viewed as a threat to NOTIS getting those customers. ]

(end Marshall Breeding section

The consensus is that VTLS, operating in the smaller academic, public, non-U.S. library spheres, was not a major competitor to NOTIS -- certainly not in its primary (large academic research library) market.

NOTIS: 1990-1994 Continued but decelerating growth; 1994-on plateauing/decrease in customers.

See also the preceding "Why was NOTIS as successful as it was" section.

10. Was splitting NOTIS off as separate company a good idea?

As suggested by Kenton Andersen in his interview [1:41:40] Northwestern needed to create NOTIS Systems, Inc. – which it did in Sept. 1987 -- because of the tax issue of "unrelated business income" from the NOTIS Office.

An article (by Peggy Steele) in NUL Channels, Spring, 1987, "NOTIS to be restructured," describes NOTIS' history and its proposed restructuring.

Velma definitely didn't think it was a good idea. Here's what she had to say in her speech at the 1993 NUGM:

So, in 1987, when it was finally decided by the University for us that NOTIS would be turned over lock, stock and barrel to NOTIS Inc., we had no choice but to gracefully (or perhaps not so gracefully on some of our parts) acquiesce and relinquish over the NOTIS we had so carefully nurtured….

It was not easy relinquishing control. It was particularly galling to have to agree to using the commercial version of NOTIS. A number of us in the library felt that though the University's gain moneywise was in some respects the Library's loss. Fortunately some of the most important enhancements which we had developed during the '80's were accepted by NOTIS Inc. and incorporated into NOTIS. (I'm thinking particularly about the merged headings indexes with authority control and syndetic structure they provided, or else I think there would have been an open rebellion.)

It wasn't until we had set up our disastrous marketing operation that we got a couple extra positions using funds allocated by the University to Marketing function. However in many ways matters got worse. Keep in mind that NOTIS was never developed with marketing in mind; we had always been able to decide on a reasonable time frame for what we were doing, and we often came up ahead of schedule. And when we finished, our programs had been thoroughly tested, both for functionality and efficiency.

Now the situation changed. Marketing people want commitments that suit their marketing purposes. They refuse to accept time estimates such as 'as fast as we can'. They are always concerned about losing a sale if delivery cannot be made almost instantaneously. And they are often less concerned about elegance of design, efficiency of operation, and thorough testing, than getting the product out the door.

[Full transcript of the speech.]

To noble-minded people--and Jim Aagaard and Velma Veneziano are certainly two of the most noble-minded people to ever walk the face of the Earth--the greatest satisfaction comes from the creation of a really good system which serves their clientele (Northwestern University Library--and similar ARL libraries) really well. But I suggest that the real measure of the value of a library system is not its elegance and efficiency, but, rather, the good it does for society, that is, how many people benefit from it--and how much benefit they (and society) derive from it. (If a Nobel-prize-winning chemist is aided in his research, his use should carry at least somewhat more weight than that of a person checking out Valley of the Dolls for the fifteenth time.) I would argue that, though the NOTIS development after 1987 was not of the same unusually high quality as the prior development, it was good enough and made the system attractive to certain libraries (smaller university, college, and community college libraries) which would not otherwise have purchased the software, and would not, otherwise, have benefited from it.

11. Was the sale of NOTIS Systems, Inc., to Ameritech a good idea?

NOTIS Systems, Inc., was sold by Northwestern to Ameritech in October, 1991.

NOTIS was becoming too big for Northwestern. This large library company, owned by the University, didn't quite make sense.

Northwestern wanted to get an immediate, tangible return on their investment. Among other things, they wanted to make the university library more "self-sufficient" -- and endowed positions in the library were created from the proceeds of the sale. (But not all of the money went to the library.)

Also, Jane and the other NOTIS Systems, Inc., managers felt that there was a need for more investment in NOTIS -- which Northwestern was not going to provide. In a 1994 Against the Grain interview Jane says: "As NOTIS got bigger, the riskier environment needed the software system to grow, and the financing and strong development was not appropriate for a University."

Jane [in an email] says that Ameritech paid $6+ million for NOTIS ($10+ million in 2014 dollars).


  1. For Northwestern University, which was able to solve the nagging issue of what to do with this rapidly-growing business and to use the proceeds of the sale to offset expenditures on the library, it seems that the sale to Ameritech was a good thing. (One might argue, however, that Northwestern didn't get enough for this Jane-Burke enterprise, considering the subsequent profits of the NOTIS-Horizon-like Voyager system.)
  2. For NOTIS Systems, Inc., its sale to Ameritech initially resulted in greater investment in the company, but, in the longer term, resulted in the quashing of NOTIS Horizon [see following section], which, given the rise of client/server, was the only hope for continued life of NOTIS Systems, Inc. Thus, the sale to Ameritech was, for the company itself, perhaps, a short-term positive and definitely a long-term negative.

    John Kolman, in his (joint) interview , says: "The big mistake wasn't Dynix and Ameritech and that; the big mistake was Northwestern selling NOTIS. It took us away from the ARL roots, the collaborative development." [1:50:20].

  3. For Ameritech, the purchase of NOTIS Systems, Inc., was not a good idea: they spent much more on the purchase than they received in subsequent profits. The customer base of the NOTIS IBM Assembler product declined and there were certainly never any profits from NOTIS Horizon. (See following "divestiture" section.)

12. Was the "divestiture" of NOTIS Horizon by Ameritech a good idea?

Marshall Breeding writes: "For a while, Ameritech allowed its two main library automation subsidiaries to operate independently. But this arrangement of competitive coexistence came to an end in May 1994 when NOTIS Systems, Inc. and Dynix Systems were consolidated. From this time forward Ameritech Library Services functioned as a single entity, operated first under the guidance of Paul Sybrowsky, who was succeeded in February 1995 by Thomas Quarton." ( Complete article .)

The Dynix Marquis system existed and was actually being used. In comparison, NOTIS Horizon seemed like vaporware.

Maribeth Ward in her (joint) interview argues that Ameritech didn't have any choice: "If you were an investor investing in your retirement, would you have put your money into NOTIS Horizon? I wouldn't have. It'd be too long to wait." [2:08:00] And Paul Sybrowsky was better, politically, at making his case to Ameritech than Jane was [1:42:00].

It was no doubt hard at the time to see the greater potential of NOTIS Horizon, but -- as was proven incontrovertibly by the success of the Endeavor Voyager system -- a NOTIS Horizon offshoot -- that potential existed. Ameritech's failure to see it was a mistake -- perhaps an easy-to-understand mistake, but, nevertheless, a major mistake.

In fact, Ameritech's best option to avoid duplicate effort might have been to stop development of the Marquis product, with the idea that NOTIS Horizon, with a few enhancements, could have met the needs of the potential Marquis-Horizon customers -- though one might also argue that the needs of public and academic markets are different enough that two different products were called for....

It's clear from the 1994 Against the Grain interview that Jane was blind-sided. {The interview, though not published until June 1994, occurred prior to the (May 1994) "divestiture".} Jane says there, among other things: "NOTIS and Dynix are not competitors. We work together in a relationship that benefits all kinds of libraries...."

Note: I was hoping to get input from Paul Sybrowsky (the "Dynix side of the story"), but, sadly, tragically, he died on Sept. 10, 2014, (at age 70). I did get some good input on the later years from Lana Porter and Tom Quarton.

13. Questionnaire responses from former NOTIS staff members

1987 staff photo: click on photo

14. Questionnaire responses from former NUL/ISDO staff members

15. Questionnaire responses from former customers

16. Interviews

Note: the views and opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the interviewees only and are not intended to represent those of Northwestern University or the website proprietor. Complete disclaimer.

In the case of Jerry's interviews, the links below are to maps-of/excerpts-from the interviews, which, in turn, contain links to the actual, unedited audio recordings. The only exception is the interview of Velma and Adele, which was edited and transcribed.

[Photos of Jane, John, Maribeth, and Stacy may be found in their entries here ; and Jim and Velma at the bottom of this article.]

17. Bibliography

This bibliography is arranged chronologically. Mostly, it includes documents whose text is available online or which could easily be scanned. Permission was obtained from all sources. For a more complete picture of the NOTIS journal literature, see the 1981 bibliography (#12) below. For a more complete picture of the library automation literature in general, see Velma Veneziano's 1980 "Library Automation: Data for Processing and Processing for Data" (#9) below.

  1. James Aagaard's March, 1972, article, "An Interactive Computer-Based Circulation System: Design and Development". Journal of Library Automation [vol. 5, no. 1] [Right click and "Rotate Clockwise" to view] [Used with permission of the American Library Association.]
  2. Velma Veneziano's June, 1972, article, "An Interactive Computer-Based Circulation System for Northwestern University: the Library Puts It to Work" [Used with permission of the American Library Association.]
  3. "On-line, real time circulation: a report on the Northwestern University Library System ", Barbara Evans Markuson, Editor. (A LARC Report.) Tempe, Ariz. : Larc Association, 1972. 52 pages.
  4. James Aagaard's May, 1974, draft (unpublished) article, "An Integrated Technical Processing System for a Large Research Library " [Used with permission of James Aagaard.]
  5. Velma Veneziano's and James Aagaard's "Cost Advantages of Total System Development" in the 1976 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing. ["Used with permission of the Graduate School of Library and information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."]
  6. D. Dee Brooks' paper on LCUS, "A Program for Self-Service Patron Interaction with an On-Line Circulation File" (1976?).
  7. Charles Payne, Rob McGee, Helen F. Schmierer, and Howard S. Harris. "The University of Chicago Library Data Management System", The Library Quarterly 47, no. 1 (January, 1977): 1-22. Stable URL: .
  8. James Aagaard's 1978 article, "NOTIS: an Integrated Computer System for a Large Research Library", from the April, 1978, Illinois Libraries [vol. 60, no. 4] [Used with permission of the Illinois State Library.]
  9. Velma Veneziano. "Library Automation: Data for Processing and Processing for Data," in Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, no. 15 (1980): 109-145. [Used with permission of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.]
  10. A. Whitney Knox and Bruce Miller. "Predicting the Number of Public Computer Terminals Needed for an On-Line Catalog: A Queuing Theory Approach", Library Research, 2:95-100 (1980-81).
  11. Ron Curtis. "Automation Proposal for the Central State University Library" (March, 1981) and "Central State University Library Features for New Automation System" (Sept. 1981). Timeline .
  12. A 1981 bibliography of 22 (printed) NOTIS articles/documents
  13. "NU Library Enters Computer Age", Northwestern Engineer, Spring, 1982 .
  14. Press Release: "Northwestern University to Offer NOTIS to Other Libraries ", May 1983.
  15. Jim Meyer's 1985 article, "NOTIS: The System and Its Features " (including Ron Curtis' "NOTIS at Central State University") (from vol. 3, issue 2, of Library Hi Tech).
  16. Jane Burke's "Automation Planning and Implementation: Library and Vendor Responsibilities" 1985 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing (Urbana, IL) Human Aspects of Data Processing. Click on "FULL-TEXT" – "View" on the right-hand side. ["Used with permission of the Graduate School of Library and information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign."]
  17. Arnold Hirshon's 1986 "Automated Library Systems In ARL Libraries " (link to pdf with Full Text on far right). Detailed info on University of Michigan's, Vanderbilt's, and Rice's NOTIS decisions.
  18. Karen Horny. "Fifteen Years of Automation: Evolution of Technical Services staffing" in LIBRARY RESOURCES AND TECHNICAL SERVICES, Vol. 31, No. 1 (January/March 1987) p.69-76.
  19. Peggy Steele. "NOTIS to be restructured", Channels, Spring, 1987.
  20. Dr. Aagaard's October, 1987, paper, "Computers and the Northwestern University Library".
  21. Interview of Dr. Aagaard by Wayne McPherson. NOTISes, Nov., 1988 , pp. 35-9. Especially strong on Jim's pre-NOTIS and early-NOTIS years.
  22. "Into the Future: A Conversation with Jane Burke ", NOTISes, Dec. 1988/Jan. 1989, pp.1-6.
  23. James Aagaard and Elizabeth Furlong's Sept, 1989, paper, "Automation of Reserve Activities at the Northwestern University Library".
  24. Karen Horny, John McGowan and Betsy Baker. "Northwestern University Library: Strategies for Electronic Information," in CAMPUS STRATEGIES FOR LIBRARIES AND ELECTRONIC INFORMATION, edited by Caroline Arms (EDUCOM Strategies Series on Information Technology). Bedford, MA: Digital Press, 1989, pp.76-94.
  25. Interview of Velma Veneziano by Wayne McPherson. NUL Computing News, April 30, 1991.
  26. "Velma Veneziano", by Jim Aagaard . Lantern's Core, May, 1991.
  27. Transcript of Velma Veneziano's speech at the 1993 NOTIS Users' Group Meeting.
  28. 1994 interview of Jane Burke: Against the Grain, Volume 6 | Issue 3 Article 14 , 4 pages. [Used with permission of Against the Grain and Jane Burke.]
  29. NOTIS Newsletters (NOTISes/Connected) (1985-1997). See the following section.
  30. Marshall Breeding's article, "epixtech: a new beginning for ALS", Information Today, January, 2000. [Used with permission of Marshall Breeding.]
  31. Marshall Breeding's article, "The sun sets on Horizon", Information Today, June, 2007. [Used with permission of Marshall Breeding.]
  32. Christopher Brown-Syed's Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the late 20th Century. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, LLC, 2011.
  33. Brief 2011/12 Wikipedia article on NOTIS .
  34. The NUL History webpage with many details about NOTIS.

18. NOTIS Newsletters

NOTISes (the NOTIS newsletter) was published

Issues 1-20 and 26-95, which are held by the Northwestern University Library Archives, have been scanned and can be seen in the newsletter section .

19. In Memoriam

Rolf Erickson, 1940-1992.

Memorial Note from NOTISes

John McGowan, 1926-2006.

  1. Obituary ;
  2. NUL Archives Finding Aid ;
  3. Note from Karen Horny

Ron Curtis, 1940-2012.

  1. Obituary
  2. Note from Maithreyi Manoharan

Dale Hood

Note from Stuart Miller

Doris Warner

Note from Mary Alice Ball and Stuart Miller

20. NOTIS Trivia (Spoiler alert: preceding sections contain answers to many questions)

(In order of increasing difficulty …) [Questions mostly for former NOTIS staff] a. What was the name of the oft-frequented pizza restaurant, directly across Church Street from the office? b. What notorious costume did Jane Frye wear to a Halloween party (in the early '90's)? c. What Southern, female NOTIS employee gave the invoice load programs the name "VITLS" (Vendor Invoice Tape Load System) and the new bib transfer program, the name "GTO"? d. Names of two NOTIS-staff musical groups which performed at NUL events in the 1980's e. Who (in 1976) suggested "NOTIS" as the name for the system? (Neither of the usual suspects) f. What Minneapolis-based VSE consultant hired by NOTIS often flew his small private plane to consulting gigs in remote locations (such as, Kirksville, Missouri)? [Questions for former customers and staff] g. What was the name of the hotel in downtown Chicago where the annual NUGM was held from 1989-1996? h. What was the name of the monthly newsletter published by NOTIS from 1985-1997? i. What two Texans met as a result of being NOTIS customers and went on to marry? j. What colorful nickname did Bill Divens, a University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Librarian who played guitar at NUGM, go by?


21. People (when you click on a hyper-linked name, it takes you here)

22. Acronyms/Glossary (hyper-linked word or phrase, takes you here)

A number of definitions taken from "FCLA Glossary of Terms and Systems ":

23. Endnotes

  1. See 2011 entry (#32) in Bibliography
  2. From a 2014 email from Jane Burke
  3. See 2011 entry (#32) in Bibliography
  4. See 1977 entry (#7) in Bibliography ("The University of Chicago Library Data Management System")
  5. One feature which was designed into the system by ISDO for other libraries was the ability to handle different length item ID's and OCR {in addition to barcodes (which is what NUL used)}.
  6. These (from NOTIS/ALS staff lists) are the numbers of Evanston employees at different times: June 1994, 153; July 1996, 96; April 1998, 32; March 2000, 19; Nov. 2000, 13.
  7. The number of individual libraries which actually used NOTIS, as shown by this (courtesy of with consortia disaggregated, was at least 949. (Note: it seems a small number of former NOTIS libraries are missing from the database….)