The American Library Association Annual Conference usually provides my best opportunity to gather comprehensive information about the library automation industry. All the companies bring their best and brightest stars and show off their latest accomplishments. And I always look forward to visiting Toronto, one of the most interesting and diverse cities in North America.
This year's ALA/Canadian Library Association joint conference suffered from an enormous spate of bad luck, with many potential attendees kept away because of concerns related to the outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). At the conference I found that only a few meetings were canceled, though some were more sparsely attended than usual.
The exhibit hall was definitely affected. Many vendors decided not to exhibit and many others brought their smaller booths rather than the full-sized ones they usually set up for major conferences. Three of the major library automation vendors were no-shows: Sagebrush, The Library Corporation, and Follett. The exhibition was especially disappointing for those interested in school library automation given the absence of Follett, Sagebrush, and Book Systems, the major companies that specialize in this market.
While other ILS vendors downsized their booth space in accordance with the anticipated lower conference attendance, Dynix came in full force. Jack Blount, president, emphasized the company's commitment to the industry, reflected by its financial support to the conference, both in its sponsorship of multiple events and in maintaining its full exhibition space. Hats off to Dynix.
The ALA Annual Conference usually provides the setting for companies to unveil their latest product announcements, organizational changes, and other news. Although it was a quieter conference than usual, there were several notable announcements.
What's News in Automation
Dynix came to the conference armed with the new 7.3 release of its Horizon library management system; it considers this version of Horizon a breakthrough. The company has a very large installed base of libraries running Dynix, an automation system that's well-regarded by its users, yet it's outdated in today's environment. A significant benchmark of the company's success will be measured by the number of libraries that choose to implement Horizon rather than going to a competing system. Horizon 7.3, packed with over 100 new features, is designed to satisfy the reservations held by librarians who use Dynix. This release includes features that make the process of migrating from Dynix to Horizon largely automatic. By the time of the conference, Horizon 7.3 had already been put into production in two major sites, the Library Consortium of Eastern Idaho and Utah State University. While Dynix manages to hold on to a very respectable proportion of its legacy customers as it moves to its next-generation systems, a significant number have gone to the competition in the last few years. Time will tell whether this release will shore up the company's retention rate and attract more new customers.
Dynix also announced new partnerships and technology that integrates book vendor services with Horizon. Based on a new protocol using XML and Web services, called Vendor Integration Protocol, or VIP, Dynix has forged relationships with Baker & Taylor, BWI, and Ingram Book Group to enable a more efficient process for acquiring books. Through this new protocol, the availability of a book is determined through an ISBN search sent to the vendor's Web site, which then returns bibliographic and pricing information that automatically generates an order record. Dynix will make the specifications for VIP available to other automation and book vendors, with the intention that it be adopted as an industrywide standard.
GIS Information Systems, formerly Gaylord Information Systems, came to the conference with a new organizational structure. For many years, this automation company has been part of Gaylord, a major manufacturer and distributor of library furniture and supplies. In May 2003, the parent holding company, Croydon, sold the furniture and supplies division, as well as the Gaylord name, to Demco, Inc. Croydon maintains ownership of the library automation division, and renamed it GIS Information Systems. Kathryn Blauer, president of Gaylord Information Systems since May 1999, resigned and Bill Schickling, formerly vice president for research and development, takes charge as president and CEO. Anita Wagoner will serve as the company's chief operating officer and Jim Mieczkowski takes the role of chief information officer. The company was downsized by about one-third as a result of this transition. Though the company faces many challenges, it has recently seen some significant sales. In June, the Maricopa County Library District in Arizona, which serves a population of 3.5 million, announced its selection of the Polaris library automation system.
At ALA/CLA, Sirsi Corp. continued its push to promote its new Sirsi Rooms product. Debuted at ALA Midwinter this past January, it aims to be a Context Management Solution, allowing libraries to create and provide access to collections of selected information organized by subject category or discipline. Sirsi Rooms includes a user-friendly interface that allows nontechnical librarians to create and maintain these virtual collections, and includes an OpenURL resolver and metasearch as part of its technical underpinnings.
Sirsi's announced a partnership with Relias International to integrate the Relias Enterprise interlibrary loan module into Unicorn. Interlibrary loan has long been the neglected stepchild of library automation. Though one of the most complex and labor-intensive units of a library and most sorely in need of streamlined automation, interlibrary loan has been included in integrated library systems only as an afterthought. Through this partnership with Relias, Sirsi takes a big step toward filling this gap.
Sirsi also made public that it will be incorporating the RetrievalWare search engine from Convera Technology to its Hyperion Digital Media Archive. Hyperion allows libraries to create digital collections of nonbook materials such as photographs, maps, documents, and sound or video clips. The search and retrieval technologies from Convera will add new functionality to Hyperion, including enhanced search features, multilingual support, and cross-language searching.
Some of the new sales that Sirsi announced at the conference included the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library, adding to Sirsi's virtual monopoly of public libraries in Georgia; the INFOhio consortium of school libraries in Ohio; the Charleston (S.C.) Public Library; and the University of Manitoba.
With Geac's headquarters in Markham, just a few miles from Toronto, this company was on its home turf. Geac, a large corporation offering enterprise software for a number of business sectors, continues to support its library systems division even though it represents a very small segment of the company's overall business. Geac Library Solutions supports a number of legacy library automation systems, including PLUS and ADVANCE, while promoting its next-generation system, Vubis Smart. The customer base of libraries running ADVANCE and PLUS is large, but rapidly dwindling. While the company enjoys some new sales abroad, it rarely makes new sales in North America. At this conference, Geac's promotion of Vubis Smart remained relatively low-key; its full-blown launch in North America is expected in the near future. It remains to be seen whether Geac can revitalize its presence in the North American library automation market.
Innovative Interfaces, in addition to promoting its Millennium automation system, brought news related to some of its new products. The company recently developed Electronic Resource Management, an application that provides access to digital content to which the library subscribes and manages the licenses associated with those subscriptions. This product can be integrated with Millennium or can be run as a stand-alone application if the library uses another automation system. Ohio State University recently put Electronic Resource Management into production.
Innovative announced its participation in Shibboleth, a project associated with the Internet2 Middleware Architecture Committee for Education. Shibboleth provides an infrastructure for authentication and authorization across multiple organizations, and stands as the likely successor to the existing IP-based authentication processes that currently dominate in providing controlled access to licensed content.
Finally, Innovative announced the incorporation of new e-commerce features in Millennium, providing a secure method for library users to make payments for fees, fines, or donations. Innovative plans to make this feature available in Millennium by the end of the year.
Endeavor Information Systems announced a new product called the Course Content Integrator, a new partnership with Luna Imaging, an expanded list of book and serial vendors certified for exchanging ordering transactions through EDI, and new contracts for its Voyager library management system.
As more colleges and universities adopt course management systems such as those from WebCT and Blackboard, the need arises for tools that provide access to library-based resources. The Course Content Integrator fulfills this need, taking advantage of ENCompass to provide relevant searches and durable links to specific electronic articles or other items of content.
The partnership with Luna Imaging involves a gateway between Endeavor's ENCompass digital library system and Luna's Insight image management application. Image collections residing in a Luna Insight collection can be included in metasearches conducted in ENCompass, and results can be viewed with Insight's image-viewing tools.
In the realm of acquisitions, Endeavor announced that libraries using Voyager can now exchange EDI transactions with 33 different book and serial vendors through the EDIFACT standard. Endeavor also named four new contracts for Voyager: Boise State University, the Fenway Libraries Online consortium of academic and special libraries in the Boston area, the University of Hartford, and the library of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Ex Libris recently experienced changes in management. In April, Ex Libris announced that Matti Shem Tov would serve as president and CEO of the company's worldwide operations, replacing Sami Kahmi who was appointed to that same position in June 2002. Carl Grant, president of the Ex Libris (USA) division, left the company to head the international operations of VTLS. Subsequent to the conference on July 1, Ex Libris announced that Katrina M. Anderson would head the U.S. operations with the title of vice president. Anderson comes to Ex Libris from Innovative Interfaces, where she served as director of customer service. Finally, Bob Walton, formerly president of CLSI, Inc. and then executive vice president and CFO at Innovative Interfaces, will serve as the chairman of the board for the company's U.S. operations.
Ex Libris announced a contract for Aleph 500 to the South Dakota Library Network, a statewide consortium with a collection of 5.5 million items, to replace its venerable PALS system. In other news, Ex Libris announced 18 new sales of SFX in the month preceding the conference, and said that in 2002 it sold over 200 licenses for SFX, doubling its installed base.
VTLS also came to the conference under new management. Founder Vinod Chachra remains the chairman of the board and CEO, but has appointed Carl Grant as the president and chief operating officer. Grant, an industry veteran who has served at the executive level at many library automation companies, now runs the worldwide operations of VTLS. Other appointments include Martha Gettys as vice president of sales and Ron Passmore as director of marketing. Grant, Gettys, and Passmore all come to VTLS from Ex Libris (USA). Virtua, VTLS' automation system, continues to enjoy sales internationally while new contracts in North America remain sluggish. VTLS announced Virtua sales in 22 libraries in Poland as well as in Bahrain, India, Russia, Switzerland, Thailand, and Uganda. The only recent domestic sales of Virtua were to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Library, with campuses in New York, Los Angeles, and Cincinnati; and to the Grolier Club in New York for its 100,000 volume collection of books, manuscripts, and catalogs.
Evolution, Not Revolution
Overall, I have to characterize the conference as moderately quiet regarding developments in the library automation arena. While several companies had changes in management, no mergers or acquisitions had transpired or seemed to be imminent. I didn't see any earthshaking product announcements, though there were lots of significant incremental advancements in some of the ILS products and a few new ancillary products that seem to be promising.
I question, however, whether the lack of news at the conference accurately reflects reality this time around. One might suspect that much more is going on behind the scenes and that we might expect more activity in the coming months. On the other hand, the library automation industry has never been a hotbed of activity and innovation. For this conference, I have to conclude, evolution seems to have won out over revolution.