As I carried out the research for the feature article in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, I was reminded of the everincreasing extent to which library automation has become a global industry. I see a definite trend where products or companies that serve a specific region are being absorbed by global organizationsincluding both commercial companies and non-profit organizations. The back issues of this newsletter chronicle the mergers and acquisitions in the library automation industry, and it seems like they almost always move in the direction of local companies becoming integrated into larger international entities.
In addition to the business transactions involving OCLC mentioned in this issue, examples of other international companies that have brought local products or companies into their folds include Innovative Interfaces (acquired LIBERTAS from SLS in 1997), Ex Libris (acquired DABIS in 1997, Voyager from Endeavor in 2006). Infor and Axiell have likewise absorbed other systems over the years, though they have had more regional than global impact. In some cases, such as with Ex Libris, it's not so much a matter of absorbing local companies, but a merger of companies that have already established international reach, with complementary products and different areas of geographic market strength.
One of the main reasons behind the demise of local systems lies in their ability to keep pace with the changes of technology and in the expectations of libraries. Smaller companies that developed systems consistent with technologies for one era may not have sufficient resources to redevelop their software through each new major transition in information technology. Some companies faded away as mainframes were displaced by client/ server computing, and the demise of operating systems such as Pick and VAX/ VMS also took its toll. More recently, others have fallen behind as Web-based computing and service-oriented architecture became the prevailing technologies and as trends like social networking features and increased involvement in electronic content reshaped functional requirements.
The open source ILS arena exhibits a pattern of internalization. We're seeing a rapid geographic distribution of Koha, originally developed in New Zealand, to libraries throughout the world. I find it interesting to see that Koha spans both the developed world and the developing nations. Here in North America, it has been deployed in hundreds of public and academic libraries and by different types of consortia. It's also seeing some adoption in Europe. But Koha has also become a favorite in the developing world, finding use throughout Latin America and Africa. It seems like every week or so, I become aware of yet another library or group of libraries in some distant part of the globe that is implementing Koha. Evergreen has also begun to break out beyond its homeland here in the United States. In the April 2011 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, we covered its expansion into the United Kingdom.
As this trend toward internationalization plays out over the next decade, I think that we'll see a bit more homogenization of the library automation systems used worldwide. A smaller number of systems will find use in larger numbers of libraries and use of those systems will be increasingly distributed internationally. I don't expect systems created for local markets to die out entirely, but it looks to me like there will be fewer of them over time.
Despite the expansion of global systems at the expense of local or regional products, libraries continue to have the need for systems shaped by their specific geographic, cultural, or organizational environment. Libraries demand automation systems that can accommodate the languages of their collections and users and that support the workflows and practices that may be idiosyncratic to a given region or type of library. International systems succeed across multiple geographic regions due to their broad support for languages in many different scripts, sophisticated functionality, and their ability to be configured for many different types of library settings. Yet it's hard to imagine a one-size-fits-all approach working well given the tremendous diversity of libraries worldwide. It will be interesting to continue to collect data over the next few years to see how this trend evolves.