The two major stories featured in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter deal with two very different niches of library technology—e-books and RFID. In one story, we'll learn about 3M Library Systems, a business that has until very recently been rooted in products and services that help libraries deal with their physical items, and is now taking a major leap into the e-book realm. In the other story, we'll see how some of 3M's competitors in the RFID and self-service arena have banded together into a new organization that meets or exceeds its scale. We'll also see how both of these moves reflect strategies that make sense in the context of trends at play in today's library world.
When considering library technology today, we must ask why a library should make large investments in technologies that deal with the management and circulation of their physical collections. There is a clear trend toward digital content—especially with the rise of e-books—and the conventional wisdom holds that physical books are a declining media. I believe, however, that most public libraries will see the co-existence of physical and virtual materials for the foreseeable future, and that well-engaged libraries will continue to see vigorous circulation activity for many years. Given the reality that most libraries are being asked to operate with fewer and fewer financial and staff resources, any technologies that help librarians process materials more efficiently and that involve self-service will be neccesary strategic investments for a period of time that will represent at least the typical lifespan of physical library materials.
In this context, ramping up a set of business activities that will meet the immediate demand that libraries have for better e-book solutions seems like a prudent strategy for a company like 3M Library Systems. The strategy also hedges the company's long term bets should interest in products for physical circulation decline. The consolidation of three companies involved in RFID services for libraries creates a new global powerhouse focused on RFID and other technologies that aid libraries with their physical collections. This is further evidence of the continuing demand for physical resources and the means to manage them. It will be interesting to see how this global consolidation results in more innovative products and services, as the consolidated force will be able to use the best product lines of the three incumbent companies and see the talents of former competitors come together into a single development, sales, and support organization.
It will also be interesting to observe how the products of all the parties involved coalesce around standards. In the United States in particular, we're in a critical time with decisions in play regarding whether the ISO 28560-2 will become the national standard, or something else will ultimately prevail.
I think that the timing of these two industry events reinforces the idea that the present reality and unfolding future of libraries will involve both electronic and physical dimensions, and that both areas bring a complex matrix of opportunities and challenges. Libraries need the best technologies available to optimize the way that they deal with both circulation printed books and the increasing arena of e-book lending.