Library automation is far from a one-size-fits- all proposition. The different types of libraries用ublic, academic, school, and special容ach make use of technology in distinct ways. Each sector brings its own technology requirements and automation needs. Several different groups of companies are engaged in creating specialized products and services for their respective niches. Companies like Follett Software Company, Book Systems, and COMPanion offer products adopted primarily by K-12 schools and districts, with an emphasis on age-appropriate materials, support for the small libraries typically associated with each school, managing textbooks and media assets, and an increasing emphasis on efficiencies that can be gained at the district level. Automation products for public libraries must deliver the ability to manage collections of printed books and other physical items in flexible ways that accommodate the constant flow of new popular materials into the libraries, the flow of materials from one branch to another, and the demands of library patrons for limited copies. Right now, academic libraries are dealing with increasing numbers of subscriptions to scholarly content in electronic formats, involvement with the creation of digital collections, and a diminishing emphasis on print materials.
Similiarly, the realm of special libraries is a world unto itself, and is not at all homogeneous. Under this general umbrella are many distinct niches洋edical, legal, corporate, museum, and many others容ach with their own specific needs for automation support. In broad terms, these organizations increasingly require support more for knowledge management than for traditional library automation, and often need to provide information services to a globally distributed base of users. Special libraries, often taking the form of the information center for an organization, face some of the most complex demands for content and collection management and require sophisticated software applications to support their efforts.
In this month's main feature, we take a look at the interconnected realm of companies and products involved in the special library arena. Consistent with the broader industry, this sector has experienced significant consolidation and business transitions. The acquisition of certain parts of Inmagic, Inc. by SydneyPLUS International is not a simple transaction, as it involves the sale of some parts of the company but not others. It also involves the continuation of a remnant company that will assume a new identity. This story is also relevant to the general history of library automation, as it weaves in and out of pioneering companies like Sydney Development Corporation, Easy Data, and Eloquent Systems as well as companies in the United Kingdom like Soutron Limited. It's been interesting to work through all the twists and turns of this story. Through this process, I've gained a renewed perspective for the distinct approach to technology and automation characteristics of the libraries served by this cadre of companies.