The IOLS (Integrated Online Library Systems) component of the National Online Meeting was held on May 17–18 and provided an important opportunity to gain up-to-date information in the field of library automation. IOLS continues to be the only professional conference devoted solely to integrated online library systems.
Conference chair Pamela Cibbarelli did her usual great job of planning 2 day's worth of informative sessions focused on issues related to integrated online library systems, other aspects of library automation, and library Web sites. This year, the theme of IOLS was “Beyond the Frontier,” which recognized that most libraries are well past the point of pioneering their first automation systems, are focusing on implementing second- or third-generation systems, and are actively working toward developing many other facets of their electronic information environments.
Each of the conference's 2 days began with a plenary session in the morning and featured two tracks of simultaneous sessions for the rest of the day. The vast majority of the presentations were given by librarians or other library staff members. Automation company representatives were also part of the program, but in ways in which they could discuss technologies and issues, not just give sales pitches for their products. The sessions were generally well-attended and, from most of the comments I heard, well-received.
I had the privilege of opening the session with a speech entitled “Current State of Library Automation: IOLS Technologies, Marketplace Trends, and Future Expectations.” In this presentation, I summarized some of the recent information related to the companies involved in developing library automation systems, as well as some current technology trends. Some of the most striking developments I mentioned included the recent sale of Endeavor Information Systems to Elsevier Science, and the great desire of various companies to work toward integrating full-text information with local library automation systems.
Another featured session, “Today's IOLS: A Reality Check,” included a panel of executives from leading automation companies. The panelists represented Endeavor Information Systems; epixtech, Inc.; Sagebrush Technologies; and Gaylord Information Systems. The format of the session involved each of the vendors taking turns answering questions presented by Cibbarelli, the moderator. While the session was generally informative, the avoidance of controversial issues seemed to result in a missed opportunity to gain a deeper level of insight from these industry leaders.
The second day's plenary session was given by Thomas R. Kochtanek, who teaches at the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri–Columbia, and Karen K. Hein, now at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Kochtanek and Hein gave an update on Project LIS, a Web site devoted to providing information related to library information systems. They described some of the resources available on their site and how students collaborate toward its development.
In a session explaining vendor perspectives on library automation, Vinod Chandra gave a very interesting presentation on the use of Unicode for the development of a system designed to accommodate practically any language and character set. He referred to the Virtua system to illustrate these capabilities, but also gave a lot of information that would be helpful to libraries using other automation systems. As the library automation marketplace becomes increasingly international, the support for multiple character sets through Unicode will likewise grow in importance. In the same track, developers from Gaylord Information Systems discussed some of the issues involved in developing software in the Windows NT environment.
For those involved in the library-automation-system procurement process, Richard Boss' 2-hour workshop on the “Negotiation of Contracts with Library Vendors” was an important source of practical information. Boss is one of the leading library automation consultants, and the attendees at this session were fortunate to benefit from his extensive experience.
In addition to sessions directly related to library automation systems, several speakers focused on topics pertaining to some of the other types of library automation services. Integrated online library systems have generally become more mature and omnipresent, and many libraries are involved in developing other aspects of automation. In this vein, Scott Herrington and Philip Konomos from Arizona State University described the electronic-reserves system they developed. Susan McGlammery of the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System described how that consortium is using chat and other push technologies to provide electronic reference services. A number of sessions were devoted to issues related to library Web sites. Catherine Cardwell and Stefanie Dennis of Bowling Green State University presented a session on how they developed their library's Web site, which included a preview phase and extensive beta testing. Jeanie Welch, of the Atkins Library at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, gave a presentation focusing on the evaluation of library Web sites. Elaina Norlin and Patricia Morris from the University of Arizona and Judith Liebman of Mercy College also gave talks about library Web site development.
Cibbarelli concluded the conference program with her annual workshop, during which she reviews each of the major library automation vendors' accomplishments over the past year. Using data taken mostly from the recent library automation marketplace survey published in Library Journal, Cibbarelli presented an excellent account of recent sales trends. One of the most notable graphs showed a surge in sales enjoyed by epixtech, Inc. Apparently, the company's independence from Ameritech and SCB, Inc. has resulted in an increased level of perceived public confidence.
A significant number of automation vendors chose to exhibit at this conference. The majority was clustered together in a single area of the exhibit hall, but a few were located separately. The library automation vendors represented in the exhibits included Best-Seller, Inc.; CASPR Library Systems, Inc.; Cuadra Associates, Inc.; Data Research Associates; Endeavor Information Systems; EOS International; epixtech, Inc.; Inmagic, Inc.; Innovative Interfaces, Inc.; The Library Corporation; Sagebrush Technologies; SIRS Mandarin, Inc.; SIRSI Corp.; SydneyPLUS International; and VTLS.
There were no major product developments or corporate changes announced at this event, since most of the vendors still target the ALA Annual Conference for major announcements. Only a few of the major library automation companies were noticeably absent, including Ex Libris, CARL Corp., and Follett Software Co. My main interest with the exhibits is that there be a large enough quorum of vendors to make the conference worthwhile for libraries investigating or procuring an automation system. Having a reasonably complete roster of vendors also helps me stay current with what's new in the industry. With only a very few vendors missing, I considered this year's exhibition at the National Online Meeting to be very worthwhile.
All in all I found the IOLS conference to be well worth attending. Besides the content available in the program and the technologies demonstrated in the exhibits, the opportunity to visit with other attendees and hear about their day-to-day experiences really helps me stay current in the field. As usual, the Information Today, Inc. staff was efficient and effective in providing a well-run event. I look forward to participating next year.
Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst at Vanderbilt University's Heard Library and a writer and speaker on library technology issues. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.