Library Automation Marketplace: The New Frontier with Fuzzy Edges, Presented by Frank R. Bridges

Article excerpt

Frank Bridge's presentation gave a review of the library industry ten years ago and how it is evolving today and provided a glimpse of what will happen in the future. He also gave suggestions on how to plan for library automation.

Bridge said librarians have been refining the information storage and retrieval process for more than three thousand years. Librarians receive the most out of new technology because they have already implemented standards. He said, "Librarians are the most informed people about how they want their information systems to work and what standards the new technology must meet. Librarians should not rely on information technologists, but should plan their own futures."

The audience was briefed by Bridge on how information technology evolved and changed the way in which patrons use the library. He said connectivity has been and will always be an automation concern. For example, first a system consisted of only a central computer with hard wires connecting dumb terminals. He said it was easy to determine where the system began and ended and how many users were on the system and where those users were located. Very quickly, however, hardware and communication systems were improved so that users could dial into modems attached to the computer. A patron could now search the system without entering the library. Bridge stated, "At this point the library ceased to be a building and began being a service." Local area networks within the library were then added to the system, and before long, analog lines and some fiber optics were laid that connected off-site LANs and other libraries to the central system. Through the use of digital lines, the central computer was then attached to computers in other cities, states, and countries. A patron of a library located anywhere may now search a library catalog and the external databases the library subscribes to without leaving the library-automation system. Bridge said, "Presently, it is getting very fuzzy to determine where the library system ends and other systems begin."

Bridge stated that although the library-automation business is changing rapidly, there are things a library can do now to plan for the future. He said, however, "It is not possible to have a ten-year automation plan. Librarians need to plan much more closely to the future. Day-to-day operations and the services a library offers are changed by technology too frequently to plan ten years into the future."

Libraries that have not yet automated or libraries wishing to automate operations further are faced with questions as to which library automation software and hardware vendor to choose; how the software vendor handles electronic mail and multimedia; and how both the hardware and software company handle connectivity issues.

Bridge said the library should research communication devices to see which are best suited for it. The library should consider how many branches the system will support and whether the central system will be shared by other libraries. He added that the library may consider using locally mounted databases and should know how their system will interface with these databases and with other systems.

According to Bridge, "Hardware-independent operating systems are a myth right now. The UNIX operating system is really not hardware independent. It must be fine-tuned for each system." He said that in the future automation companies will handle the hardware-independent operating-systems issue. Hardware companies such as Hewlett-Packard and DEC are rewriting their operating systems to meet the standards for UNIX. He also asserted that "the standards for UNIX are going to be developed all over again." He said, "There is a development path to migrate systems like MPE/XL using the Posix guidelines, but I don't know the development time frame."

Bridge recommended purchasing either an Ethernet or Token Ring LAN, as most systems are compatible with these two LANs. …