What's New in the Library Automation Arena?

Article excerpt

Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst for the Jean & Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University. He is editor in chief of Library Software Review and has edited or authored several books on library technology and Internet-related topics. His e-mail address is breeding@library.vanderbilt.edu.

I continue to find that ALA conferences offer the richest opportunities of the year to learn what's new in the library automation industry. While smaller venues draw a selection of library automation vendors, or all the ones that market to a specific type of library, only the ALA annual and midwinter conferences draw a comprehensive set of vendors. Library automation vendors bring their highest-level representatives to ALA and demonstrate their complete line of products.

One of my main activities at each ALA conference involves visiting the booths of all the library automation vendors. This is quite a challenge, given the expanse of the exhibition hall. Over the years I have gotten to know many individuals in the library automation industry, and I always look forward to chatting with them at these conferences. I am consistently impressed that the technology-oriented booths are staffed with knowledgeable and courteous individuals.

Trends in Library Automation

Before I launch into my synopsis of the individual vendors, I'll review some of the major industry trends that were apparent. Many vendors have been working intensely on developing next-generation systems, designed to replace the host-based systems that dominated the market for large libraries until about 5 years ago. Systems such as the NOTIS LMS, the "classic" DRA system, VTLS, and Dynix relied on computing methods that were no longer considered to be forward-looking. Each of these vendors then engaged in major efforts to create systems that take advantage of modem computer architectures. Those concepts became the buzzwords of the industry: client! server, object-oriented, open-systems-based.

With this conference, it seems this new generation of systems is about complete. Though in many cases it has taken library automation vendors much longer than they initially predicted to develop systems under these new architectures, most have now completed those efforts. These systems include DRA's Taos, VTLS's Virtua, Gaylord's Polaris, Endeavor's Voyager system, and Ameritech's Horizon. SIRSI's Unicorn product picked a more evolutionary approach, choosing to gradually morph its host-based system to a client/server architecture.

Even in the school library automation marketplace, which tends to move a little more slowly than the academic and public marketplaces, the migration to new systems is complete. Both Follett and Winnebago have developed Windows-based systems that update their DOS-based systems, joining Athena from Nichols Advanced Technologies, which has had a Windows product for several years.

One of the emerging needs in the area of library automation concerns interlibrary loan and other forms of resource sharing. Pigasus software announced its new Wings product at the conference. CPS Systems entered this arena last year with its Universal Resource Sharing Application. Ameritech demonstrated its Resource Sharing System now under development.

For quite some time, many large libraries have been holding back from replacing their outdated library automation systems until the market of new systems matured. It seems to me that this waiting period has passed. All the major vendors have their next-generation systems ready.

In the following section, I'll list some of the library technology vendors that I visited at the conference. While the list is long, it is impossible for me to make it comprehensive. For each vendor, I'll give a brief summary of the main products they demonstrated and will relate any major product announcements. My apologies in advance to any vendors I was unable to include.

Vendors and Their Products

Ameritech Library Services (http://www. …