Not Just a Passing Phase

By Plotnik, Art | American Libraries, June 1984 | Go to article overview

Not Just a Passing Phase


Plotnik, Art, American Libraries


In January 1981, when American Libraries profiled CL Systems, Inc. (CLSI), Data Phase was mentioned as a sort of also-ran in the race for automated systems leadership. At that time, CLSI was grossing about $12 million a year and Data Phase was a five-year-old without even a portfolio of successful installations to move its sales along.

CLSI has continued to grow, as have several other library system vendors; but few have come of age quite as visibly as the Kansas-based Data Phase Corporation, now doing an annual volume of up to $9 million.

Part of that visibility can be attributed to its new president and CEO, Ronald J. Zazzara--about as hard a man to overlook as a pair of Kansas City tackles on the blitz. He is physically big, has big ideas, markets them in a big way, and of late is asking librarians to think big via "An Open Letter to the Library Community" appearing in the major library journals.

Although Data Phase has systems geared to serve all sizes of libraries, Zazzara is positioning the firm as a specialist in big circulation requirements, such as those of Orange County (Calif.), with up to 36,000 sytem transactions an hour, and the Chicago Public Library, with 88 branches serving the city's three million. Jobs this big also get big publicity when they run into trouble, as did the Chicago Public Library's $2 million circulation system last March. (It is still off schedule.) That goes with the territory.

Data Phase is visible in recent library news as well, notably for the 112-terminal ALIS III circulation system installed in the spectacular new Broward County (Fla.) Public Library (AL, May 1984), and for the public-access-catalog system it plans to introduce this month at the ALA Annual Conference in Dallas. Let's automate, Pardner

One of Zazzara]s boldest ideas, shared by Senior Vice President for Marketing Steve Weiss, is to come forth as a catalyst for library change rather than simply respond to the changes that come about without the firm's input. He calls this approach a "partnership" and says the entire Data Phase staff of 88 has had the word ingrined in their thinking.

In the "Open Letter," the company said, "We intend to play whatever role we can to gurantee that the library community comes to the forefront and is on the leading edge of the information age."

American Libraries interviewed Zazzara and Weiss on April 10 in Chicago, curious to see how Data Phase planned to overcome the usual skepticism toward vendor "partnerships" shaping the library future.

"You studied psychology," we noted from Zazzara's vita. "Don't you think librarians might resist someone from 'outside' the profession telling them they're on the threshold irrelevance?"

"Consider us as a developer of library technology," said Zazzara. "Technology can expand the reach of the library--make it more accessible. I think, from that point of view, we have a right to be a partner. If the technology is not allowed to develop, then the partnership fails."

Weiss added: "Simply as citizens we have a right to comment on something that affects society in the future. We really feel we're partners, based on a moral belief we have. Of course, we also want to make a living in this role, and we don't want to carry any big moral banners. But the fact is we'd rather see some 70 percent of the population as regular library users than today's 20 percent or so; and for that to happen, the library mission and its technology have grow together."

"Still," we persisted, "don't you think it's a bit strong to play the Paul Revere or the revolution?"

Defending the company's "Open Letter," Weiss replied, "Anytime you can open a debate, start to develop a consensus, then it's immaterial whether you're leading or trailing the rhetoric. We knew the risk of running this letter and still thought it was worth it. If we get just a few good responses to publish, we'll be satisfied. …

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