This report from the Exhibit Hall of the ALA Midwinter Meeting will try to stick to themes, rather than verbose details about specific vendor offerings. It's affirming to see so many of the promises from last summer's Annual Conference in Orlando come to fruition on the vendor floor in Boston. This column could have easily been filled with those fruits, punctuated with the flavor of so many colorful press releases. Press packets were filled to overflowing this winter with some grand (and grandiose) announcements.
Making sense of new products, vendor changes, alliances, and acquisitions is a daunting task for a single column. This month I will highlight three themes in evidence at the Exhibit Hall.
Who isn't nostalgic once in a while? Luddites long for the days before computers, technophiles wax poetic about the days of 64K hard drives and 300-baud modems, and librarians everywhere recall those mythical library patrons and researchers who knew exactly how to use a library and were forever grateful for the bountiful resources provided for their consumption.
But nostalgia and technology are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I'm calling one trend the nostalgic application of library automation. Rather than introducing a dozen new products with bells and whistles, several vendors are going back to basics.
Raising the bar on user-centered design, Endeavor Information Systems announced a new usability initiative intended to create clear and simple interfaces for public and staff users of the Voyager ILS. As part of an ongoing collaboration with their parent company, they are capitalizing on Elsevier's User Centered Design Team and building on the experience gained from usability testing on Encompass, Endeavor hopes to improve both the end-user experience and patron satisfaction.
Arguably first to market with a reinvented OPAC, TLC proudly demonstrated its own improvements to the traditional online catalog. Technology from search and discovery software companies MediaLab and Endeca (AL, Feb., p. 48-49) are completely reshaping the look and feel of the traditional online catalog for a more graphically oriented and commercially savvy patron base, who have come to expect more from an online resource discovery experience. VTLS has also announced a partnership with MediaLab to distribute Aquabrowser as part of its Vectors portal. Sirsi launched Rooms 2.0--revamped as an "enterprise portal solution"--for one-stop library resources and services.
Not to be outdone in the OPAC arena, several online databases are also rethinking their searches. Several features of faceted searching--the ability to narrow or sharpen searches using different elements from a record's metadata--can be found in several of Elsevier's new product offerings, including Engineering Village 2, the free Scirus search engine (www.scirus.com), and Elsevier's latest offering, Scopus. Endeavor's new usability engineering will certainly incorporate some of the functionality found in other Elsevier products. One wonders how long it will be before the Elsevier name is used interchangeably for Endeavor.
Of course, search and discovery is only the first step in the traditional library experience. Self-checkout and RFID have gone from marginal technologies to mainstream in just a few years. Self-checkout stations certainly don't look like they used to. Bulky and clumsy hardware has been replaced by ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing machines like the new V-Series system from 3M.
Notable on the floor were Libramation's stackable multiformat self-checkout stations, with intuitive interfaces and quick receipting. Libramation is also reportedly working with Comprise Technologies to devise a method for online payment from self-checkout stations. Comprise's SAM continues to integrate computer-session management, cash handling, and print-recovery systems in a comprehensive access-management system. …