Magazine article American Libraries

A Show of Cautious Cheer: Library Technology Vendors Unveil Products, Pragmatism

Magazine article American Libraries

A Show of Cautious Cheer: Library Technology Vendors Unveil Products, Pragmatism

Article excerpt

"There are five things that are doing well in this economy," Equinox Community Librarian Karen G. Schneider told American Libraries at one point during the 2009 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Denver. Schneider's list comprised Amazon.com (whose fourth quarter in 2008 was its best holiday season ever, with 6.3 million items ordered), dollar stores, McDonald's, public library attendance, and open source software.

Well, executives from several of the major commercial library vendors would probably have leapt to augment that list. Speaking at the RMG Annual Presidents' Seminar, they were quick to point out how well their businesses were doing and, in the cases of some of the firms, that they were expanding their workforces.

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But even as Amazon sold enough copies of Breaking Dawn to reach the summit of Mt. Everest eight times over if the books were stacked end-to-end, there were indications at Midwinter that companies are rethinking their business strategies in anticipation of FY2009-10, which is widely expected to be a tough one for libraries everywhere. The consensus among the vendors on the Midwinter exhibit floor could be characterized as a mix of realistic expectation and optimism.

Of course, no trade show is complete without buzz. This year's big announcement came from Serials Solutions, which rolled out the new Summon unified discovery service. The company has clearly had its "come to Google" moment: Summon's clean search interface sports the familiar single search box. What makes Summon an exciting development is that it is neither a federated search tool nor a next-generation catalog. It is, rather, a single interface to over 300 million preharvested documents from over 40 publishers. Additionally, customers can choose to import their own bibliographic records and favorite Web pages so that a single search can bring up a variety of resource formats.

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Serials Solutions Vice President Jane Burke explained that research and development were purely user-centric. "We asked, what would Google do?" said Burke at Summon's premiere breakfast event. The answer is plainly evident in the clean, stripped-down search-and-result interface. Customers will not be locked into using it, however, as Summon is also equipped with an API (application programming interface) that allows developers to incorporate the product's functionality into their own programs--good news, given the current revival of library-driven development.

Another major splash on the showroom floor was made by the debut of Ex Libris' bX, a Web 2.0 scholarly recommendation service. The first of its kind to draw on a massive amount of collective usage data from research communities around the world, bX also looks to be extensible and is based on open interoperability standards such as Open URL and OAI-PMH. For those libraries that are rolling out next-gen catalog systems, bX should play nicely in the sandbox.

LibLime, however, is building its own sandbox and inviting everyone to come and play. LibLime's big Midwinter news centered around biblios.net, its free (as in beer) cataloging productivity suite. Biblios.net lets anyone in the world sign up to become a cataloger (in much the same way as Library-Thing) and provides a professional-grade cataloging tool with which libraries and individuals can create, share, and transfer bibliographic records. Catalogers can also pull in records from any open Z39.50 server, and modify and resubmit their changes.

The whole idea behind biblios .net is wonderfully subversive and may change the way we think about cataloging forever. No, it will not let complete strangers update your catalog, but it will let you share your

library's records with complete strangers. Users of biblios.net can be selective about which records they bring into their system, similar to OCLC's Connexion, except that Lib-Lime is giving it away. …

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