Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Enhancements of Systems and Products with Web Resources: Vendors Finally Seem to Be Realizing That They Must Incorporate Web-Based Features into Their Library Systems and Products. (Digital Librarianship)

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Enhancements of Systems and Products with Web Resources: Vendors Finally Seem to Be Realizing That They Must Incorporate Web-Based Features into Their Library Systems and Products. (Digital Librarianship)

Article excerpt

In his review of the Automated System Marketplace 2000 (http://www.libraryjournal.com/automated-marketplace/2000/delivering. asp), Jeff Barry rightly lamented that the "last year of the decade in library automation was a lot like its predecessors, featuring corporate mergers, ownership changes ... Now systems librarians often spend more time integrating Internet-based tools into a range of services than working with the integrated system. Systems vendors are no longer at the forefront of innovation in library technology."

No wonder that talented librarians started to develop solutions on their own, and entrepreneurial companies started to offer complementary (and often complimentary) products and services, such as the nifty JavaScript utilities called bookmarklets by the eponymous company, some of which in turn are smartly integrated into the services of North of Boston Library Exchange (NOBLE) consortium (http://www.noblenet.org/swapshop/searcher.htm). NOBLE librarians also provide guidelines on how to customize these small utilities for your systems environment. Vendors of library systems and products should have offered such features long ago. Finally they seem to have realized that they must incorporate some of these Web-inspired features.

Systems Vendors' Inertia

Having dealt with library automation systems for 15 years myself, I could not agree more with Jeff Barry. The Webification of automated systems indeed seems to have passed by many vendors, although there have been exceptions, such as the excellent SiteSearch software of OCLC, or the FreeMARC service of CASPR Library Systems, Inc., but they are few and far between. Maybe their acquisitions and mergers consumed much of their energy, but the overall impression I have had was that they were waiting for the Web mania just to blow over as a fad.

When compared with the previous technology wave, the emergence of CD-ROM applications, the inertia is even more apparent. While one of the pioneers to

prove the viability of CD-ROM was a library systems vendor (The Library Corporation with its awesome Bibliofile collection), the biggest breakthrough in the Web arena came from a total outsider, Amazon.com.

From day one of its existence, this Web-born service epitomized the capabilities of the Web, particularly from the perspective of the transactions most characteristic of library operations. After all, looking up a book by an author or title in the Amazon.com collection is the same as finding a book in a library's catalog--except that the former is much easier. Borrowing books is functionally the same procedure as buying one except for actual payment. Reserving the book in a library is practically the same as asking for notification from Amazon.com when the book becomes available. Amazon.com offered functionality for free that expensive automated library systems did not offer, such as really friendly and intuitive user interfaces, personalization, or alerting patrons about other possibly relevant items in the collection that others had borrowed along with the item the patron is checking out.

In 1998 I wrote a column in Information Today, "If I Were Amazon's Jeff Bezos." You can read the entire article for free on the FindAricles.com site (just type this URL, no "http:llwww" needed, then enter +jacso +bezos). Let me quote just a few sentences from that piece.

Libraries are desperately looking for better systems than they have now, not only in terms of functionality and reliability, but also in terms of Look and feel.... If I were Jeff Bezos, I would approach ... public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries to offer them customized versions of the Amazon software at a significantly lower price than they pay now for their mostly ailing and incapable mainframe OPACs.... If I were Jeff Bezos, my company would convert your OPAC from the proprietary formats of the major library automation software systems for free. …

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