Magazine article Computers in Libraries

New Library Collections, New Technologies: New Workflows

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

New Library Collections, New Technologies: New Workflows

Article excerpt

In the past year or so, I've been doing a lot of speaking and writing about the new wave of library automation applications. It's a topic that seems to have great interest in the library arena in many parts of the world, as I have observed during my recent travels. I have seen many libraries at the juncture where they need to develop plans relative to these new products. Do they see themselves staying with their current systems for a few more years, or will they be considering a change? In every change cycle, there are some libraries eager to be early adopters, and many more that prefer to wait a bit for the products to mature and to prove themselves. I would also suggest that libraries might look beyond the automation systems they use and the consideration of whether it's time to replace them. Perhaps it's also time to reevaluate the patterns of work that surround their automation systems and to evaluate if those systems still make sense.

We can expect an intense marketing campaign from the creators of the new products as development nears completion and a phase of early adoption begins. Whether or not libraries have planning processes in place, they need to be prepared to be flooded by information promoting these new products and their conceptual underpinnings. Libraries will need to consider a range of factors as they contemplate all the possible options. They will naturally want to identify the products most aligned with their broad strategic vision, to assess the features and functionality relative to their anticipated requirements, and to gauge at what point they will be mature and established enough relative to the organization's tolerance for risk. Today's menu of library automation options offers a wider selection than in previous times. Offerings include traditional integrated library systems, including proprietary and open source options, as well as a group of new -generation library services platforms.

Ever-Turning Cycles of Technology

I often describe library automation as moving forward through an ongoing series of cycles, consistent with the epochs defined by the broader realm of information technology. The initial cycle of library automation systems based on mainframe computing wound down when the client/server architecture became the preferred approach for business computing. We're now in a time when webbased applications deployed through software as a service have become well-established as the dominant computing paradigm. Technology products have to reinvent themselves at least every decade or so.

As libraries moved into the era of client/ server automation systems from text-based mainframe or minicomputer applications, the underlying models of automation survived intact. The essential organization of the integrated library system seen in the early mainframe systems, consisting of modules for cataloging, acquisitions, serials management, circulation, and public access catalogs, didn't change substantially as the products were redeployed through graphical interfaces tied to lower-cost servers. That transition was essential given the demise of mainframes in most organizations, deemed too expensive to maintain given the ample computing power available on the desktop computers that had been widely deployed. The client/server systems offered major advantages over the text-based predecessors in usability, replacing cryptic command sequences with more intuitive graphic interfaces.

In that previous change cycle, existing models of automation were essentially poured into new vessels of technology. When mainframe-based automation gave way to client/server systems in the mid-1990s, libraries had not yet encountered some of the transformations that have brought sweeping changes to libraries today. While some electronic content products were beginning to gain traction, largely delivered on CD-ROM applications, the emphasis on library collections remained primarily focused on print materials. …

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