The Voice of the Vendors: Futures in School Library Automation, Part 1
Fiehn, Barbara, Multimedia & Internet@Schools
SINCE I'm always interested in new and forthcoming technology to share with my university students, I was delighted to be asked to visit with school library automation vendors for this article. The four vendors I spoke with--Follett, Sagebrush, Companion Corp., and Dynix--have been gracious in making time for me and in providing information for the article. (Note that I'll be speaking with another group of automation vendors for their perspectives in Part 2 of this story.)
My introduction to school library automation came in the late 1980s. The school district I worked for was attempting to select an automation system. We looked at and tried out every system available, but we did not select a system until 1994. Systems have come a long way since the MS-DOS, green screen, text-only programs of the 1980s. Today's school library automation system is pleasing to the eye, easy to operate, and capable of data management not even thought of 20 years ago.
Representatives for the four vendors interviewed for this article agreed that the library automation market is mature. The legacy systems--the older automation programs--established the basic functions expected in an automation system. These functions have become standard in all of the new generation automation systems. So what does a mature market today mean for the school library media specialist?
According to the Digest of Educational Statistics, data collected for 1999-2000 indicates that nearly 73 percent of public school libraries have automated catalogs. A slightly higher percentage has automated circulation systems. This data supports the vendors' view that the automation market has moved from being primarily concerned with initial automation to a market of replacing obsolete systems.
Migration from stand-alone and early district systems to new centralized systems is a growing trend. Each of the interviewed companies has a centralized option for schools (see Figure 1 on page 30).
A summer 2005 upgrade to Follett's Destiny will include ease-of-use enhancements and expanded functionality for the browser-based Library Manager, Textbook Manager, and subscription services.
Sagebrush is nearing release of not only a centralized solution with Accent, but also a decentralized solution (where the individual libraries maintain control) with the option to have centralized infrastructure. This new release combines the best of the Sagebrush Spectrum and Sagebrush Athena systems. Recognizing that centralization is not for every district and site, Sagebrush is giving schools and districts more options. They are focusing on making the technology system easier to implement and maintain and on controlling hardware costs.
Acknowledging that Web functionality often provides less speed than client functionality, Companion Corp. is working on enhancing Web functionality in the Alexandria program. It is also providing the options of Web, client, or both versions of the program. As Companion makes changes to Alexandria, it is considering ease of maintenance, required technical support, and hardware upgrades in an effort to manage customer costs.
Dynix is offering the Horizon Information Portal or HIP. This application gives librarians the ability to customize the OPAC screen for each segment of their users. It would be possible to have a custom screen for each grade level, subject area, or other grouping of patrons. HIP also provides media scheduling. Horizon and HIP are accessible from any workstation--Mac, PC, Linux workstation, etc.
Dynix has partnered with Epixtech to provide application service provider (ASP) service for the Horizon automation software. ASP houses the application server and software at Epixtech, where it is managed while the owning library accesses the software via Citrix application server software. This service provider plan provides predictable budgeting for operation of the automation program and a lower upfront capital investment, and it eliminates local technology support. …