Few things can be more frustrating to library patrons—or staff, for that matter—than a self-check system that’s ill-suited for its setting. But when such a system runs smoothly, it increases efficiency, protects materials, promotes library programming, and instills confidence in patrons, which translates into increased circulation and a staff with more time to focus on things like programs and services.
This first edition of Library Systems Landscape, the successor to LJ’s annual Automation Marketplace feature, will examine how library systems are currently evolving, specifically focusing on recent advances in ebook integration, the emergence of next-generation library services platforms (LSP), new tools that are expanding the boundaries of what library websites and catalogs can do, and the maturation of open source options as competitors to commercial products.
Led by Koha and Evergreen, open source ILS solutions continued to demonstrate steady growth in 2013. These systems appeal to libraries for a variety of reasons. Unlike commercial ILS products, open source code can be accessed and altered by anyone with the expertise, enabling libraries to conduct or outsource priority development work on their own schedule, rather than wait for their requests to wend their way through a vendor’s queue.
Profiles of library systems vendors including Auto-Graphics Inc, Axiell Group, BiblioCommons, Biblionix, ByWater Solutions, EBSCO Information Services, Equinox Software, Ex Libris Group, Follett Software Company, Innovative Interfaces Inc., LibLime, The Library Corporation, Mandarin Library Automation, OCLC, Polaris Library Systems, ProQuest, SirsiDynix, and VTLS Inc.
Librarians continue to cite the lack of access to ebook best sellers and other “in-demand” titles as the number one problem preventing patrons from checking out more ebooks, but usability issues are a close second, according to “Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries 2013,” a survey of 553 public libraries conducted by LJ and sponsored by Freading.
Finding and downloading ebooks from libraries can still be “complicated and cumbersome, involving many steps that do not always work,” but several key vendors have taken steps to streamline and simplify ebook access in recent months, according to the long-anticipated “ReadersFirst Guide to Library Ebook Vendors,” which was released in January.
Ebook distribution to libraries took another leap forward on October 17 when Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, 3M, and RBDigital (Recorded Books) told their customers that Macmillan’s entire ebook backlist, 11,000 titles from lead imprints St. Martin’s, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Henry Holt, Macmillan Children’s, and Tor, would now be available to their patrons.
Regularly ranked as the busiest or the second busiest library in the United States, the King County Library System (KCLS) in Washington annually processes 22 million checkouts and records more than 84 million visits to its catalog. It’s enough to strain any integrated library system (ILS), and a few years ago, IT services director Jed Moffitt decided that, owing to this volume and the need to add proprietary features to its system, there simply wasn’t a commercial ILS on the market that could meet the library’s unique requirements. He famously coauthored an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant of $1 million that enabled KCLS to experiment with, and then migrate to, the open source Evergreen ILS while developing a peer-to-peer support model to help other libraries and consortia that were interested in doing the same. Moffitt admits that there have been growing pains during the past three years. But he still maintains that commercial ILS vendors simply aren’t organized to do the type of development work that KCLS needs.
Three years ago, I wrote in LJ that “libraries are so valuable that they attract voracious new competition with every technological advance.” At the time, I was thinking about Google, Apple, Amazon, and Wikipedia as the gluttonous innovators aiming to be hired for the jobs that libraries had been doing. I imagined Facebook and Twitter to be the sort of competitors most likely to be attracted by the flame of library value. But it’s the new guys that surprise you. To review the last three years of change in the library world, I’d like to focus on some of the start-ups that have newly occupied digital niches in the reading ecosystem. It’s these competitors that libraries will need to understand and integrate with to remain relevant.