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The Library Automation Landscape According to Marshall Breeding

Marshall is the recognized expert on library automation software. His research and writing on the ILS scene include his column in Computers in Libraries, books and special reports, and the Library Journal Automation Marketplace, which he’s done for the last 9 years. His Library Technology Guides website ( is a treasure trove of information on products, companies, and trends. He spoke in the last slot of the day on Tue., but a room full of folks turned out to hear his take on the current automation scene.

He talked about his recent Perceptions 2009 survey of librarians’ satisfaction with their current vendors, which elicited some 2,000 responses. He noted that the people who responded are usually very happy or very unhappy – the middle doesn’t tend to respond – “so take it with a grain of salt.” One interesting finding is that companies supporting proprietary ILS products received generally higher satisfaction scores than companies involved with open source ILS. Smaller libraries tend to be more satisfied– the simpler the problem, the easier it is to provide a satisfactory problem. The larger libraries are usually “grumpy about something.” And, a small service called Apollo topped the chart in satisfaction.

Marshall’s main message was transition—libraries, users, and technologies are all in a transition stage. Libraries are experiencing a huge shift from print to electronic, with increasing emphasis on subscribed content, especially articles and databases. There’s also a strong emphasis on digitizing local collections. And, libraries are increasingly demanding enterprise integration and interoperability.

Libraries are serving groups of users who are also in transition. We have new generations of library users–millennial, self sufficient, Web 2.0 savvy, and collaborative.

Technologies are also very much in transition. Client-server is dead. We’re moving to web services, service oriented architecture, beyond Web 2.0, from local computing to cloud platforms, and with delivery to a full spectrum of devices.

In the ILS world, all of these types of products will coexist:

  • Evolutionary ILS – it has been dominant for some time and it won’t go away soon (libraries seem to prefer an evolutionary path)
  • Revolutionary ILS path – we hope for these to succeed (Ex Libris URM, Kuali OLE, OCLC WorldCat Management System)
  • Open source ILS (Koha, Evergreen, Kuali OLE – not out yet)

In the next several years there will be some pretty diverse options. There’s a huge interest in “openness” – libraries want to be able to work with their data and have their systems interoperate. What libraries hope to offer is a single point of entry to all the content and services offered by the library…but with precision, nuanced sophistication, and multiple dimensions.

Paula J. Hane
News Bureau Chief, Information Today, Inc.
Editor, NewsBreaks

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