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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Library Systems 2017

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 7, 2017

Nearly every public library in the U.S. operates on a library system of some type.  The computer system upon which it operates is essential to providing services to their public.


Library systems that operate public libraries have experienced enormous consolidations and mergers since they were introduced in the 1980s as computers became common tools in libraries.


The reason is that expansion of the library marketplace has not taken place, only upgrades with technology.


Looking at Ohio, since 1947 only three new public libraries have been formed --- Upper Arlington and Mason, and one other private library that closed and reopened as a public library.


Otherwise, any “new” libraries are branches of existing systems and the entire system always operates on the same computer system.


So, all those early library systems companies continue to work with the same basic customers that existed when they were formed.


Marshall Breeding of the Library Technology Guide has released his report for 2017, providing the status of library technology systems in the world.


Companies have been merging by acquiring their direct competitors in what he calls “horizontal consolidation.”


“Vertical consolidation” takes place when these companies merge with other companies with diverse products and business strategies that can be outside the library world.


The whole marketplace for libraries is moving toward integrated library systems that provide platforms for the procurement of library resources whether they are paperbound books, eBooks, and digital downloads, or online databases.


In our own library system, our busiest branch library is actually online with users from everywhere.


Public libraries today need a system that integrates all information sources into one network --- something that sounds easier than its reality.


Our library system is part of the 92-library SEO Serving Every Ohioan Network; and we proudly note that we were one of the first four libraries in the network in 1988.


Today, it operates on a network platform provided by SirsiDynix Corp., the largest vendor in the world for libraries with over 4,600 installations. 


It is a merger of a merger and so on, and gains market share by upgrading technology.


This year our SirsiDynix system is upgrading to the BLUECloud suite of applications, and I am told I will love it, and I probably would if I understood it.


Innovative Interfaces is the other large company serving the library world with its Polaris and Sierra platforms, and both serve an array of public, academic, and school libraries.


About 15 years ago, the new player in library automation systems was Open Source, which is software created by individual customers and shared with systems and networks.


It is popular in specific areas of our country, but only slightly used in Ohio where the big systems in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati connect with SEO to serve a majority of Ohio’s public libraries.


With Ohio’s history and background of shared resources and systems, this is an expected result in our state.


From the standpoint of a library administrator, I am concerned that the decisions made today will result in good library services in the future.


Libraries appear to me moving to one information source in a computer network that allows the public to find information regardless of its format.