What's In Store for the Library Automation Industry in 2012?

By Marshall Breeding |

This article appears in the January 2012 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter. To read more from Marshall Breeding on mobile library technology and other facets of the library automation industry, you can purchase this issue or subscribe to Smart Libraries Newsletter at our metapress site.

As we enter a new year, I’d like to pause and consider some of the trends and events that I anticipate playing out in 2012.  The predictions I made for 2011 largely held (see Smart Libraries Newsletter, February 2011).  Given the momentum of developments and the issues currently in play, 2012 may turn out to be a very interesting year in the realm of library technologies.

The year will mark the beginning of a new cycle of transitions in automation platforms that will run to completion over the next decade.   2012 will be a watershed year in the roll out of a new generation of library automation platforms, especially in the academic library arena.  Several major new automation systems will see their debut, including Ex Libris’ Alma, Sierra from Innovative Interfaces, and Serials Solutions’ Web-scale Management Solution

2012 should be a big year for Ex Libris’ Alma.  In 2011, libraries that were engaged with Ex Libris as development partners received a series of incremental releases of the software, leading up to a final version, which is expected at the year’s end.  With general release anticipated in early 2012, implementation by the libraries already signed on as early adopters should begin. 

Innovative Interfaces planned beta versions of Sierra by the end of 2011.  While it’s not clear when the software will be ready for production use, Innovative has announced a significant number of libraries that have committed to migrate to Sierra as early adopters.

While some libraries implemented OCLC’s WorldShare Management System in 2011, we can anticipate a new surge of adoption of this new platform following OCLC’s recent rebranding of the product and as libraries gain confidence in the product following the experiences of the pioneering institutions. 

In the open source realm, the Kuali OLE project should continue to roll out new preliminary releases, though it’s not likely that the development partner libraries will transition to full production from their legacy ILS products this year.  We can expect continued adoption of both Koha and Evergreen.  A number of consortia that have been in the planning stages of implementation for the last year or so will likely come into production in 2012.  Koha will continue to see new implementations by libraries in all parts of the globe. 

Despite interest in open source automation products, proprietary solutions should do reasonably well, especially among larger libraries with more complex needs. 

On the mergers and acquisitions front we can expect some activity in 2012.  As I predicted for 2011, we saw some changes in ownership among the library automation vendors: SydneyPLUS acquired Inmagic (Oct 2011); in the RFID and self-service a new giant emerged with the acquisition of Bibliotheca AG, Bibliotheca ITG, and Intellident by One Equity Partners (May 2011); OCLC made business acquisitions of BOND (Apr 2011); and Talis sold its library-specific automation business to Capita Group (Mar 4).  I expect additional companies to change ownership in 2012.  Some transitions may result in additional consolidation; others may simply involve existing investors taking an opportunity to exit and hand off companies out of their portfolios to new owners.  As was the case last year, I anticipate no business failures in 2012.  Despite a harsh economy, library automation vendors have strong resilience and dependable cash flow through annualized support and hosting fees. 

It seems reasonable to expect a resolution of the lawsuit between SkyRiver and OCLC in 2012.  The case has sat mostly inactive since April 2011, pending a judicial ruling.  I have no insight whatsoever regarding what party—if either—might prevail as a result of the suit.  But resolution should bring some clarity and settle some of the uncertainty that has been looming around this issue, with at least a low-level stifling effect on this corner of the industry.

Mobile technology will continue to attract strong interest, but it will not necessarily drive significant innovation.  Despite the ever-increasing use of mobile devices to access library services, strategic library-oriented mobile products continue to develop and see implementation at a relatively slow pace.  While I do anticipate some progress in bringing better support for mobile devices to library services, I worry that progress will lag behind that of the non-library world. 

I anticipate some experimental use of Near Field Communications (NFC), especially in the area of patron self-service, though not necessarily new production-level implementations.  While QR codes continue to spark interest, I do not anticipate that they will enter the mainstream of library automation in any way that will challenge existing identification technologies such as barcodes or RFID tags.  I do anticipate steady movement in the implementation of RFID-based technologies in libraries, though not necessarily any new breakthrough products. 

Cloud computing will see continued growth, with a high proportion of new library automation projects deployed through software as a service rather than on servers housed in the library.  In addition to libraries that implement the new-generation products intrinsically designed for implementation as cloud-based services, many libraries running traditional products will contract for hosting services from the vendor.  The library automation economy will continue to evolve away being from one driven by up-front license fees and will become one based more on annual subscriptions. 

New technologies, products, or business models related to library involvement with e-books will emerge in 2012.  We’re at a critical point in the realm of library e-book lending.  Last year, some of the major developments in the library e-book realm included the announcement of the 3M Cloud Library and the launch of Library Renewal (libraryrenewal.org) as a new non-profit initiative to explore issues related to e-books and electronic content.  As this issue continues to build to critical importance, especially for public libraries, I anticipate some new approaches by new and existing players.