The exhibit hall at the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas provided both a respite from the weather and a chance to learn about the latest developments in library technology. As the world’s largest exhibition of library products, the ALA Annual Conference continues to be a unique opportunity to assess current technologies from an almost comprehensive representation of library vendors.
A somewhat smaller exhibit floor this year illustrates the fewer number of vendors that registered compared with last year in Chicago (5,607 vs. 6,125). But the numbers were still ahead of the 2012 Annual Conference in Anaheim, California (5,124). Exhibitors mentioned that the traffic in the hall was busier than usual, with many attendees opting to stay close to the convention center during the day and venture out in the evening for networking at receptions, restaurants, and other venues.
The diverse array of products at the conference reflects the reality that libraries face today: managing collections that comprise all media and formats. New platforms and evolving systems help libraries manage higher proportions of electronic and digital materials, even as they maintain their print collections. The stakes are especially high with discovery services that function as the primary portal and provide key touchpoints with library users. Developments in discovery products are expanding the universe of available content, providing more sophisticated search capabilities, and—above all—making it easier for patrons to find things and increasing their engagement with the library.
The strong presence of suppliers of self-service stations, book sorters, and other automated materials-handling equipment on the show floor demonstrates that libraries continue to manage extremely high volumes of print materials. The proliferation of digital scanning equipment on display supports the efforts of libraries to create digital collections.
The ongoing rounds of mergers and acquisitions have taken its toll on the numbers of booths in the exhibit hall. The acquisitions of Polaris and VTLS by Innovative Interfaces stood out as one of the top news events surrounding the conference. Current and prospective Polaris customers were keen to visit Innovative’s booth to learn more about the implications of the acquisition on the Polaris product line, which Innovative insists will remain intact. VTLS came into Innovative’s fold on May 30, so shortly before the conference that its booth arrangements had already been set, though the shift in corporate branding was apparent.
Innovative representatives showed off the latest versions of Sierra (the company’s new library services platform that is racking up new implementations at a vigorous pace), Encore Duet (a discovery interface integrated with EBSCO Discovery Service for article-level search), and the Polaris ILS, as well as many other products and services. Along with its expanded European operations headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, and a support and development center in India, these strategic acquisitions represent a major development for the 36-year-old company.
SirsiDynix, another library automation giant, announced BLUEcloud Campus for academic and school libraries. This new offering builds on the web-based BLUEcloud components—deployed through a multi-tenant software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform—that have been the company’s recent focus of development, integrating electronic resource management components provided by EBSCO Information Services. While SirsiDynix has seen a resurgence with public libraries, evidenced by the recent purchases by the Chicago-area SWAN consortium and the Chemeketa Cooperative Regional Library Service in Salem, Oregon, the company is developing BLUEcloud Campus to strengthen its position in other sectors.
Also on display at the conference, eResource Central provides capabilities for the management and delivery of e-content. SirsiDynix’s acquisition of EOS International in 2013 translates into yet one less booth at the conference, but the special libraries–oriented EOS.Web is now on display through SirsiDynix.
As a company specializing in technology for academic and research libraries, Ex Libris is now promoting its new library services platform, Alma, full bore, with its initial development complete and many deployments now live in many regions of the globe. The implementation of Alma underway at the Orbis Cascade Alliance consortium in Eugene, Oregon, continues to generate attention as a precedent-setting model of shared infrastructure among a diverse set of academic libraries. Ex Libris continues to showcase Primo as its strategic discovery service, providing article-level access through the Primo Central index. One of the newer developments announced at the conference was a collaboration with YBP Library Services to streamline processing of acquisitions performed on the GOBI3 platform with workflows in Alma.
The Library Corporation (TLC) demonstrated the latest versions of both families of its automation products, Library.Solution and CARL.X. The LS2 PAC interface has been recently redesigned to provide a more elegant experience for library patrons, with a responsive design that accommodates smartphones as well as tablets and full-sized computer monitors.
The company continues to develop and support CARL.X for the largest tier of municipal libraries. Its selection by the Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma City reflects its ongoing viability in the marketplace. The biggest news at TLC related to its announcement of CARL.Connect, a new-generation product based on CARL.X that provides new web-based interfaces for all the staff functions of the CARL suite of products. It will ultimately replace the current set of Windows-based clients. The company also announced its second generation of APIs for the CARL platform.
ProQuest announced at the conference the foundation release of Intota, a new cloud-based platform designed to provide discovery and management of all types of library resources. This initial release includes the capability to manage e-resources, including support for demand-driven acquisitions; a new knowledgebase of metadata describing the universe of electronic, print, and digital resources; and collection analysis and assessment tools, integrated with the Summon discovery service. It does not yet include the functionality to manage print resources, currently expected in 2015, that will allow a full transition from a library’s legacy ILS.
ProQuest also introduced a new version of its 360 Link, sporting an improved approach to connecting users to full text through a feature it calls “Index-Enhanced Direct Linking.” The company also previewed its new ebook reader initially deployed for ebrary, and its intent to create a single ebook platform that consolidates ebrary and Ebook Library. In addition, Serials Solutions has now been fully integrated with ProQuest, though its ownership status has been longstanding.
EBSCO Information Services, like ProQuest, has become heavily involved in the technology realm in addition to its flagship content products. News related to its EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) included the release of a new Hosted Curriculum Builder plug-in to create and manage course reading lists in a learning management system based on resources available through EDS. Leveraging its recent acquisition of Plum Analytics, the company announced that PlumX has been extended with the capability to include usage statistics from its own databases and those available through EDS.
Following the release of a new practice recommended by the National Information Standards Organization, Open Discovery Initiative: Promoting Transparency in Discovery, the day prior to the opening of the conference, EBSCO issued a statement asserting its support.
The Follett island in the exhibits space reflected the recent internal consolidation of the company, with a more unified structure for its products and services oriented toward preK–12 districts, schools, classrooms, and libraries. A unified business, Follett School Solutions now offers print and electronic textbooks, ebooks, the Titlewave procurement platform, Destiny Asset Manager (device inventory), Classroom Connections (digital instructional tools), and the Aspen student information system. On the library front most relevant to this conference, Follett has recently enhanced its Destiny Library Manager, used in more than 55,000 schools in the United States, to include a Universal Search feature that provides discovery of collections of print materials as well as digital resources available to students and teachers from a wide variety of vendors.
As always, OCLC had a massive presence at the conference, both in the exhibit hall and through its many sponsored events. In addition to its many metadata and resource-sharing services, OCLC featured its WorldShare Management Services (WMS) and WorldCat Discovery service at its booth. Just prior to the conference, the University of Delaware became the first ARL member institution to deploy WMS in production. The new WorldCat Discovery consolidates both WorldCat Local and the FirstSearch services, and provides a new central index for more than 1.5 billion resources.
A new report developed for the OCLC membership, At a Tipping Point: Education, Learning, and Libraries, provides statistics, observations, and analysis on the habits and perceptions of information consumers regarding online learning.
Auto-Graphics, a company specializing in automation and resource-sharing products for public libraries, showed off the latest release of its VERSO 4 integrated system. The system has been redesigned to run on tablets, allowing staff to perform tasks away from the service desk and library patrons to access the online catalog remotely. Auto-Graphics has also reworked the user interface design; a new user experience module provides tools for librarians to modify results pages and create widgets that can be embedded in resources. The company also has a partnership with ChiliFresh to integrate social interactions, book reviews, and other features seamlessly using the APIs of the two respective platforms.
A first-time exhibitor, the Danish company Reindexknowledge came to introduce their fully web-based integrated library system for small libraries in the US. Around 150 libraries, primarily in Scandinavia, currently use the Reindex system, and the company is hoping to attract interest in other regions.
Companies providing services surrounding open source automation products were also well represented at the conference. Equinox Software, the dominant support vendor for the Evergreen ILS, demonstrated its new Sequoia hosting platform, designed to provide a scalable and robust hardware environment and support services for open source products including both Evergreen and Koha. Equinox also had on hand FulfILLment Version 1.0, its new interlibrary loan product.
ByWater Solutions, which specializes in hosting and support services for the open source Koha ILS, demonstrated its latest features, including an advanced cataloging module. ByWater emphasizes that it works in close partnership with its customer libraries as well as a global community of Koha developers.
LibLime, a division of Progressive Technology Federal Systems, previewed its new DLS 3.0, which consolidates the functionality of Academic Koha with digital content management. DLS 3.0 also includes a new cataloging editor, a geospatial discovery tool with support for GeoMARC, and a map interface in its discovery layer for search and retrieval of geo-tagged records.
BiblioCommons demonstrated an ever-expanding set of capabilities in both its BiblioCore discovery platform for public libraries and its BiblioCMS environment, a comprehensive virtual presence that replaces the entire library website. One of the earliest companies to provide full integration of ebook discovery and lending, BiblioCommons has completed its API-level integration to support libraries that subscribe to the ebook services from OverDrive, 3M Library Services, and Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360. It has also partnered with Zola Books to integrate its “Bookish Recommends” service that offers reading suggestions to patrons based on an algorithm that taps into a database of 500,000 titles and 1.7 billion relationship elements. BiblioCommons has also extended the capability for library staff to create recommendations and reviews.
The ebook arena is bursting with improvements by the primary lending services, full participation by developers of online catalogs and discovery services for the smooth integration of ebook discovery and lending, and tools for library staff to manage procurement and demand-driven acquisitions. The ReadersFirst initiative has clearly made an impact not only in improving the availability of ebooks from publishers for library loans, but also in improving the ease by which patrons can discover, check out, and download titles to read on their devices. Technologies related to ebooks were one of the hottest areas of interest of the conference.
3M Library Services launched its new 3M Cloud Library app that provides a completely redesigned user experience for patrons to search, browse, and check out ebook or audiobook titles. The app offers new features, such as the ability to create personalized categories for organizing content and to tag favorite genres. 3M has continued to expand the volume of content available through new publisher partnerships, resulting in a catalog of more than 300,000 titles from which libraries can select ebooks to offer to their patrons. The company also continues to improve its family of products related to self-service and security of a library’s physical collections.
OverDrive, a pioneer and the dominant provider of ebook and audiobook lending services to libraries, featured its “eBook Lending Roadmap,” which outlines its recent accomplishments and ongoing developments. The company continues to expand its content offerings and the lending models available, and it has released a series of APIs that enable the integration of its platform with library catalogs and discovery services. OverDrive announced an upcoming improvement in the way that patrons use the service through eliminating the need for activation of the Adobe account, which has notoriously added to the complexity of ebook check-outs.
A new widget, called the OverDrive Readbox, helps connect libraries to their users by offering samples of materials that can be obtained from any local library with an OverDrive subscription. Libraries can embed ebook samples in their local environments. In a move that bodes well for an even greater impact on public libraries, OverDrive has made agreements with The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Bing to embed book excerpts in articles using Readbox.
OdiloTID has developed a lending platform that allows libraries to purchase and manage their own titles in addition to integrating with those accessed through subscriptions from OverDrive, 3M Library Systems, and Axis 360. The statewide ebook pilot project eVokeColorado has adopted the company’s OdiloConsortia. Odilo also supports the ebook lending environment for the Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries. While fairly new in the United States, the company is well established in Spain and has expanded into Latin America.
Mobile apps, scanners, and RFID
A robust trend to deliver library content and services through smartphones and other mobile devices, both through products shown in many of the vendor booths and through a pavilion in the exhibit hall devoted to showcasing mobile products, was pervasive at the Las Vegas conference. The pavilion offered a schedule of presentations allowing vendors to demonstrate their mobile apps. Given that mobile access to the web exceeds that of desktop computers in many contexts, the emphasis on mobile technologies was exceptionally relevant.
A number of vendors offering digital scanning hardware and software showed an impressive assortment of products for both patron self-service and library staff involved in digitizing projects.
- Kodak Alaris demonstrated a variety of products that enable high-volume scanning and processing of digital images. At this conference, the company emphasized its new software drivers that allow Macintosh computers to use its scanning equipment, expanding beyond its longstanding support for the Windows platform.
- Digital Library Systems Group, a business unit of Image Access, demonstrated an impressive array of scanning equipment in its prominent booth. Its product line ranges from its Click and BookEdge scanners that allow patrons to copy or digitize library materials to the Bookeye scanners for high-quality library digitization projects and the WideTEK models for large-format materials.
- The Crowley Company offers both a full range of scanning equipment and services for libraries interested in outsourcing some of their digitizing projects.
- Scannx provides a variety of scanning products designed for libraries, but also offers a cloud-based platform designed to enable more user-friendly and efficient workflows for scanning. Its Book ScanCenter provides an electronic document management system with a variety of options, while Scannalytics allows libraries to improve their scanning productivity through analyzing metrics gathered during system operation.
Technologies based on RFID tags also continue to prosper, especially among busy public libraries.
- EnvisionWare demonstrated its RFID self-service and theft-detection systems based on RFID technology as well as products to help libraries manage access to public computers and printers. The company integrates with the patron databases of any of the major integrated library systems for authentication and fee management.
- D-Tech, a European firm that recently expanded into the United States, offers a variety of library self-service based on RFID and other tagging technologies. The company recently introduced holdIT, which enables patrons to securely pick up requested materials from designated drawers in a self-service kiosk, allowing unattended fulfillment of reserves.
- Bibliotheca, an international library technology firm, featured a variety of products including self-service kiosks, mobile tools for inventory, and products for the automated return of library materials.
- For libraries with high-volume circulation interested in sorting and automated materials handling, companies such as Lyngsoe Systems, mk Solutions, P.V. Supa, and Tech Logic all brought impressive products to see in action.
The many vendors who invest in the conference by participating in the exhibit hall make an important contribution, not only in their financial support, but also in lending their time to engage with current and potential customers. This year it was particularly impressive to see not only the capabilities of the products on display but the individuals staffing the booths who were able to provide a high-level overview or answer in-depth questions. As always, the exhibit hall complemented the extensive ALA conference programs to create an excellent opportunity to learn about the state of the art in library technology.
MARSHALL BREEDING is an independent consultant, researcher, and author.