Vendors Showcase Their Wares in Anaheim
Innovative practical technologies kept the exhibit hall buzzing
Posted Mon, 07/16/2012 - 15:39
Bird’s-eye view of the 2012 ALA Annual Conference exhibit hall in Anaheim. Photo by Curtis Compton
Interested buyers found tech products that press beyond established boundaries as well as those that enable bread-and-butter library activities in the Anaheim Convention Center during the 2012 ALA Annual Conference. Products ranged from discovery services that aim to deliver access to the universe of library collections to new library management systems bringing together print, electronic, and digital resources and ebook-delivery products for those in search of innovative, pragmatic solutions. Integration was a common theme: Business partnerships and technical APIs enabled products and services to blend into seamless patron interfaces. But with budgets tighter than ever, any tech product that saves libraries time and money deserves attention.
A small team from Google came to talk about bringing the company’s “indoor maps” project to libraries. The Google Maps application has recently added the capability to show not only building locations but also the floor plans of selected structures, allowing users to navigate within via Android-based smartphones. To do this, Google staff members collect a building’s data onsite—an endeavor that can include scanning or creating a floor plan graphic and taking data readings of wireless access points to supplement standard GPS triangulation, which enables more precise internal navigation. Google has previously worked with several museums, airports, shopping malls, and other large buildings and now offers this feature for libraries. To opt into indoor maps, library representatives would schedule a date for on-site data collection and provide floor plans that can be digitized. In exchange, a participating library would receive access to online tools that can either update or disable the service. The Google Maps app appears to be a positive development in library visibility with no major red flags in terms of privacy concerns.
A few weeks before Annual, the many libraries relying on Meebo, an online instant-messaging utility, to power their instant reference services began scrambling for a replacement after learning that Google had acquired it and was discontinuing it as a standalone service. Several companies are stepping in to fill the void. Credo Reference, through a partnership with Mosio, offers a two-way messaging widget as part of its Literati reference-title-blending platform, a user-oriented search and presentation platform, multimedia learning tools, and other services. The widget from Mosio will enable real-time information support services to library patrons. ChiliFresh, whose offerings include the full-fledged social network Connections, which integrates into library catalogs so patrons can share reviews, recently added a free reference desk chat utility with capabilities similar to Meebo.
Blekko demonstrated its spam-free search service, which not only avoids most web-based scams and malware but utilizes slashtags to search by date, type of site, and other handy shortcuts. Although a user-facing service, Blekko emphasized its alignment with libraries through its focus on high-quality content, which it organizes through curated topics. The firm encourages libraries to embed the Blekko search box on their websites.
Lynda.com demonstrated its library of software-learning videos designed to accommodate diverse learning styles. Courses are divided into small chunks of material so subscribers can learn a specific task at hand. Most topics relate to technology or specific software packages (for Macs, PCs, tablets, and smartphones), but Lynda also covers broader topics such as photography and business. Subscription options include monthly and annual rates, as well as multiuser programs for business, education, or government. LyndaCampus provides campuswide access to all materials based on IP authentication.
Electronics for Imaging demonstrated its latest self-service copy and print stations, whose capabilities include allowing library patrons to print content stored on USB drives, cloud storage services, mobile devices, and elsewhere, and to pay printing fees with a charge card. Scannx displayed its latest Book ScanCenter kiosks, which enables patrons to scan materials for delivery to their email account or save it to a USB drive, Google Docs account, smartphone, tablet, or network folder, or to route scanned materials to a printer. For staff use, Scannx has recently entered a partnership with OCLC for direct fulfillment of interlibrary loan requests through OCLC’s Article Delivery document delivery site.
One of the biggest announcements on the exhibit floor was that Bibliotheca has entered the ebook arena. The consolidated company—comprising the Scandinavian Bibliotheca RFID, UK-based Intellident, and ITG from the United States—showed off its new Bibliotheca branding and demonstrated its self-service and other RFID-based products. Its new ebook division will model what Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries has pioneered, which centers on library ownership of ebook titles and cooperative buying to negotiate lower pricing. Two DCL staff members joined Bibliotheca for the exhibit-hall launch of the new division, for which product details have not been finalized.
The 3M Cloud Library has seen substantial progress since its launch at last year’s ALA Annual. In addition to showcasing its growing collection of titles, 3M demonstrated its in-library discovery terminals and lendable e-readers and computers and mobile-devices apps, with which patrons can borrow and read ebooks—already in use in nearby Glendale and Pasadena (Calif.) Public Libraries and elsewhere. The company also emphasized a pilot project just launched with New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries using the 3M Cloud Library to offer titles from Penguin Group, subject to significant restrictions such as a six-month embargo on libraries licensing new titles and a one-year term of access.
OverDrive displayed some of its latest developments to its ebook-lending platform. Currently a dominant provider of ebooks in public libraries, the firm is looking to expand its presence in K–12 schools. Already supporting ebook lending across all major tablets and e-reading devices, OverDrive previewed its browser-based reading platform, which is based on technology it recently acquired from the Australian firm Booki.sh. OverDrive also demonstrated its audiobook streaming service, which offers instant listening without the usual wait time associated with downloaded audiobooks, and its reworked Content Reserve, due for release later this year, which offers improved tools for collection selection and analysis. Additionally, the firm reported that a long-anticipated API to integrate its services through other user interfaces would become available this summer.
Over at the ProQuest booth, ebrary featured the flexible options it provides to help libraries incorporate ebooks into their collections. Ebrary offers diverse models for patron access to ebooks, including library subscriptions to predefined collections, demand-driven acquisitions in which the level of patron use triggers a library to purchase additional copies, short-term loans with transaction fees, and titles purchased outright and held in the library’s perpetual archive. Ebrary announced a new Extended Access plan under which titles bought under single-user licenses can be dynamically converted to multiuse or short-term loan licenses when they are in high demand, thus eliminating patron turnaway.
A new vendor working to expand options for ebooks, unglue.it, uses a crowdfunding model to make titles freely available by scanning them into an ebook format. The basic model is to facilitate fundraising campaigns to “unglue” a book and release it into the public domain after the target amount set by the copyright holder is met. Interested readers pledge toward the ungluing of a given title but don’t pay unless—or until—the goal is reached. Oral Literature in Africa, by Ruth H. Finnegan, was the start-up’s first unglued title, with the goal reached just before Annual.
In the “big-iron” technology section of the exhibit hall, companies were keen to show the latest in their discovery services and new-generation library management systems, as well as their ongoing advancements in integrated library systems.
EBSCO, in addition to highlighting the mainstay of content it offers on its flagship EBSCOhost platform, came to the conference with news about a handful of new partnerships that potentially expand the penetration of EBSCO Discovery Service. An API now enables the search capabilities and features of EDS to be integrated into the interfaces of other products. New partners include SirsiDynix, which will integrate the EDS into eResource Central to provide access to article-level content in addition to the ebook integration already in place. OCLC will enable EDS to serve as an optional patron interface for libraries implementing WorldShare Management Services. EBSCO also extended an existing agreement with Innovative Interfaces to provide EDS content through the latter’s Encore discovery platform.
Ex Libris demonstrated Primo Version 4, which sports new features such as the company’s ScholarRank technology for calculating the relevancy of search results according to factors related to scholarly value and the interest of the searcher, social sharing of items, saving of result pages, and improved manageability for consortia. Libraries recently purchasing Primo, such as the University of Hawaii system, have pushed the user base past 1,000 sites. Ex Libris also featured its new Alma platform after almost three years of design and development, with development partners positioned to place the software in production use.
Marking its third anniversary, the Summon discovery service from Serials Solutions continues to see ongoing development, both in terms of the resources indexed and in its features, such as the new catalog record display, to deliver complete user account functionality and improved support for deployment in consortia. Though still in early stages of development, Serials Solutions also promoted Intota, its new library services platform, and demonstrated pieces of its functionality. The company has engaged six libraries as development partners.
In addition to showing off its new Sierra library services platform and Encore discovery product, Innovative Interfaces previewed Decision Center, a product that helps libraries select collection materials based on automatically generated recommendations and performance metrics. Twenty libraries have signed on as early adopters.
OCLC highlighted the latest developments on its WorldCat Local discovery service and WorldShare Management Services, both globally cooperative technology platforms. More than 200 libraries have now committed to WorldShare Management Services, of which about 40 have gone live with the new service. OCLC also emphasized its activities in the linked data arena, including the extension of WorldCat.org with schema.org descriptive markup and the release of the Virtual International Authority File and Dewey Decimal Classification as linked data. Linked data expert Richard Wallis recently joined OCLC as its technology evangelist.
On the content front, dozens of vendors, large and small, provided libraries opportunities to learn about hundreds of databases and other content products. Notable new offerings include the Nineteenth Century Collection Online from Gale that makes available a massive amount of primary source material even as it debuts a new technology platform that offers features for scholars. The platform includes textual analysis tools, user-generated tags and annotations, and integration with Zotero for citation management.
Gale also announced its agreement with National Geographic to develop an online archive containing more than a century’s worth of content, which the two intend to deliver through a rich interface with powerful search capabilities.
The 411 on exhibits ROI
The products and services mentioned represent only a small sample of what was available in the hall, which was packed with opportunities for attendees to investigate new wares that might benefit their libraries or to touch base with their existing vendors to learn about recent developments and future strategies. The investments that libraries make every year in technology and content products and services make it worthwhile to devote an hour or so to visit the ALA exhibits in order to become a smarter buyer and help strengthen the engagement between libraries and their current and potential vendor partners.
Hot topics such as ebook lending, the need for more comprehensive tools to manage collections, and linked data sparked some of the innovations in the exhibit hall. The booths were also replete with well-established but ever-evolving products that libraries need to maintain efficiency in daily operations and responsiveness to patrons’ needs.
MARSHALL BREEDING is an independent consultant, researcher, and author.