Keeping tabs on the world of library automation technology can be a difficult and confusing task, so it helps to have someone like Marshall Breeding to do it for us. For nearly 2 decades he has been methodically tracking both integrated library system (ILS) companies and individual ILS products. This month he published the results of a new survey, the first where he asked librarians how satisfied they are with their current ILS products, vendors, and support services and how likely they are to explore open source products. The data he culled from nearly 1,800 respondents in 47 countries paints an interesting picture.
The full report, "Perceptions 2007: An International Survey of Library Automation," published only on Breeding’s Library Technology Guides site (www.librarytechnology.org/perceptions2007.pl), does clearly rank some products above others. But, as Breeding points out, readers need to evaluate the results "with the proverbial grain of salt. … I worry that surveys like this one draw out the negative more than the positive. A survey provides an opportunity to vent against a vendor during a problematic episode, even when the relations with that vendor have been positive over the longer term." But he calls the survey "an important exercise" to gauge opinions on the current state of automation.
The answers clearly indicated that Polaris ILS, from Polaris Library Systems, drew the highest user-satisfaction ratings for every question. Bill Schickling, president and CEO, says the company wasn’t surprised by the results, citing Polaris’ high ratings on surveys that Pamela Cibbarelli did in the past. "It has been a while since something like this has been done and it is really great to get this kind of feedback from our customers. Our focus in the company is serving our customers and I think these survey results show it is the right way to run a business," Schickling says.
Other high scorers were TLC’s Library.Solution, Innovative Interface’s Millennium, Book Systems’ Concourse, and Follett’s Circulation Plus and Winnebago Spectrum. Mid-range results came in for Follett’s Athena and for Ex Libris’ ALEPH 500 and Voyager.
On the low end were TLC’s Carl products along with SirsiDynix’s Unicorn and Horizon. The latter didn’t surprise people much, considering that the company recently disappointed many customers with its decision to phase out support for Horizon in a few years (see the NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=35701). SirsiDynix’s vice president of marketing Tom Gates acknowledges that the company has gone through many changes in the past year (it’s done a lot "to upset the apple cart"), which has been hard on customers. He understands that any change can spark uncertainty and unhappiness, and so the company looks at the survey answers this way: "It reinforces what we already knew—we’ve got to work hard to mend fences." Gates also says SirsiDynix will continue its ongoing commitment to raise customers’ levels of trust and happiness.
The report includes a useful page (www.librarytechnology.org/survey-search.pl) where readers can choose to view sets of results sorted by individual products or questions so they can do deeper analysis on their own. (You can also see results for other products that didn’t make the main results charts.) It’s also important to note that results for satisfaction with the ILS itself differ from results for satisfaction with the actual vendor and with its support services.
Open Source, Anyone?
A separate question asked about the likelihood of librarians considering open source ILSs; it was quite low in nearly all cases, indicating that the people still aren’t ready for wide adoption. Participants’ comments on this topic often cited "not having enough technical staff" as one reason they aren’t interested in pursuing open source ILSs at the moment. Breeding agreed that this might indicate a lack of awareness that, today, there are vendors you can hire to support open source systems. This data set also correlated another point: The less stable a product seems to customers (for reasons of mergers, sales, and other uncertain futures), the more likely its customers were to show interest in exploring open source.
Overall, Breeding says, the survey turned up few surprises. He calls the results "pretty consistent with the real world," adding that they "validated a lot of things that we hear anecdotally."
Reaction has been largely positive, with many bloggers citing and linking to the report. (Two blogs, Lorcan Dempsey’s at http://orweblog.oclc.org/archives/001537.html and Steve Arnold’s at http://arnoldit.com/wordpress/2008/01/14/library-automation-sirsidynix-and-brainware, related the data to discussions about economics in the ILS marketplace.) Breeding says he received a lot of good comments while at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting earlier this month. Whether "Perceptions 2007" will have any major implications for the industry is hard to predict so soon after the report’s release, but it seems as if it’s more of a snapshot of the industry rather than a catalyst for change.
Although this was not a formal, "scientifically correct" study, Breeding’s basic survey methodology seems sound, and he discloses the full details on his site. Here’s a quick summary: Emails to various library technology lists invited people to answer the nine questions online. The survey was designed to limit responses to one per library. To avoid skewing data when there were just a few responses about a product, Breeding programmed it to only add results to the tables when at least 30 people had responded. It was open between Aug. 8, 2007, and Jan. 5, 2008. He’s posted not only all results but also comments (edited to protect anonymity) that participants added to make this a well-rounded and useful instrument for seeing peers’ opinions on current ILS-related data.