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The Library Corporation Acquires CARL Corp.
Posted On July 31, 2000
July 31, 2000 — The consolidation of the library automation marketplace continues with the acquisition of CARL Corp. by The Library Corporation (TLC). In this development, TLC expands its presence from small and medium-sized libraries to the very largest libraries and library consortia. CARL Corp. will be wholly owned by TLC, though its name will continue to be used in the combined company. The marketing, sales, support, and development of CARL's products and services will continue largely unchanged from its Denver facilities.

TLC, in business for over 25 years, has enjoyed great success with its Library.Solution library automation system. Since its release in 1997 it has won over 300 contracts representing over 1,000 libraries. Library.Solution has sold well to small and medium-sized libraries of various types, including public libraries, 4-year colleges, and community colleges. Its BiblioFile product, released in 1986, was a widely used CD-ROM-based cataloging utility. Some of its other products included The Intelligent Catalog, a CD-ROM-based OPAC, and later the ITS Workstation for Windows, a graphical cataloging environment.

CARL Corp. specializes in large-scale library automation systems. The CARL system is used by some of the largest municipal libraries and academic library systems in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Public Library, the Atlanta/Fulton County Public Library, the Denver Public Library, the Chicago Public Library, the Broward County Public Library in Florida, and the multi-campus University of Maryland system. Originally developed as a mainframe-based system using large-scale Tandem computers, the CARL system has evolved into a client/server architecture. CARL offers a Web-based OPAC, as well as graphical interfaces for most of its staff modules. CARL's Kids' Catalog and Everybody's Catalog are graphical OPACs that have been very well received.

Annette Harwood-Bakthiar, TLC's chairman, CEO, and president, indicated several reasons why she believes this acquisition can be viewed as a positive change: The combined company will take advantage of some previously existing relationships between the companies, will give CARL Corp. a stable business environment, and will not reduce competition in the marketplace.

Prior to TLC's acquisition of CARL, there had been a long-standing relationship between the two companies. CARL had integrated TLC's ITS Workstation for Windows as its graphical cataloging client for the CARL system. It's apparent that there has been mutual respect for the development efforts between these companies, even before this merger.

CARL Corp. has experienced a number of business changes in its history. The company arose out of a consortia of libraries in Colorado to develop, market, and support a large-scale library automation system. In addition to this system, it developed the UnCover document delivery system, which also enjoyed considerable success.

CARL Systems was purchased by Knight Ridder in 1995. Knight Ridder eventually became the Dialog Corp., and in early 1999 the CARL and Uncover companies were sold to Ward Shaw, the original founder of CARL Corp. Last January the Uncover Company was sold to ingenta, with Ward Shaw serving on that company's board of directors. UnCover's business situation was greatly complicated by a major lawsuit dealing with copyright infringement. (For details see the October 26, 1996 NewsBreak.) The divestment of Uncover to ingenta and the acquisition of the CARL system by TLC does seem to represent a more stable business environment for the development and support of CARL's library automation systems.

The merger of two library automation companies can often be perceived as a change that might eventually reduce competition in the marketplace. Harwood-Bakthiar asserts that CARL and TLC, with their focus on different market segments, are not direct competitors. They rarely—if ever—competed head-to-head for any given contract. TLC plans to maintain both product lines, development teams, support, and marketing organizations for the foreseeable future.

TLC has been steadily increasing its role in the integrated library system arena. Although the company has a long history in library automation, it didn't have what could be called a full-fledged integrated library system until about 1997. The Library.Solution product has done very well in the mid-sized library market. The library automation vendors that sell to small libraries often don't get the attention enjoyed by the companies that deal with large libraries. By acquiring CARL, TLC expands its presence into the large-library arena.

TLC subsequently announced that it has entered into a partnership with CASPR Library Systems to license CASPR's Web-based library automation system., as an outsourced Web-based service, targets small libraries that lack the resources to locally house and manage their own integrated library system.

Through the acquisition of CARL Corp. and the partnership with CASPR, TLC is well poised to continue its steady growth and to become even more of a major player in the library automation marketplace.

Marshall Breeding is a library technology officer at Vanderbilt University and a columnist for Computers in Libraries.

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