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Cool Tech Tools for Libraries
Posted On March 1, 2004
While thinking about topics for this article, I was struck by how frequently I'm drawn to discussing search engine developments, enterprise content management solutions, and visualization interfaces—kind of techie stuff. What about some good, solid news about libraries, I thought? So, in reviewing the news and developments over the last few weeks, I was pleased to find a couple of interesting announcements of products that offer libraries real help in doing their jobs better. And, guess what? The products are the result of some neat technological advances—they're cool techie tools.

I've been following news about applications for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for more than a dozen years. The April 1992 cover story of Database magazine (which I edited at the time) was an introduction to GIS and detailed the linking of maps and databases for business applications. Now, a small, privately owned company in Pasadena, Calif., called CIVIC Technologies ( is helping libraries use a specialized GIS tool to help deliver more effective public services.

Marc Futterman, president and CEO, is an architect who used GIS in city planning and realized the potential for libraries to take advantage of similar tools. In 1999, he co-founded CIVIC Technologies, which offered a customized GIS application designed specifically to help librarians understand and use their data for planning and decision-making purposes. The company uses GIS technology developed by its business partner, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI), a well-known GIS developer. Last year, LibraryDecision was introduced as a Web service. Since then, a variety of public libraries throughout the U.S. have selected it to better match library services to user needs, reallocate resources, revise service area boundaries, and plan for new facilities.

LibraryDecision helps librarians analyze, visualize, and interpret demographic data (census and local geographic data) in combination with information from their ILS on patron usage, collections, circulation, and facilities. Combining these and other diverse sources gives librarians a clear picture of their community and provides insights into the patterns of library usage and service demand. Current customers of LibraryDecision are incorporating ILS information from Dynix, TLC, and Innovative systems.

According to Futterman: "We designed LibraryDecision to be useful to a diverse range of public libraries and each of our customer's conditions are [sic] unique: size, location, and population. What they have in common is the need for a robust, but affordable, GIS tool set that will enable them to intelligently plan for and manage the delivery of more effective public services."

LibraryDecision has a tiered pricing model, depending on the number and type of libraries. A small, single-library jurisdiction can expect to pay under $1,000, while the cost for the largest multisite library might be $15,000. Futterman said the company would be announcing partnerships with some of the ILS vendors and was looking at future joint-product development with ESRI.

I hear from a colleague that there are two other GIS applications for libraries: GeoLib (, an IMLS grant program at Florida State University, and CybraryView ( I haven't checked them out yet, but you might want to if you need planning assistance.

One company that is well-known in library circles is Sirsi Corp., which is celebrating 25 years in business. The company just announced several innovative products that build upon its Sirsi Rooms technology, which provides content in the context of "virtual rooms." The new Sirsi Digital Community Center Kiosk is an ATM-like device with a touch screen monitor that makes it possible for libraries to deliver information, resources, and services to people and places that might otherwise not have access to the physical library.

Fred E. Goodman, president of Public Information Kiosk, Inc. (, Sirsi's partner for the kiosk device, stated: "The kiosks are the first units designed to deliver community information, resources, and services in an unattended environment, providing users with self-service options 24 hours per day. The kiosks are easily installed in shopping malls, government office buildings, senior citizen complexes, hospitals, transportation centers, and other high-traffic locations where citizens live, learn, work, and seek information."

The kiosk device plus the virtual room construct gives libraries a chance to make a real difference in public places in their communities, delivering valuable content and resources geared to specific needs. It greatly expands a library's service capabilities and extends its reach and visibility.

Sirsi also introduced the Sirsi Digital Heritage Room, powered by Sirsi Hyperion Digital Media Archive and Sirsi Rooms technologies. The new Web-hosted solution provides libraries with an easy and cost-effective way to preserve images, documents, and more. It is especially designed for libraries that may not have the resources for scanning collections, data loading, or administering a server with digital content. Sirsi will scan and bulk-load the images and associated metadata, which is fully searchable. As an optional feature, the textual material in the collection—newspapers, documents, journals—can be indexed and searched using full-text search capabilities licensed from Convera Corp. The product is scheduled to be available in the spring of 2004.

Cool technology that helps libraries provide better library services. I like it.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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