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July 2011

The two major stories featured in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter deal with two very different niches of library technology--e-books and RFID. In one story, we’ll learn about 3M Library Systems, a business that has until very recently been rooted in products and services that help libraries deal with their physical items, and is now taking a major leap into the e-book realm. In the other story, we’ll see how some of 3M’s competitors in the RFID and self-service arena have banded together into a new organization that meets or exceeds its scale. We’ll also see how both of these moves reflect strategies that make sense in the context of trends at play in today’s library world.

When considering library technology today, we must ask why a library should make large investments in technologies that deal with the management and circulation of their physical collections. There is a clear trend toward digital content--especially with the rise of e-books--and the conventional wisdom holds that physical books are a declining media. I believe, however, that most public libraries will see the co-existence of physical and virtual materials for the foreseeable future, and that well-engaged libraries will continue to see vigorous circulation activity for many years. Given the reality that most libraries are being asked to operate with fewer and fewer financial and staff resources, any technologies that help librarians process materials more efficiently and that involve self-service will be neccesary strategic investments for a period of time that will represent at least the typical lifespan of physical library materials.

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