The NOTIS History Webpage 

Jerry Specht, Coordinator      Created October, 2014;   last updated Nov 10, 2015


1.      Synopsis. 1

2.      Acknowledgments. 1

3.      Chronology. 2

4.      Why was NOTIS as successful as it was?. 3

5.      Intimations of integration. 4

6.      Sample ISDO programs/documents. 4

7.      NUGM  (NOTIS Users Group Meeting) 4

8.      The marketing/changing of NOTIS for the market 5

9.      NOTIS’ Competitors. 6

10.        Was splitting NOTIS off as separate company a good idea?. 7

11.        Was the sale of NOTIS Systems, Inc., to Ameritech a good idea?. 7

12.        Was the “divestiture” of NOTIS Horizon by Ameritech a good idea?. 8

13.        Questionnaire responses from former NOTIS staff members. 8

14.        Questionnaire responses from former NUL/ISDO staff members. 8

15.        Questionnaire responses from former customers. 8

16.        Interviews. 8

17.        Bibliography. 9

18.        NOTIS Newsletters. 10

19.        In Memoriam.. 10

20.        NOTIS Trivia (Spoiler alert:  preceding sections contain answers to many questions) 11

21.        People     (when you click on a hyper-linked name, it takes you here) 11

22.        Acronyms/Glossary (hyper-linked word or phrase, takes you here) 12

23.        Endnotes   (when you click on a note “1”, “2”, etc., it takes you here) 13

24.        Comments. 13





1.   Synopsis



NOTIS (Northwestern On-line Total Integrated System) was developed at Northwestern University Library beginning in 1967, installed at other sites starting in 1979, spun-off as a separate, for-profit company in 1987, sold to Ameritech in 1991, and last used by any library in 2012. 


2.   Acknowledgments


     Thanks to …

·       Christopher Brown-Syed for writing Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the late 20th Century1, a very Geac-centric book, which reminded me that I had been meaning (for 10 years!) to do something like this for NOTIS.

·       Linda Scott Zaleski for bringing Brown-Syed’s book to my attention, for providing useful advice on the questionnaires and on the website as a whole, and for, generally, inspiring the project.

·       J.D. Divilbiss, Associate Professor Emeritus, for giving a lecture in 1980 at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science in which he spoke enthusiastically of a system which had been developed at and was being used by Northwestern University Library.  This lecture altered the course of my life.

·       Kevin Leonard and Janet Olson, Northwestern University Library Archives, for their help in finding materials and providing a very convenient scanning setup. 

·       Sarah Pritchard, Northwestern University Dean of Libraries, for agreeing to host this website, and to Stu Baker, AUL for Library Technology, for helping to implement the hosting.

·       Carl Grant, Arnold Hirshon, Marshall Breeding, and Rob McGee for their input on the 1980’s/1990’s library marketplace.

·       Alan Manifold for organizing the wonderful music at the Bum Steer Roasts , for taking the time to put the 1994 and 1996 BSR videos onto YouTube, and for being the Poet Laureate of NOTIS, not just in a figurative sense but in a very deep and real sense.

·       All of the following whose contributions can be found in the Interviews section of this site: Jim Aagaard, Velma Veneziano, Adele Combs, Kenton Andersen, Bruce Miller, Jorge Fernandez, Randy Menakes, Jane Burke(?), John Kolman, Maribeth Ward, and Stacy Kowalczyk.

·       Brian Nielsen, Gary Strawn, Lana Porter, and Tom Quarton … who gave very generously of their time in describing their work with NOTIS.

·       The former staff members and customers who responded to the questionnaires, many of whose responses show evidence of careful thought -- and a much better memory than mine!  


3.   Chronology

NOTIS was born (or at least, “conceived”) in 1967 when Velma Veneziano was appointed Library Systems Analyst and Dr. James Aagaard, NU Computer Science and Electrical Engineering professor, joined the project.  John McGowan, then Associate University Librarian (later to be University Librarian), who had been tasked with applying computer technology to the new University Library, was instrumental in these appointments.


Photo:  Jim (left), Velma (middle), John (right):




The “pre-NOTIS” history of automation at NUL (as well as the early NOTIS years) is described in Dr. Aagaard’s  “Computers and the Northwestern University Library” .   


Jan 1970   :  Real-time Circulation module, including self-check stations, implemented at NUL to coincide with the opening of the then-new University Library building

Oct  1971  :  Real-time Acquisitions/Serials/Cataloging

       1972  :  From Northwestern U. Library – History :  “A group of five prominent German librarians visiting in 1972 were dazzled by what they found:  ‘Northwestern University Library was a surprise with its extraordinary activity in the automation sector. . . . [It] has the distinction of being at the very forefront in automation among American libraries.’”

Fall   1975  :  Public LCUS (Library Circulation User System) terminal installed to display circulation status information.

May 1976  :  System officially named “NOTIS” (Northwestern Online Total Integrated System).

 Sept 1977 :  “NOTIS 3”, internal redesign of NOTIS:  VSAM for data management; CICS for online transaction processing; IBM 3277 CRT terminals (with low-cost lower-case capability).

May 1979 :  Biblioteca Nacional de Venezuela  installs NOTIS.   Jorge Fernandez/Randy Menakes interview  [6:40-15:00]  

May 1979  :   Input of authority records (from the NUL card file) begins.

May 1980  :   LUIS (Library User Information System), an OPAC, is introduced – with author/title access.

         1981  :  University of South Alabama installs NOTIS. 

xxxx 1981  :  University of Florida converts NOTIS to MVS and installs.    [Link to Florida story ]   

June 1981  :   Subject access is added to LUIS.    

Spring 1983:   Harvard installs NOTIS.   [Link to Harvard story]

July 1983   :    Attendees at 1983 NUGM:  Central State (OK), U. Cincinnati, Clemson, U.  Florida, Harvard, U of I –Chicago, South Alabama, Tulsa Public, Venezuela, Wash. U.    List of people from each institution

        1983   :  Central State (OK) develops OCLC Transfer programs – and gives them to NOTIS!

Dec 1983   :   Jane Burke starts as director of the NOTIS Office.

Mar 1985   :   New circulation system implemented at NUL (and in the distributed NOTIS software), using item records and barcode labels in place of punched cards.   Analyst: Bruce Miller .

July  1985   :  Jim and Velma receive the LITA/Gaylord award for Achievement in Library and Information Technology.

June  1986  :  MHI (Merged Headings Index) debuts at Northwestern.

Feb. 1987   : Keyword/Boolean added to distributed LUIS (via BRS software) (initially, MVS only).

Sept 1987   :  NOTIS Office split off as separate, for-profit company, “NOTIS Systems Inc.”, with Jane Burke as president; moves from library to Shand-Morahan building at 1007 Church St. in Evanston.

Fall 1988   :   New Merged Headings Indexes (MHI) added to LUIS; cross-references (based on Library of Congress Subject Headings) added.

Fall 1988   :  NOTIS software in use at more than 100 sites, a number serving multiple institutions’ libraries.

June 1989  :  MDAS (Multiple Database Access System ) online.

April 1990 :  First KEYNOTIS installation.

Oct  1991  :  Northwestern sells NOTIS to Ameritech {for $6+ million 2   ($10+ million in 2014 dollars).

Jan.  1994  :  Paul Sybrowsky named General Manager of Ameritech Library Automation Services.

May 1994  :  Ameritech “divests” itself of NOTIS Horizon;  Ameritech Library Services (ALS) formed, with Paul Sybrowsky as President.

Feb. 1995 :   Tom Quarton named ALS President.

Nov. 1996 :   Lana Porter named ALS President.

July  1998 :   Northwestern University Library ceases to use NOTIS as its integrated library system, switching to the Endeavor Voyager product.

Dec. 1999ALS sold to 21st Century Group, LLC, and Green Leaf Ridge Co., LLC, investment companies and renamed to epixtech. 

Jan.   2000 :  ~30 sites (as measured by number of contracts) still using NOTIS

         2012 : The National Library of Venezuela, the first site outside of Northwestern to use the system, becomes the last to stop using it.    



4.   Why was NOTIS as successful as it was?

NOTIS went from 1 site outside of Northwestern in 1979, to 180 (as measured by the number of contracts) in 1994.  The number of individual libraries which actually used NOTIS, as shown by this (courtesy of  with consortia disaggregated, was at least 949.  (Note:  it seems a small number of former NOTIS libraries are missing from the database….)

·       there was an extremely solid integrated core system (Cataloging/Authorities, Serials Control, Circulation, and OPAC) developed by Jim Aagaard, Velma Veneziano, and other Northwestern University Library staff from 1968 – 1986 which did what large academic research libraries needed to do

·       the system was very fast -- in part, because of the IBM mainframe computers the programs ran on and, in part, because the programs were written so efficiently

·       certain libraries were connected to universities which strongly preferred IBM hardware --  a market in which the only competitors were (the relatively weak) DOBIS/LIBIS and Biblio-Techniques systems

·       the Marketing staff were very effective at identifying the institutions which would most benefit from NOTIS and concentrating their marketing efforts on those institutions

·       the company successfully identified features customers needed and hired staff to create them; these added features were not as elegant as the core system but (measuring success by the number of customers) definitely contributed to the success of the company.

U. Florida’s (1980-1) decision process, with a detailed comparison of NOTIS to three other systems, can be seen here .


Arnold Hirshon, Assoc. Provost & Univ. Librarian, Case Western Reserve Univ., is the author of the 1986 "Automated Library Systems In ARL Libraries" article, presenting the underlying reasons for 12 ARL libraries' decisions relating to the design and implementation of automated library systems.  It includes detailed info on University of Michigan, Vanderbilt, and Rice in regard to NOTIS.

He wrote in a recent email:

There are a number of reasons why NOTIS was successful.  By the mid-1980s, there were alternative locally developed library systems (such as TRLN and VTLS) that were still in development and not well positioned to enter into the marketplace.  Second, NOTIS was prepared to take off at a time when a number of the early commercial “turnkey” integrated library systems companies imploded (e.g., DataPhase and CLSI).  There were some newer turnkey systems (e.g., III, GEAC) that were entering the marketplace that not yet complete, but were competitive, and they were the strongest competitors to NOTIS for the attention of ARL and other large libraries.  The greatest appeal for large libraries that had the resources to mount a large system on their own mainframe or minicomputers, NOTIS was customizable. This seemed of great benefit at the time, but only later would people realize that customizability came with a large maintenance cost, and so the blessing was also a curse.  Left with only two choices – turnkey or locally managed systems – NOTIS went head-to-head against the new turnkey market competition.  There are two other major factors that gave NOTIS an edge.  First, NOTIS had programs in place for libraries to locally load databases such as Medline, making it unique product.  Second, it was a proven solution that was moving from being a single institution’s local library system into a commercialized product.  Third is the importance of the intangible: the library market always liked (and to some degree still does) jump on the latest bandwagon. This not only gave the illusion of their being a “shared wisdom of the marketplace,” but at the time libraries also liked to cite the other customers as an early library example of a too-big-to-fail kind of insurance policy, i.e., if NOTIS failed then many other libraries would have to come together to shore it up since everyone would be in the same boat together.

Howard Dillon (Ohio State, Harvard, Fashion Institute of Technology) notes (in an email):  “Marketing a product designed and administered by a single institution gave more autonomy and flexibility to the system designers and the marketing team than did the less agile, cooperative undertakings of the Ohio College Library Center or the Research Libraries Group.”  

Velma in her interview expresses the same idea in a somewhat different way:  “The more money and people you throw at a project, the longer it takes.  There’s something to be said for a lean, efficient operation….” 

See also “NOTIS' Competitors ” below.



5.   Intimations of integration


In his Parents of Invention:  The Development of Library Automation Systems in the Late 20th Century3  Christopher Brown-Syed writes:  “Library consultant Rob McGee, who was himself associated with the pioneering work done in Chicago, quite rightly traces the origins of the integrated library system concept to the early issues of the Journal of Library Automation.  McGee says, ‘Charles Payne defined the original concept at Univ. of Chicago, in a proposal that received national R&D funding in 1965-66.   The first “proof of concept” systems were implemented at the University of Chicago, and the University of Toronto.’” 4     Note:  though this R&D funding occurred in 1965-66, it seems that Charles Payne was thinking of “integrated library systems” much earlier….

Stephen Salamon's " LITA's First Twenty-Five Years: A Brief History " discusses COLA (the Committee on Library Automation) and other forums and efforts as far back as 1961. 

An email from Howard Dillon (at Ohio State and Harvard University libraries in those days) describes his involvement in the formation of COLA, in 1964-5.    

Though Dr. James Aagaard and Velma Veneziano had no involvement in any such forums until after 1967, they were likewise thinking in terms of integrated systems.  Jim, in his Feb. 27, 1964, memo, “Suggestions for a Proposal:  Library Data Processing”, having been asked to evaluate an IBM library automation proposal, wrote:  “We should propose an integrated approach to all of the library’s operations, since this represents the greatest economy in data preparation.  That is, the same set of punched cards, for example, may be used for many different functions once they are punched.  However, we must propose that this integrated approach be implemented gradually.  This permits solving problems a few at a time, instead of having the entire operation suddenly collapse.”   

{Other memos from the same time, in connection with the same (IBM) proposal are “Suggestions for Operation of an Integrated Library Data Processing System”  and  “Comments on IBM proposal for Deering Library”  .}

Likewise, Velma, -- quite independently -- via her experience with the Chicago Board of Education and GE (in the mid ‘60’s) --, was learning the value of total, integrated systems.   [See the top of page 2 of her interview .]  



6.   Sample ISDO programs/documents

·       ISDO Online-program Leader format (1981)

·       ISDO Flowchart (LC404, Command processor) (198n

·       Sample ISDO Assembler program page (1982) 

·       ISDO Technical Audit (1988):  Programs grouped by type; lines of code for each type

·       Sample NUL Catalog card


7.   NUGM  (NOTIS Users Group Meeting)

      NUGM (NOTIS Users Group Meeting) was held

·       on the Northwestern campus in Evanston from 1983-8;

·       at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago from 1989-1996; and

·       at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in 1997 and 1998.

NOTIS customers and NOTIS staff presented sessions to attendees and, equally importantly, customers communicated with NOTIS staff about changes/additions to the system.

     The following shows the month in which each NUGM was held and the NOTISes issue(s) which reported on it:

Month/Year     NOTISes issue(s)

July, 1983                            [List of attendees ]

July, 1986       Sept, 1986  

July, 1987       Aug,  1987  (not available)

June, 1988      July, 1988

Sept, 1989       Oct,  1989

Oct., 1990       Jun & Jul 1990

Oct., 1991       Jun & Nov 1991

Oct., 1992       Jun & Nov 1992

Oct., 1993       Jun & Oct 1993

The annual “ Bum Steer Roast ” was held on an evening towards the end of each NUGM from 1990-7.   


8.   The marketing/changing of NOTIS for the market


As Bruce Miller suggests in his interview , in 1979, when the National Library of Venezuela asked for the NOTIS programs, Northwestern realized that they had a desirable product on their hands.  In 1980, consultants from EDUCOM recommended that the university begin to offer it as a commercial product, and Florida and Harvard expressed interest in buying the software. 

The University of Florida was the first U.S. site to sign a contract (1981), and The University of South Alabama, the first to implement the system (1982).   Harvard signed a contract in Fall, 1982, and installed the software in Spring, 1983.

Kenton Andersen, Bruce Miller, Peggy Steele, and others formed the “NOTIS Office” for the purpose of installing/supporting the software and marketing it.  It should be noted that, except for the conversion of the programs to run under MVS, there was little effort to add features to the system of interest to libraries outside of Northwestern5.  (Central State’s OCLC Interface was added to the system in 1983/4, but this did not require any development on ISDO’s part.)  That changed dramatically when the library hired Jane Burke in 1983 to market NOTIS more actively.   Jane was a master at measuring features’ importance to customers, and making sure those with the greatest importance were added.  There was a cost to the addition of these features, in terms of additional Development staff, but they resulted in the system and the company growing to the largest size possible.  It grew from 5 employees and 12 customers in 1984 to 150 employees6 and 180 customers in 1994 (946+ customers with consortia disaggregated). 7

Velma Veneziano speaks (in her 1993 NUGM speech) of the “disastrous marketing operation”.

Bruce Miller and Kenton Andersen feel that NOTIS could have had quite a bit of success even without marketing.   (“I think NOTIS’ reputation was so good that it would have sold reasonably well.”)   See interview [1:41:40 and 2:32:00].    

John Kolman suggests, “There might have been another road.  We could have still been profitable – not wildly profitable, but …”.  See interview [0:40:00]. 

But this is a complex equation.…  As suggested by Dr. Aagaard in his interview [1:23:40], the software was being sold at a very low price in the early ‘80’s.  The profits were not large.  If the price had been higher, it is likely that fewer sites would have been interested, and, the profits would still have not have been large. 

As also suggested by Dr. Aagaard in his interview [1:21:10], CLSI had a very broad base of customers.  Jane was familiar with marketing not just to ARL libraries but to all kinds of libraries … and did.

Functions/products added by NOTIS Systems, Inc….

·       GTO  (Generic Transfer and Overlay)

·       BRS Keyword/Boolean

·       MFHL (MARC Format for Holdings)

·       NOFA (NOTIS Online Fund Accounting)

·       LSER  (Serials check-in and tracking)

·       Course Reserves (NUL developed their own, different, version)

·       VITLS (Vendor Invoice Tape Load System)

·       LSYS (change of configuration parameters via GUI rather than server tables)

·       KeyNOTIS (turnkey version of NOTIS)

·       Navigator (Front-end to NOTIS Catalogs)

·       MDAS (Multiple Database Access System)

·       Infoshare (search content of outside databases, such as Agricola, Medline, etc.)

·       WinGopher (graphical Windows-based Gopher client for the Internet)

·       PACLink  (patron-initiated collection sharing; consisting of PACSearch and PACLoan)

·       QuikReports (user-submitted reports, not requiring SAS expertise)

·       WebPAC  (Web-based NOTIS OPAC)

·       AOVL/BOVL (Authorities Overlay/Bibliographic Overlay)

[Note:  The above list is still being reviewed.]


If NUL had stuck with a strictly-ISDO version of NOTIS, most of the above features/products would never have been added and the system, though more consistent, would have been installed at only, perhaps, one-quarter of the sites that it ultimately was.   And the profits would have been much smaller.  



9.   NOTIS’ Competitors

Carl Grant’s assessment of NOTIS’ three main competitors (Geac, III, and DRA):


 Strengths:  Had really good functionality.   Was tightly integrated solution of hardware/software so you truly only had one service point.  This was a real advantage over separate hardware/software vendors such as III and DRA.  Geac was part of a much larger corporation, thus there was a layer of security to dealing with them (not unlike IBM offered with NOTIS).

 Weaknesses:  They lost a lot of ground with the emergence of mini-computers and UNIX.  Also the corporate parent began undercutting some of their development to fund larger revenue generation portions of the company.  Eventually, in the competitive mix, they just lost so much ground and then their proprietary operating system and software languages really started to undercut them.


 III (Innovative Interfaces)

 Strengths:   Built a loyal following with a OCLC interface module.   Good service.  Although expensive, it was very good making it easy for librarians to like them.  They used UNIX which was huge in academic libraries and once they started delivering ILS modules, it was an easy and familiar step for librarians to upgrade to using those new modules.  They also had a VERY strong serials module with a check-in system that was much like the card systems librarians had used before automation.  This made it very easy for librarians to migrate to the technology.   Good multi-lingual support.   They specialized in this and did it well, long before the days of UNICODE.  This allowed them to build a global customer base, although they didn't always treat those customers as well as they did the North American customers.

  Weaknesses:  EXPENSIVE, even when compared to IBM/NOTIS.  While they took the attitude of "you get what you pay for", customers found it very hard to afford and often they simply couldn't.  Service was also expensive.   Each new thing you needed meant breaking out the check book.   Service remained solid however, so customers frequently paid the cost, even while grumbling.  Of course, it was also a 'black-box' approach to library automation.   Everything was behind menu's and you couldn't easily touch the innards of the system -- if you did, you'd get a lot of grief from Innovative.    This issue lasted for many years.  If you wanted something done, you were to call the service department.  



 Strengths:  Ran on Digital Equipment Corporation Minicomputers.   The company that did a lot of damage to IBM.  Originally on PDP and later of VAX machines, with rich operation systems (RSTS and VMS respectively), these operating systems were highly functional and far more user friendly than UNIX.   The DRA library software, ATLAS (A Total Library Automation System), was closely developed with Cleveland Public Library's help, so it was written for a large public library system and the functionality was powerful.   Later it had to be adapted a bit for academic libraries and it did this well, but not as well as III or NOTIS.  Still they built a large customer base in both segments.  Later they developed a really powerful keyword search capability for OPAC users, but this capability didn't get integrated into the staff modules requiring staff to move back and forth between modules.

 Weaknesses:  Customers frequently called the system "A diamond in the rough" or noted it had the "footprints of programmers all over it".  User friendly was not part of the inherent design.  Things like library branch codes were a six digit sequence (010101), which staff had to remember to use the staff modules.  The codes were only translated to English terms in the OPAC.    OPAC capabilities, including a separate keyword module were never fully integrated into the staff system (which III had done with their far more limited keyword searching) so they lost ground on this point frequently.   Also, dealing with the company President could be trying for some people.   While a technology genius, the people skills were lacking, and this sometimes alienated potential as well as current customers. 

<end Carl Grant>


Marshall Breeding  adds in a recent email:

I do think that LS/2000 was a significant competitor to NOTIS, though it also predates the commercial distribution of NOTIS by a bit.  LS/2000 was a system that OCLC acquired around 1983 from Online Computer Systems based in Germantown MD.  By the time that OCLC sold off its Local Systems Division to Ameritech in 1990, there were 126 LS/2000 systems installed. 

DOBIS was another main competitor to NOTIS.  It was built and supported by IBM and included quite a few international sites.  [js:  I would note that it was never much used in the U.S.]

Biblio-Techniques [“BLIS”] went out of business in 1987.  I think that they had only 7 or 8 systems deployed.   [js:  This was in response to my observation that BLIS was viewed by NOTIS marketing as a major competitor.  I think was due the fact that they ran on IBM hardware .   There were certain potential customers who were wedded to IBM and any ILS that ran on IBM mainframes was viewed as a threat to NOTIS getting those customers. ]

<end Marshall Breeding>


The consensus is that VTLS, operating in the smaller academic, public, non-U.S. library spheres, was not a major competitor to NOTIS -- certainly not in its primary (large academic research library) market.

NOTIS:  1990-1994  Continued but decelerating growth;  1994-on  plateauing/decrease in customers.


See also the preceding “Why was NOTIS as successful as it was ” section.


10.              Was splitting NOTIS off as separate company a good idea?

As suggested by Kenton Andersen in his interview [1:41:40] Northwestern needed to create NOTIS Systems, Inc. – which it did in Sept. 1987 -- because of the tax issue of “unrelated business income” from the NOTIS Office.

An article (by Peggy Steele) in NUL Channels, Spring, 1987, “NOTIS to be restructured,” describes NOTIS’ history and its proposed restructuring.

Velma definitely didn’t think it was a good idea.  Here’s what she had to say in her speech at the 1993 NUGM:

“So, in 1987, when it was finally decided by the University for us that NOTIS would be turned over lock, stock and barrel to NOTIS Inc., we had no choice but to gracefully (or perhaps not so gracefully on some of our parts) acquiesce and relinquish over the NOTIS we had so carefully nurtured….

“It was not easy relinquishing control.  It was particularly galling to have to agree to using the commercial version of NOTIS.  A number of us in the library felt that though the University’s gain moneywise was in some respects the Library’s loss.  Fortunately some of the most important enhancements which we had developed during the ‘80’s were accepted by NOTIS Inc. and incorporated into NOTIS.  (I’m thinking particularly about the merged headings indexes with authority control and syndetic structure they provided, or else I think there would have been an open rebellion.)

“It wasn’t until we had set up our disastrous marketing operation that we got a couple extra positions using funds allocated by the University to Marketing function.  However in many ways matters got worse.  Keep in mind that NOTIS was never developed with marketing in mind; we had always been able to decide on a reasonable time frame for what we were doing, and we often came up ahead of schedule.  And when we finished, our programs had been thoroughly tested, both for functionality and efficiency.

“Now the situation changed.  Marketing people want commitments that suit their marketing purposes.  They refuse to accept time estimates such as ‘as fast as we can’.  They are always concerned about losing a sale if delivery cannot be made almost instantaneously.  And they are often less concerned about elegance of design, efficiency of operation, and thorough testing, than getting the product out the door.”


[Click here for the full transcript of the speech.]


To noble-minded people – and Jim Aagaard and Velma Veneziano are certainly two of the most noble-minded people to ever walk the face of the Earth – the greatest satisfaction comes from the creation of a really good system which serves their clientele (Northwestern University Library – and similar ARL libraries --) really well.  But I suggest that the real measure of the value of a library system is not its elegance and efficiency, but, rather, the good it does for society, that is, how many people benefit from it – and how much benefit they (and society) derive from it.  (If a Nobel-prize-winning chemist is aided in his research, his use should carry at least somewhat more weight than that of a person checking out Valley of the Dolls for the fifteenth time.)   I would argue that, though the NOTIS development after 1987 was not of the same unusually high quality as the prior development, it was good enough and made the system attractive to certain libraries (smaller university, college, and community college libraries) which would not otherwise have purchased the software, and would not, otherwise, have benefited from it.    


11.              Was the sale of NOTIS Systems, Inc., to Ameritech a good idea?

NOTIS Systems, Inc., was sold by Northwestern to Ameritech in October, 1991.

NOTIS was becoming too big for Northwestern.  This large library company, owned by the University, didn’t quite make sense.  

Northwestern wanted to get an immediate, tangible return on their investment.  Among other things, they wanted to make the university library more “self-sufficient” -- and endowed positions in the library were created from the proceeds of the sale.  (But not all of the money went to the library.…)

Also, Jane and the other NOTIS Systems, Inc., managers felt that there was a need for more investment in NOTIS -- which Northwestern was not going to provide.   In a 1994 Against the Grain interview Jane says:  “As NOTIS got bigger, the riskier environment needed the software system to grow, and the financing and strong development was not appropriate for a University.”

Jane [in an email] says that Ameritech paid $6+ million for NOTIS ($10+ million in 2014 dollars). 



1.    For Northwestern University, which was able to solve the nagging issue of what to do with this rapidly-growing business and to use the proceeds of the sale to offset expenditures on the library, it seems that the sale to Ameritech was a good thing.  (One might argue, however, that Northwestern didn’t get enough for this Jane-Burke enterprise, considering the subsequent profits of the NOTIS-Horizon-like Voyager system….)

2.    For NOTIS Systems, Inc., its sale to Ameritech initially resulted in greater investment in the company, but, in the longer term, resulted in the quashing of NOTIS Horizon [see following section], which, given the rise of client/server, was the only hope for continued life of NOTIS Systems, Inc.  Thus, the sale to Ameritech was, for the company itself, perhaps, a short-term positive and definitely a long-term negative.

John Kolman, in his (joint) interview , says:  “The big mistake wasn’t Dynix and Ameritech and that; the big mistake was Northwestern selling NOTIS…. It took us away from the ARL roots, the collaborative development.” [1:50:20].

3.    For Ameritech, the purchase of NOTIS Systems, Inc., was not a good idea:  they spent much more on the purchase than they received in subsequent profits.  The customer base of the NOTIS IBM Assembler product declined and there were certainly never any profits from NOTIS Horizon.  (See following “divestiture” section.)


12.              Was the “divestiture” of NOTIS Horizon by Ameritech a good idea?

Marshall Breeding writes:  “For a while, Ameritech allowed its two main library automation subsidiaries to operate independently.  But this arrangement of competitive coexistence came to an end in May 1994 when NOTIS Systems, Inc. and Dynix Systems were consolidated.  From this time forward Ameritech Library Services functioned as a single entity, operated first under the guidance of Paul Sybrowsky, who was succeeded in February 1995 by Thomas Quarton.”   ( Complete article .)

The Dynix Marquis system existed and was actually being used.  In comparison, NOTIS Horizon seemed like vaporware.

Maribeth Ward in her (joint) interview argues that Ameritech didn’t have any choice:  “If you were an investor investing in your retirement, would you have put your money into NOTIS Horizon?  I wouldn’t have.  It’d be too long to wait.”  [2:08:00]  And Paul Sybrowsky was better, politically, at making his case to Ameritech than Jane was [1:42:00].

It was no doubt hard at the time to see the greater potential of NOTIS Horizon, but -- as was proven incontrovertibly by the success of the Endeavor Voyager system – a NOTIS Horizon offshoot -- that potential existed.   Ameritech’s failure to see it was a mistake -- perhaps an easy-to-understand mistake, but, nevertheless, a major mistake.       

In fact, Ameritech’s best option to avoid duplicate effort might have been to stop development of the Marquis product, with the idea that NOTIS Horizon, with a few enhancements, could have met the needs of the potential Marquis-Horizon customers -- though one might also argue that the needs of public and academic markets are different enough that two different products were called for…. 

It’s clear from the 1994 Against the Grain interview that Jane was blind-sided.  {The interview, though not published until June 1994, occurred prior to the (May 1994) “divestiture”.}  Jane says there, among other things:  "NOTIS and Dynix are not competitors.  We work together in a relationship that benefits all kinds of libraries...."

Note:  I was hoping to get input from Paul Sybrowsky (the “Dynix side of the story”), but, sadly, tragically, he died on Sept. 10, 2014, (at age 70)….  I did get some good input on the later years from Lana Porter and Tom Quarton. 


13.               Questionnaire responses from former NOTIS staff members

NOTIS Staff group photo  (circa 1986/7 -- prior to move to Church St. office)

14.               Questionnaire responses from former NUL/ISDO staff members


15.               Questionnaire responses from former customers


16.             Interviews

Note:  the views and opinions expressed in these interviews are those of the interviewees only and are not intended to represent those of Northwestern University or the website proprietor.  Complete disclaimer.

In the case of Jerry’s interviews, the links below are to maps-of/excerpts-from the interviews, which, in turn, contain links to the actual, unedited audio recordings.  The only exception is the interview of Velma and Adele, which was edited and transcribed.

[Photos of Jane, John, Maribeth, and Stacy may be found in their entries here ; and Jim and Velma at the bottom of this article.]  

·       Dr. James Aagaard

o   Jerry’s 1 hour, 45 min, audio interview,  recorded  on Aug. 23, 2014

o   Wayne McPherson’s 4-page transcribed interviewNOTISes, Nov., 1988, pp. 35-9.  Especially strong on Jim’s pre-NOTIS and early-NOTIS years.

o   Vince McCoy’s 7-page transcribed interview , Spring, 2000.  Even stronger on Jim’s pre-NOTIS and early-NOTIS years. 

o   4-minute bio/video, recorded May 9, 2011.


·       Velma Veneziano (and Adele Combs)

o   Jerry’s transcribed interview , July 18, 2014, 8 pages 

o   NUL Computing News interview of Velma , April 30, 1991 

o   Lantern's Core article: Jim discussing Velma , May, 1991


·       Kenton Andersen and Bruce Miller

o   Jerry’s 3-hour audio interview, recorded on June 11, 2014. 


·       Jane Burke

o   Jerry’s _____, audio interview,  recorded  ______ [As of Feb 12, 2015, this interview had not yet occurred.]

o   “Into the Future: A Conversation with Jane Burke ”, NOTISes, Dec.1988/Jan.1989, pp.1-6.

o   1994 interview:  Against the Grain, Volume   6 | Issue 3  Article 14, 4 pages.

o   2005 interview:  Against the Grain, Volume 17 | Issue 5  Article 16, 3 pages.


·       Jorge Fernandez and Randy Menakes:

o   Jerry’s 1.5-hour audio interview, recorded on Sept. 2, 2014. 


·       Verne Coppi and Jim Miesse:  [As of Feb 12, 2015 this interview had not yet occurred.]


·       John Kolman, Maribeth Ward, and Stacy Kowalczyk

o   Jerry’s 2.5-hour audio interview, recorded May 31, 2014. 


17.              Bibliography

This bibliography is arranged chronologically.  Mostly, it includes documents whose text is available online or which could easily be scanned.  Permission was obtained from all sources.  For a more complete picture of the NOTIS journal literature, see the 1981 bibliography (#12) below.  For a more complete picture of the library automation literature in general, see Velma Veneziano’s 1980 “Library Automation:  Data for Processing and Processing for Data” (#9) below.

1.    James Aagaard’s March, 1972, article, “An Interactive Computer-Based Circulation System:  Design and Development”.   Journal of Library Automation [vol. 5, no. 1] [Right click and “Rotate Clockwise” to view] [Used with permission of the American Library Association.]

2.    Velma Veneziano’s  June, 1972, article, “An Interactive Computer-Based Circulation System for Northwestern University:  the Library Puts It to Work”  [Used with permission of the American Library Association.] 

3.    On-line, real time circulation: a report on the Northwestern University Library System ”, Barbara Evans Markuson, Editor.  (A LARC Report.) Tempe, Ariz. : Larc Association, 1972.  52 pages. 

4.    James Aagaard’s  May, 1974, draft (unpublished) article, “An Integrated Technical Processing System for a Large Research Library ”  [Used with permission of James Aagaard.]

5.    Velma Veneziano's and James Aagaard's  "Cost Advantages of Total System Development" in the 1976 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing.   [“Used with permission of the Graduate School of Library and information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”]

6.    D. Dee Brooks’ paper on LCUS, “A Program for Self-Service Patron Interaction with an On-Line Circulation File” (1976?). 

7.    Charles Payne, Rob McGee, Helen F. Schmierer, and Howard S. Harris.  “The University of Chicago Library Data Management System”, The Library Quarterly 47, no. 1 (January, 1977): 1-22.  Stable URL: .

8.    James Aagaard's 1978 article, “NOTIS: an Integrated Computer System for a Large Research Library”, from the April, 1978, Illinois Libraries [vol. 60, no. 4] [Used with permission of the Illinois State Library.] 

9.    Velma Veneziano.  “Library Automation:  Data for Processing and Processing for Data,” in  Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, no. 15 (1980): 109-145.   [Used with permission of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.] 

10. A. Whitney Knox and Bruce Miller.  "Predicting the Number of Public Computer Terminals Needed for an On-Line Catalog: A Queuing Theory Approach", Library Research, 2:95-100 (1980-81). 

11. Ron Curtis.  "Automation Proposal for the Central State University Library" (March, 1981) and "Central State University Library Features for New Automation System" (Sept. 1981).   Timeline .

12. A 1981 bibliography of 22 (printed) NOTIS articles/documents

13.  “NU Library Enters Computer Age”, Northwestern Engineer, Spring, 1982 .

14. Press Release: “Northwestern University to Offer NOTIS to Other Libraries ”, May 1983

15. Jim Meyer's 1985 article, "NOTIS: The System and Its Features " (including Ron Curtis' "NOTIS at Central State University") (from vol. 3, issue 2, of Library Hi Tech). 

16. Jane Burke’s "Automation Planning and Implementation:  Library and Vendor Responsibilities" 1985 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing (Urbana, IL) Human Aspects of Data Processing.  Click on “FULL-TEXT” – “View” on the right-hand side.  [“Used with permission of the Graduate School of Library and information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”]

17.Arnold Hirshon's 1986 "Automated Library Systems In ARL Libraries " (link to pdf with Full Text on far right).  Detailed info on University of Michigan's, Vanderbilt's, and Rice's NOTIS decisions.

18. Karen Horny. "Fifteen Years of Automation: Evolution of Technical Services staffing" in LIBRARY RESOURCES AND TECHNICAL SERVICES, Vol. 31, No. 1 (January/March 1987) p.69-76.

19. Peggy Steele.  “NOTIS to be restructured”, Channels, Spring, 1987

20. Dr. Aagaard’s October, 1987, paper, “Computers and the Northwestern University Library”. 

21. Interview of Dr. Aagaard by Wayne McPherson.  NOTISes, Nov., 1988 , pp. 35-9.  Especially strong on Jim’s pre-NOTIS and early-NOTIS years.  

22.Into the Future:  A Conversation with Jane Burke ”, NOTISes, Dec. 1988/Jan. 1989, pp.1-6. 

23. James Aagaard and Elizabeth Furlong’s Sept, 1989, paper, “Automation of Reserve Activities at the Northwestern University Library”. 

24. Karen Horny, John McGowan and Betsy Baker.  “Northwestern University Library: Strategies for Electronic Information," in CAMPUS STRATEGIES FOR LIBRARIES AND ELECTRONIC INFORMATION, edited by Caroline Arms (EDUCOM Strategies Series on Information Technology).  Bedford, MA: Digital Press, 1989, pp.76-94.

25. Interview of Velma Veneziano by Wayne McPherson.  NUL Computing News,  April 30, 1991

26.    "Velma Veneziano", by Jim Aagaard Lantern’s Core,  May, 1991.

27. Transcript of Velma Veneziano's speech at the 1993 NOTIS Users' Group Meeting. 

28. 1994 interview of Jane Burke:  Against the Grain, Volume   6 | Issue 3  Article 14 , 4 pages.  [Used with permission of Against the Grain and Jane Burke.]

29. NOTIS Newsletters (NOTISes/Connected) (1985-1997).  See the following section.

30. Marshall Breeding's article, "epixtech: a new beginning for ALS", Information Today, January, 2000.  [Used with permission of Marshall Breeding.]

31. Marshall Breeding's article, "The sun sets on Horizon", Information Today, June, 2007. [Used with permission of Marshall Breeding.]

32. Christopher Brown-Syed’s Parents of Invention: The Development of Library Automation Systems in the late 20th Century.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio, LLC, 2011. 

33. Brief 2011/12 Wikipedia article on NOTIS

34. The NUL History webpage with many details about NOTIS.


18.              NOTIS Newsletters

NOTISes (the NOTIS newsletter) was published

·       monthly, from  April 1985 -  Oct/Nov. 1993 (issues 1-95);

·       quarterly, from 1994 -7 (part of the time under the title Connected).

Issues 1-20 and 26-95, which are held by the Northwestern University Library Archives, have been scanned and can be seen in the newsletter section .      


19.             In Memoriam


Rolf Erickson, 1940-1992.   

Memorial Note from NOTISes


John McGowan, 1926-2006.


a.     Obituary  ;

b.    NUL Archives Finding Aid ;  

c.     Note from Karen Horny 


Ron Curtis,  1940-2012. 

a.     Obituary ;   

b.    Note from Maithreyi Manoharan   

Dale Hood

 Note from Stuart Miller


Doris Warner

Note from Mary Alice Ball and Stuart Miller



20.   NOTIS Trivia (Spoiler alert:  preceding sections contain answers to many questions)

(In order of increasing difficulty …) 


[Questions mostly for former NOTIS staff]

a.     What was the name of the oft-frequented pizza restaurant, directly across Church Street from the office?

b.    What notorious costume did Jane Frye wear to a Halloween party (in the early ‘90’s)?

c.     What Southern, female NOTIS employee gave the invoice load programs the name “VITLS” (Vendor Invoice Tape Load System) and the new bib transfer program, the name “GTO”?

d.    Names of two NOTIS-staff musical groups which performed at NUL events in the 1980’s

e.     Who (in 1976) suggested “NOTIS” as the name for the system? (Neither of the usual suspects)

f.      What Minneapolis-based VSE consultant hired by NOTIS often flew his small private plane to consulting gigs in remote locations (such as, Kirksville, Missouri)?

                    [Questions for former customers and staff]

g.    What was the name of the hotel in downtown Chicago where the annual NUGM was held from 1989-1996?

h.    What was the name of the monthly newsletter published by NOTIS from 1985-1997?

i.      What two Texans met as a result of being NOTIS customers and went on to marry?

j.      What colorful nickname did Bill Divens, a University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Librarian who played guitar at NUGM, go by? 






21.  People     (when you click on a hyper-linked name, it takes you here)

·       Aagaard, James:   Northwestern University Computer Science and Electrical Engineering professor who joined the library’s automation effort in 1967, becoming the director of the Information Systems Development Office (ISDO), in which capacity he served until his retirement in 2011.   Programmer and system designer.  Responsible for almost all the NOTIS development from 1967-1977, including the system’s core programs, and for the Technical Services programs from 1977-1987.  Interviews / writings .


·       Andersen, Kenton:  Worked with ISDO/NOTIS from 1977-1984 and UMS, 1984-1988. Responsible for much of the LUIS (OPAC) programming, the tag table module, the New Circulation, and the mainframe part of GTO.  The first NOTIS Systems Engineer:  installed the software, provided technical support, did conversions.  

o   Interview


·       Burke, Jane

o   1983 - Hired by Northwestern University Library to market NOTIS. 

o   1987 - President, NOTIS Systems, Inc.

o   1995 - Founder, Endeavor Information Systems Inc.

o   2000 - Inducted into Chicago Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame

o   2005 - Head of Serials Solutions. 

o   Interviews


·       Coppi, Verne:    

o   Manager, Development, NOTIS Systems, Inc.

o   Manager, Development, Endeavor Information Systems Inc.


·       Kolman, John:  NOTIS Systems, Inc./Ameritech Library Services:

o   1986-87  Manager of Systems Engineering

o   1987-98  Vice President of Development

o   Interview  


·       Manifold, Alan:  Purdue University, Senior Administrator for Library Enterprise Applications, 1980-2006.   Team NOTIS member, 1992-4; frequent presenter at NUGM; NOTIS Poet Laureate, 1989-1999.     78 NOTIS poems/song-lyrics/stories .


·       McGowan, John:  Northwestern University Librarian from 1971-1992.  

o   Obituary  ;

o   NUL Archives Finding Aid ;   

o   Memorial note by Karen Horny          


·       Miller, Bruce 

o   1973-79  NUL Administrative Assistant  

o   1981-89  Systems Analyst; designed New Circulation and GTO

o   Interview


·       Sybrowsky, Paul:  Founder of Dynix (1983); President of Ameritech Library Services 1994-5;  Wikipedia article


·        Veneziano, Velma:   ISDO systems analyst from 1967-1991 (at which time she officially retired, but continued working for many years after).  Responsible, in particular, for NOTIS Technical Services functionality.  Interviews


·       Ward, Maribeth

o   1988-1996 Vice President, NOTIS Systems, Inc.

o   1996-1999 Director, Information Technology Ameritech Corporation

o   Interview  



22. Acronyms/Glossary (hyper-linked word or phrase, takes you here)

ALS:      Ameritech Library Services   

·       Formed in 1990-2 by Ameritech purchase of LS/2000, NOTIS, and Dynix;  

·       sold to 21st Century Group and Green Leaf Ridge Co., investment companies, and renamed to “epixtech” in 1999 ;

·       name changed to Dynix, 2002;

·       sold to Sirsi (forming Sirsi/Dynix), 2005.

ARL:       Association of Research Libraries.  A nonprofit organization of the (125) leading research libraries in the US and Canada.

Bum Steer Roast Bum Steer Roast page . A customer-organized event at the annual NOTIS Users Group Meeting; 1990-7. 

CICS:       Customer Information Control System, an IBM mainframe online transaction server.  Wikipedia article .

Dynix:       Integrated library system and library company … whose history is described here .  Ameritech merged the company with NOTIS to form Ameritech Library Services in 1994.

GTO:        Generic Transfer and Overlay.  A NOTIS utility for real-time importing of bibliographic records from OCLC, RLIN, etc.

Horizon   :   ALS client-server ILS -- differing from “NOTIS Horizon” (which see below).  After eliminating NOTIS Horizon, Ameritech renamed the (Dynix) Marquis system “Horizon”.  

InfoShare:  NOTIS front-end to local library catalog, databases, etc.

ILS:            Integrated library system, a.k.a. library management system

ISDO:        Northwestern University Library’s Information Systems Development Office, managed by Dr. James Aagaard .

KeyNOTIS: Turnkey version of NOTIS.

LC:            Library of Congress, also "LoC".

LS/2000:    OCLC local system

LUIS:        Library User Information Service (or System).  The NOTIS OPAC module.

MARC:     Machine-Readable Cataloging, MARC formats are standards for the representation and communication of bibliographic and related information in machine-readable form.

Marquis:  The Dynix client-server ILS which Ameritech decided (incorrectly), in 1994, could substitute for the NOTIS Horizon client-server ILS, which they eliminated -- at which time Marquis was renamed “Horizon”.

MDAS:     Multiple Database Access System

MHI:       Merged Headings Index, a file which contains established and alternative headings (cross-references) that might be selected in a search

MVS:       Multiple Virtual Storage.   An IBM mainframe operating system.  MVS sites typically ran NOTIS on a shared computer.  Wikipedia article . See also VSE (below).

NOTIS:    Northwestern Online Total Integrated System

NOTIS Horizon :  Unix client-server ILS being developed in Evanston, IL, starting in 1991.   Dropped by Ameritech in favor of the Dynix Marquis system in 1994 (-- at which time Dynix Marquis was renamed “Horizon”).   Staff working on NOTIS Horizon (including Jane Burke and Verne Coppi ) went on to create the very successful Endeavor Voyager ILS.   

NOTIS-L:  the NOTIS listserv, NOTIS discussion group (email) list

NOTIS Systems, Inc. :  the Northwestern-owned, for-profit corporation created in 1987 from Northwestern University’s Library NOTIS Office.  Sometimes shortened to “NOTIS, Inc.”.

NSI:         NOTIS Systems, Inc.

NUGM:   NOTIS Users Group Meeting  

NUL:       Northwestern University Library

OCLC:    Originally, “Ohio College Library Center”, later, Online Computer Library Center.  Wikipedia article .

OPAC:     Online Public Access Catalog, an online database of materials held by a library or group of libraries

RLIN:      Research Library Information Network:  RLG’s (Research Library Group’s) online database of bibliographic records.  Merged with OCLC in 2006. Wikipedia article .  

SSX:        The IBM operating system which KEYNOTIS used.  [From Wikipedia:]  SSX/VSE ("Small System Executive") was an attempt by IBM to simplify purchase and installation of VSE by providing a pre-generated system containing the OS and the most popular products. SSX was released in 1982, and later replaced by VSE/SP. 

Telex 476L:  Special 3270 terminal for libraries, with diacritics, etc.  Photo .   $2,850 in 1981 dollars!

UMS:      University Management Systems; housed Northwestern Administrative Computing

Vogelback: the Northwestern Academic Computing Center

VSE:       Virtual Storage Extended.  An IBM mainframe operating system.  Most VSE sites ran NOTIS on a stand-alone computer (such as the 4361), often in the library.  Wikipedia article .   See also MVS (above).


A number of definitions taken from “FCLA Glossary of Terms and Systems ”: 





23.   Endnotes   (when you click on a note “1”, “2”, etc., it takes you here)

1.  See 2011 entry (#32) in Bibliography

2.  From a 2014 email from Jane Burke

3.  See 2011 entry (#32) in Bibliography

4.  See 1977 entry (#7) in Bibliography (“The University of Chicago Library Data Management System”)

5.  One feature which was designed into the system by ISDO for other libraries was the ability to handle different length item ID's and OCR {in addition to barcodes (which is what NUL used)}.  

6.  These (from NOTIS/ALS staff lists) are the numbers of Evanston employees at different times: 

         June 1994, 153;  July 1996, 96;  April 1998, 32;  March 2000, 19;  Nov. 2000, 13.


7.  The number of individual libraries which actually used NOTIS, as shown by this (courtesy of  with consortia disaggregated, was at least 949.  (Note:  it seems a small number of former NOTIS libraries are missing from the database….)





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