Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Here we go again……

In what I at first thought was an April Fool, Innovative yesterday announced the purchase of Polaris Library Systems. I believe this is their first purchase since SLS, way back in 1997, which led to them getting into the UK LMS market. As ever, the best analysis of this that I’ve come across so far is from Marshall Breeding. The takeover surely reflects the change of ownership of III from Jerry Kline to 2 private equity firms, Huntsman Gay Global Capital and JMI Equity, which took place a couple of years ago.

As an LMS Manager my first thought is what does it mean for users of Millennium, Sierra or indeed Polaris? I have to confess some cynicism, as I was managing a Horizon system at the time of the Sirsi-Dynix merger, which led to the combined company losing customers and the abandonment of development work on the Horizon-replacement Corinthian. However such mergers can work: as an outsider it looks to me as if the Ex Libris/ Voyager merger has led to the development of Alma, which looks like an excellent system (as I hope the British Library and Library of Congress would agree!).

In the past III and Polaris were never full competitors: although III does have public library customers its main focus was on the academic sector, and although Polaris has a few academic libraries its main focus was on public libraries. Nor does Polaris have many customers outside the North American continent. The combined company therefore has a stronger system to offer public libraries outside North America, which may help market penetration. Polaris also has a good reputation for customer service, while from personal experience  III’s seems good in the main, but with an irritating habit of charging extra for functionality that ‘ought’ to be in the standard product. Hopefully a greater stress on customer service might therefore benefit current III customers.

System-wise Polaris seems to be Microsoft-based, while III is moving towards Linux and Postgres, so there isn’t an obvious match there. However if you look at it in more detail both are also working on web-based functionality, and indeed Marshall Breeding suggests that Polaris might have technology which III could usefully employ. In the Press Release there is some mention of a “a shared vision of a cloud-based computing future” and a “next-generation unified platform”, which suggests an eventual merger of the 2 systems. Perhaps the database layer is of less importance that it once was.

The next EIUG conference in June is looking more and more important!


April 2, 2014 Posted by | Libraries | , , , | Leave a comment

Innovative 4for14

I went along to the Innovative 4for14 event at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds yesterday, and found a very different company to the one I’ve been working with for several years now. In the past, III staff were always highly knowledgeable about libraries and their software, but slightly less comfortable talking about theoretical areas such as how libraries are changing and how user and technological trends would influence them. Perhaps this represented the ‘black box’ nature of the old core product Millennium. However yesterday the reverse seemed to be true. The four themes which seemed to come out of discussions were Technology, Sharing, Partnerships and Change, whereas discussion was almost steered away from  the details of software functionality which would previously have been the focus. Maybe this just reflects Sierra, with its more open APIs? I await the next EIUG conference in Edinburgh to find out!

February 26, 2014 Posted by | Libraries | 2 Comments

Discovery systems

I’ve come to realise that Resource Discovery Systems / next-gen catalogues /etc are seen as a good idea by library users but not necessarily so by content providers. There’s a discussion of this in Carl Grant’s latest blog entry ‘Do they or don’t they?‘ – well worth a read with some pretty big implications……

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

Dump the OPAC???????

I thought Dave Pattern had been quiet lately – he’s just been working up to something:

Some fascinating ideas which I’ll be watching closely. Luckily Keele isn’t in quite the same position as Huddersfield, so we’re able to take things more slowly.


May 20, 2013 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

Course reading

For a while now I’ve thought that libraries will eventually be involved in supplying textbooks to individual students as well as having copies for loan, and a number of recent developments have suggested that this is now beginning to happen.  A new joint pilot venture between Ingrams and Coventry University will supply first year undergraduates at Coventry with their textbooks free as part of their course fees. As an alternative model a number of publishers are working with JISC on an e-textbook model which will be available to all students on a module for that duration of that module. Lastly, at the recent Dawsons Day in Manchester I heard how Dawsons had worked with the UEA library to supply students with course textbooks. Of course, this is what the Open University has been doing for some courses for years (and as a former OU student I’m very aware of how much easier it makes life for the part-time off-campus student!) but it is now happening for full time students as well.

This indicates some interesting directions for UK Higher Education. As shown by the rise of reading list software such as Talis Aspire and rebus: list the reading list is becoming more central to the learning process.  Students are reading only what is on the module reading lists (‘plus ca change..’ some might say). However in this fee-driven environment, students do not view textbooks as an unavoidable expense. Instead they expect libraries to buy them in sufficient numbers for all students on a module to access a copy whenever they want. This is financially impossible for most libraries, and of course was causing a decline in sales for publishers. Therefore, assuming that the cost is not coming from normal library funds, the model of supplying textbooks as part of the course fees works to the benefit of  the students, the library and the bookseller. Moreover, if the university represents it as a benefit to the student, it possibly gets it some competitive advantage to its rivals (ie other universities which don’t do this). This works for both paper and ebooks, and indeed the logistics makes the latter prefereable from the point of view of the supplier. As it is already highly experienced in dealing with book suppliers and copyright law, the library is the obvious part of the university to play the role of arranging all this (possibly in co-operation with IT if the loading of ebooks onto devices is envisaged).

Of course, these ideas may seem like nonsense to many in other parts of the world. I was recently talking to 2 american librarians who told me that their library has very few copies of textbooks, and that students expect that they must purchase their own textbooks. I can only guess at the reasons for the difference in student attitudes (but it does help to explain what has been a great mystery to UK library staff who have to work with US LMS designed with little understanding of why or how a ‘Short Loan’ collection is run or why it is even needed!).

December 10, 2012 Posted by | Libraries, Universities | | Leave a comment

Ex Libris sold again

After about 4 years Leeds Equity Partners are selling Ex Libris. The new owners will be Golden Gate Capital, another very large private equity firm. Speaking as an outsider, Ex Libris seem to me to have done well during the Leeds Equity years, having released their new LMS Alma to a good reception. Hopefully they will do as well under their new owners.

November 19, 2012 Posted by | Libraries | | Leave a comment

Just over the horizon…..

For some years now, and in 2 jobs, I’ve been looking for a new search solution for the libraries I’ve worked in. All the feedback shows that users just want ‘stuff’: the answer to the question that they hadn’t really thought through, quickly and in one place. They don’t want to have to search for books and journal articles separately. They don’t see the point of abstracts. They don’t want to be faced with multiple authentication barriers. They do want up to date information. They want it now.

And most libraries still aren’t providing what the users are asking for. Not that this is always the fault of the libraries: the task of putting together a system to do this is expensive, time-consuming, and it isn’t easy. A lot of libraries take the easy option and implement a so-called ‘new generation’ catalogue (eg Encore or Primo in their vanilla flavours), which usually consists of an improved keyword search and friendlier screens on top of the existing library database. This fails to recognise that users want easy access to all of the information that a library supplies, not just its books.

An alternative is to take the new generation catalogue and to add article-discovery tools on top of it (eg Encore Synergy, Primo with the Primo Central Index and possibly Metalib). This means that your users are simultaneously searching your books and that subsection of your databases/ejournals which are accessible and included in the added indexes. This isn’t comprehensive, it is expensive, and I’m not confident that all suppliers have the ability to integrate this all without the sort of unexpected extra costs that University Librarians dislike intensely. Few libraries have the staffing resource to do much more than simple integration.

Another alternative is to go with the database suppliers, such as Ebsco’s EDS and Serial Solutions Summon. In both case they leverage their existing large central databases of journal resources, and the library uploads its catalogue to it on a regular basis. This results in a search of the books, plus the proportion of your ejournals which are in that suppliers central index. Your users see the Google-like single search box, which by and large the students adapt to well and the academics and library staff, who are used to separate author and title indexes, find confusing. The library needs to keep its holdings synchronised with the central index, which means procedures of varying complexities to handle new books and lost/ discarded books.

Of course there are other alternatives: I’m hopeful that the new OCLC world-scale cloud-hosted system might make things easier, and Alma, the new Ex Libris system, builds on Primo to take libraries further. DIY solutions might be possible if the library has several able developers: VuFind has been used to build next-generation catalogues in several US libraries and it may be possible to link it using web services to online resources.

But for the short-staffed library with limited resources there is still no simple solution despite the requirement having been clear for several years. Suppliers make claims which they don’t deliver on, and libraries continue to implement partial solutions which ultimately disappoint users. In IT I’ve learnt that perfect solutions to problems are rare, but paradigm changes do happen (iPad anyone?), and this situation is one that is ripe for new thinking and new approaches.


November 6, 2012 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

OCLC appointments

Jack Blount is back! According to Marshall Breeding’s invaluable Guideposts he has been appointed as the new CEO of OCLC. I met Jack when he was head of SirsiDynix and led the ill-fated Corinthian project. The appointment places him in an unusual position, as OCLC’s highly interesting Web-Scale Management System places OCLC as a rival to his former company SirsiDynix’s Symphony LMS. Alongside Richard Wallis’ recent appointment as Technology Evangelist this makes OCLC definitely a company to watch!

June 11, 2012 Posted by | Libraries | , , | 3 Comments

Library users

More wisdom from Mr P.

May 16, 2012 Posted by | Libraries | Leave a comment

Private Equity gets a foothold at III

According to Marshall Breeding’s highly respected ALA Techsource blog  two private equity companies have acquired holdings in Innovative Interfaces. Therefore the company is no longer controlled exclusively by Jerry Kline, who has run it since 2001 when he bought out the last of his co-investors. The reason why Kline has decided to do this aren’t stated, although he has taken a step back from active management in recent years, and the company’s new LMS Sierra must be taking considerable investment to bring to market.

As a customer of III I’m on the fence as yet whether it is good or bad news. The takeover of Dynix by Seaport and then Vista Equity Partners didn’t turn out well for Horizon users, but Ex Libris seems to be doing well after its purchase by Francisco Partners and then Leeds Equity. III has good relationships with most of its customers and it will have to reassure them that there is no threat, but if it means that Sierra turns out as good a product as promised that will go a long way to keeping them happy and retaining them. The Innovative Users Group Conference is coming up soon in Chicago, so no prizes for the main topic of discussion!

March 2, 2012 Posted by | Libraries | , , , | Leave a comment