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

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

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

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

Talis Library division sold to Capita

You’ll have seen the press release that Talis Information has been sold to Capita Group.  For Capita it is a a useful extension of its existing outsourcing range.

For Talis however, the immediate future seems less clear. It may or may not be significant that the press release that I saw first was the one that  emerged from Talis Group rather than Talis Information or indeed Capita. It must be a rather uncomfortable split for the company as Talis Group retains Talis Aspire, the reading reading list product used widely by HE libraries, as well as other products. As a customer of Aspire, I’m not sure at this stage that I’m clear which of the other products belong on which side of the split.

It is interesting to speculate what this says about the LMS market. It strengthens the idea that the LMS is something that can be outsourced ‘into the cloud’ (in this case a cloud owned by Capita). I wonder what the new owners perspective on the development future for Alto is?  It also poses interesting questions on what direction Talis Group will now take now that it has divested itself of what used to be its core offering?

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , | Leave a comment

I have seen a future and its name is Alma…..

Yesterday I went along to the Manchester venue of Ex Libris roadshow exhibiting their new LMS Alma. I came away very impressed. When Ex Libris merged with Endeavour way back in 2006 it was obvious that they needed to concentrate development on one system, but rather than choose one of the two they took the opportunity to rethink what is now needed from an LMS and what modern technology could do to help this.  Alma is therefore more representative of the term Library Management System (or indeed if you speak American, Integrated Library System) then anything else on the market that I’m aware of.

At the moment most libraries have multiple systems to manage resources: an LMS, a link resolver, a federated search system, a discovery system, an electronic resources system, a reading lists system….. etc, etc. This necessitates multiple workflows trying to bridge the gaps between them. However Ex Libris, as a system provider of many of these systems already, saw the opportunity to merge them together to produce a single Library Management System – in its early development phase it was known as the Unified Resource Management System, which I think puts it quite well. This was demonstrated by subscribing to and making available a database package, an activity which would probably previously have involved Metalib, Verde and Aleph (and possibly 3 different people to do this).

The other side of Alma is that it is provided from the ‘cloud’. It is a hosted application using a shared database, which makes maintenance easier for the institution and updates very simple to release. The only software needed is a browser (it was shown running on Chrome) which again makes deployment much easier for the institution. The boundary problems with local IT Services, firewall issues, server support issues, etc are all bypassed. I know this is the direction that OCLC are also heading with their new Web-Scale Management System. Other suppliers already host systems on virtual servers, but this approach doesn’t take advantage of things like a shared bibliographic database that Alma and OCLC can.

So, provided it delivers as planned (and there are already development partners and an early release programme to guarantee this), adoption of Alma seems like a no-brainer to libraries already on Aleph or Voyager.  For the rest of us it is another destabilising factor in the LMS market which was very stable for several years. Note that it needs to be compared with a library running the full suite of applications, so if you are just looking for a new LMS but want to stay with your current link resolver it isn’t what you’re searching for. The other LMS suppliers need to be worried, as we will be asking for the same thing from them.

An interesting comparison that was on my mind was with OS LMS. These are an emerging market sector, and there has been discussion recently on the LIS-OSS email list about their role. Alma clearly differentiates what a commercial supplier such as Ex Libris can provide compared with a community-developed system such as Koha or Evergreen. I don’t know whether OS is able to provide the ‘added value’ that a link resolver can give, for example. To provide something equivalent using OS where possible might therefore be to build a blended system using both OS and commercial elements. However in that case the library has to be the ringmaster tying the elements together, and many libraries no longer have the kind of skills in-house. Therefore Alma becomes an even more attractive way of outsourcing some difficult work. Perhaps there’s a facilitating role for a company to provide a ‘half-way’ house, or maybe that would just miss the benefits of both sides….?

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , | 1 Comment

OCLC ‘Making partnerships mattter’

I was at OCLC’s ‘Making partnerships matter’ event in Birmingham on Tuesday and came away quite impressed. The title of the day for me didn’t really cover what I got out of it – they were talking about WorldCat Local and what they’re calling ‘Web-scale management services’.

WorldCat Local seems quite impressive: it leverages OCLC’s existing information sources WorldCat and extensive links to eresources, to create an interesting alternative to other Resource Discovery systems. Of course, the big question is the coverage of the pre-indexed material, and there seems no easy way of comparing this with alternatives such as EDS, Summon, Encore Synergy or Primo Central. But the feedback from their only UK customer so far, York St John University, seemed good,  and the recognition that federated searching still has a role to play to ensure completeness was welcome.  I’ll be looking at this in more detail – providing that the outcome of the Browne Report and CSR don’t preclude it……

Although WorldCat Local is part of OCLC’s move to ‘Web-scale management’, in a way the latter is more long-term. They’ve taken the logical step to realising that as it is now possible for an LMS supplier to remotely-host an LMS,  it might actually be more efficient to run the LMS in ‘the Cloud’. In other words, instead of multiple completely independent systems,  separating only the data rather than the functionality. They’re still in fairly early days yet – Circulation and Acquisitions are being beta-tested in several member libraries – but this looks an interesting alternative. Many libraries are having issues supporting their own LMS due to uncooperative local IT departments (don’t get me started :-)) and lack of funding for their own staff, and so to outsource this to a resource which understands libraries seems sensible.

Overall a very good day, not least because it was my first visit to OCLC’s third Bimingham office in the past 20 years!

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

EIUG conference 2010

Delegates at Aston VillaI’ve not blogged for a long while – doesn’t real life has an irritating habit of interrupting the virtual? However I was at my first European Innovative Users Group conference last week and thought it might be worth recording some thoughts from that.

The first thing that struck me was how relaxed it felt. In contrast to the past few COSI/DUG/HUG conferences this felt very easygoing. That’s probably partly due not being an organiser so I could sit back and let someone else do the worrying, but there was a relaxed friendly vibe to the sessions and the other attendees.I was struck by how open the III representatives seemed.

There were no great product announcements at the conference (maybe those have been held back for ALA?) but on the other hand as a newcomer I don’t see any massive gaps in III’s product suite compared with other suppliers. The main thing I’d come to see was of course Encore Synergy, III’s version of the new crop of Discovery tools (see also Summon, Primo Central, Ebsco Discover, etc.). Synergy looked good, although I think I’d want to ask more questions about the range of data suppliers to which it will link before committing (not that my library will have the funds to do so anytime soon!). I like the fact that it doesn’t need the extra complexity of Link Resolvers or Federated Search tools (although it will of course work with them if already present) – one of the problems with federated search has always been the added layer of complexity it gives to the search experience which the new Discovery tools avoid. EIUG are planning an Exchange of Experience day on this area which I hope to attend.

Encore Reporter, a web-based reporting tool, was the other product which the company were pushing strongly. This is a bit of a misnomer – it doesn’t actually need Encore Discovery to run and pulls statistics from the Millennium database as well as Encore. Its interesting to see also that it doesn’t use either the Millennium proprietary database or Oracle to hold its data, but instead pulls it into an independent  database. Its ability to import external data and to export to the OPAC/Encore looked good, such that if I was doing a new implementation today I’d see it as an essential core product rather than another bolt-on module.

The other valuable part of a user group conference is of course the user sessions. These were very varied, and reflected the same sort of pressures that my own library is facing, such as streamlining and integrating acquisitions and providing more information to the user on a static staffing count.

Overall, a good conference, and thanks in particular to the EIUG committee who worked so hard to make it so.

P.S. The photo? The conference dinner was in the Directors Box at Aston Villa and we had a tour of the ground beforehand.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , , | Leave a comment

So its off again….?

According to this statement on the Liblime website the PTFS- Liblime merger is off again. There’s a brief statement that they couldn’t agree upon financial terms. No equivalent confirmation on the PTFS website however. Cue mass speculation in the library world about the reasons……?

February 12, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , | Leave a comment