Apr 18: Remember the old fashioned days of thumbing through the card catalogue at your university library, futilely trying to find that obscure economics book you needed for that term paper?
Don't say it too loudly, but time have changed thanks to the Israeli-developed technology of Ex Libris, a global leader in computerized library and information management systems that has acquired superstar status among prestigious academic, national library and national banking institutions in the world.
The company's Aleph system permits libraries to order and receive stock, set up and control budgets, catalogue and display books, maintain an inventory, conduct searches, locate books and manage circulation. Libraries that are equipped with the Aleph system range from Harvard University and the University of California (with twenty-four million titles) to the British Library, the China National Library and the Historical Department of the French Army, which selected the Aleph 500 integrated system for its scientific library. The long-term plan is to create a unified library system for the French Ministry of Defence.
The Ex Libris story began in 1980 when a team of librarians, systems analysts and computer programmers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem took on the challenge of creating an automated library system for the university that was efficient, user-friendly and multilingual. The result was Aleph, the Automated Library Expandable Program.
Following implementation in most of the Israeli universities, the university's commercial arm, Yissum, saw the potential and hired a veteran Israeli software expert, Azriel Morag, to translate the concept into commercial reality. Today, four generations of software later and with Morag still in charge, Ex Libris has grown into a multinational and world leader in library and information management systems.
Ex Libris systems are now used by more than three million people at about 1,350 sites in 50 countries on six continents. Its systems are customized to suit the particular language and culture of each library and information centre that it serves. It offers twenty interface languages that use many character sets. Additional languages and character sets are constantly under implementation to turn new ideas into cutting-edge technologies.
In addition to the British Library and the China National Library, The Ex Libris system has been used to computerize and manage some eighteen other national libraries and seven national banks, including the European Central Bank, De Nederlandsche Bank NV, Banco de Espana, Banca d`Italia, the National Bank of Belgium, Banco de Mexico and the Central Bank of Iceland.
Morag isn't surprised by the widespread success of Ex Libris and that Israeli technology is powering some of the world's most prestigious institutions. "Israelis have a kind of chutzpah," he says. "They will undertake tasks which they might not believe they are able to achieve. Sometimes they fail, but when they succeed they do so in a very big way. Israelis," he adds, "have become people of the world. We understand how to approach the world."
Ex Libris remains privately owned, with the Hebrew University the single-largest shareholder. Much of the continuing development work is still conducted in Israel, where about 100 staff members work on development and support, marketing and sales. According to Morag, the company employs aadditional staff in the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Australia, providing a global total of some 240. Among the Ex Libris staff are the original Hebrew University of Jerusalem team, which includes highly qualified librarians and expert software engineers.
At Lawrence University, which switched to Aleph this month, chief librarian Susan Richards said, "Our move to ALEPH will provide our students, faculty, and staff with the latest in library information technology to support their research efforts. In addition, ALEPH will enable the library staff to manage our growing print and digital collections in a most efficient way. We made a very considered decision in choosing Ex Libris to provide our library management system and believe it is the best product available."
Students may not be aware of Ex Libris or Aleph, but they would be if they still had to look for that obscure economics book with a card catalog file. You can almost hear their muted cheers as the librarian tells them to hush.