- PTFS will take over LibLime assets, contracts, and brand
- LibLime CEO Joshua Ferraro to exit
- Customer base has invested significantly in development
PTFS plans to invest in Koha
In a move with strong implications for the growth and development of the popular Koha integrated library system (ILS), systems integration and digitization services company Progressive Technology Federal Systems (PTFS) will acquire LibLime, the dominant firm providing Koha development and support services. (See below for background on the companies and products involved.)
Through this acquisition PTFS, based in Bethesda, MD, will take the reigns as the dominant player in the commercial support of Koha, assuming responsibility for service and support for a large number of libraries, and gaining control of an arsenal of assets surrounding Koha and other products developed by LibLime.
It also steps into a stew of controversy; PTFS will face challenges due to peaked tensions among LibLime, other firms involved in with Koha, and with libraries using Koha both within and beyond LibLime’s direct customer base.
As LibLime has grown, it has also lost staff, producing a difficult business environment for LibLime, leading to a potential acquisition. For PTFS, the acquisition presents the opportunity to leverage the momentum of open source library automation with the assets of LibLime to create a sustainable business unit. Moreover, the unit will be within a company able to invest resources toward a viable model of support and development. PTFS sees Koha as a key component of its strategy to deliver an integrated suite of comprehensive library automation products.
Koha has been especially popular with public libraries, but it has also seen adoption by a smaller number of academic libraries. Koha is among two open source ILS products—the other is Evergreen, developed for the Georgia Public Library System (and primarily supported by Equinox Software)—with rising prospects. (In other open source ILS news, support and development vendors ByWater Solutions and Biblibre today announced a partnership to “help meet the demands of the rapidly-growing Koha community.”)
The coming months will tell whether the community of libraries that use Koha will see this transition as a positive move. PTFS faces enormous challenges as it seeks to build on the success of LibLime as well as calm the waters of controversy that have been stirred.
Details of the acquisition
PTFS has agreed in principle to purchase LibLime in a transaction expected to close by the end of January 2010; it will acquire all of LibLime’s assets for an undisclosed sum. PTFS, a medium-sized company of 120 employees, has been involved in different aspects of library automation since its founding in 1995. (LibLime, founded in 2005, now has about a dozen employees.) In September 2008, PTFS began providing commercial services for Koha, and has attracted 12 customers representing 140 libraries.
PTFS will maintain the LibLime brand. Following the acquisition, PTFS will operate its Koha support business under the name LibLime, integrating its newly acquired business with its own activities.
PTFS gains ownership of a variety of assets from LibLime. An acquisition of a company involved in proprietary software generally includes transfer of ownership of the software itself. In the case of a company involved in open source software, the business assets span a wide variety of intellectual property, marketing, and operational resources, but not exclusive control of the software. LibLime, through its own development efforts and through the acquisition of assets from other companies, has established itself as atop player in open source library automation.
In the acquisition of LibLime, PTFS gains:
- the LibLime name, including its trademark and web sites
- the koha.org domain name and web site
- The U.S. trademark on Koha
- copyrights for the majority of the documentation and source code for the Koha software
- LibLime Enterprise Koha (LLEK), a premium version of Koha, delivered through the Amazon EC2 cloud platform
- Koha Express, a version of Koha designed for small libraries to implement in a self-service model using an e-commerce payment system
- biblios, a stand-alone cataloging module, including the trademark, domain name, web site, and copyright on all its source code
- biblios.net, a cataloging utility populated with a large database of MARC records
- GetIT, a stand-alone module LibLime developed to perform acquisitions of library materials
- 108 customer contracts with 160 organizations representing over 500 individual library facilities
- Sales and operations personnel
The involvement of PTFS with Koha fits within the company’s strategy to deliver comprehensive library automation solutions, blending both proprietary and open source components.
The company has been working to combine ArchivalWare, its proprietary content management and digital library product, with Koha to manage its physical collections, into a new platform it calls the Digital Library System (DLS). It will provide library users the ability to manage both print and digital holdings of the library, searchable through a single interface.
According to John Yokley, PTFS co-founder and CEO, the company plans to commit significant resources using agile and rapid application software development techniques to extend and enhance Koha functionality. The company aims to include services such as electronic resource management and document delivery that have not yet been addressed by open source automation products such as Koha.
The acquisition of LibLime places PTFS in a stronger position to fulfill this vision of comprehensive library automation and stands to benefit the broader Koha community through its agenda of accelerated development.
Prior to the sale, LibLime was the primary business of Metavore, Inc., a holding company owned by the executives of LibLime. Following the transaction, Metavore, Inc. will focus on business interests outside the library automation industry.
Once the acquisition concludes, LibLime will operate under the management of PTFS. The previous executives of LibLime will exit to pursue other projects. Joshua Ferraro, LibLime CEO, will continue in consulting capacity with PTFS during a transition period for as long as 18 months. The remaining sales and support staff will continue as PTFS employees.
In a release today from PTFS, Ferraro said: “We are impressed with PTFS’s experience in the ILS space, as well as their outstanding record for customer service focus in all their business divisions. This acquisition will bring that experience and customer focus to bear for LibLime’s existing customers.”
Koha controversy and staffing concerns
PTFS also inherits a measure of controversy. The development of LLEK stirred considerable discord among those involved in Koha. LLEK includes many enhancements and bug fixes not yet contributed to the main codebase of Koha—a strategy that has been characterized as a fork in the Koha codebase, negating the principles of cooperative development inherent to open source projects. Relations between LibLime and the other companies involved in Koha support and development services have been strained.
LibLime also has seen an exodus of personnel over recent months. The company reported a total of 28 full-time equivalent staff on the Library Journal Automation Marketplace survey at the end of 2008. Now, however, eleven remain, including the principal executives. LibLime has relied increasingly on consultants and contract programming rather than on in-house staff.
Key staff exiting LibLime include Galen Charlton, Vice President for Research and Development, who left in July 2009 to become Vice President Data Services at Equinox Software, and Debra Denault, Operations Manager is now Director of Customer Service for Relais International, Inc. Most recently, Marc Roberson, Vice President Library Partners for LibLime joined Auto-Graphics in January 2009 to become its North American Sales Director. Ferraro downplayed these departures, emphasizing that all ILS companies tend to experience upheavals at some point and should not be cause for alarm.
PTFS will now face the challenge of supplying a workforce capable of servicing the contracts that it gains. CEO Yokley believes PTFS is up to the task, however: “one of the basic values the company has held since its founding in 1995 is the delivery of excellent customer support.”
Impact on libraries
What about the libraries that have contracted with LibLime for support or sponsored development? LibLime has amassed a relatively large customer base, with 108 active contracts representing over 500 libraries reliant on LibLime for support services.
While an open source ILS provides more independence from vendors than proprietary software, they still have a great deal at stake in how well those companies provide critical support services. These libraries also have a strong interest in the forward development of the software, and many have made large investments in sponsored development. PTFS assumes responsibility for an extensive slate of software development commitments that libraries contracted with LibLime to fulfill.
WALDO, the Westchester Academic Library Directors Organizations, has made major commitments to Koha through LibLime. This organization has sponsored the development of extensions needed for Koha’s use in academic libraries and has deployed the software for its twelve full members and other associate members. WALDO has also negotiated favorable pricing for other libraries, such as the SIT Graduate Institute (Brattleboro, VT), and the Warren County Community College (Washington, NJ), which recently chose to purchase Koha through its contract with LibLime. WALDO’s investments in LibLime total more than $815,000.
John Stromquist, Executive Director of WALDO, said that LibLime has been successful at delivering the enhancements to Koha that they have been contracted to perform. Regarding the acquisition of LibLime by PTFS, Stromquist observed that “this is the natural and predictable process of expansion in the industry. We welcome to work with an organization that is better positioned to support the product.” Stromquist mentioned that he appreciates PTFS as an owner-managed company that is committed to the open source development model, with a solid track record of customer service.
Background on the Companies and the Products
Koha.Koha was originally created in 1999 by Katipo Communications, Ltd, a consulting firm with a wide range of projects, for a small consortium of libraries in New Zealand called the Horowhenua Library Trust to replace an aging automation system not able to handle the transition to Y2K.
Subsequently, the software initially found use in a relatively small number of libraries. Koha came to the United States in 2002 when it was adopted by the Nelsonville Public Library, OH, to replace Spydus, a commercially-provided ILS from an Australian-based company. Nelsonville’s implementation of Koha was spearheaded by Joshua Ferraro.
Since Koha’s original development in New Zealand, libraries throughout the world have implemented it at a steadily-increasing pace. This map, while not comprehensive, illustrates its widespread use globally.
Koha has been especially popular with public libraries, but it has also seen adoption by a smaller number of academic libraries. In the developing world, Koha has emerged as an open source alternative for library and documentation centers moving away from CDS-ISIS. In Latin America, a number of major initiatives involve implementation of Koha among very large groups of libraries, including thousands of the public libraries (bibliotecas populares) in Argentina.
A number of firms have emerged to provide support and development services for Koha. In addition to PTFS and LibLime, ByWater Solutions provides Koha services in the United States; more than another dozen companies provide Koha support services in other international regions.
Library automation based on open source software has become a major trend, though proprietary system still dominate, both in terms of new implementations and in total installations. Koha, along with Evergreen developed for the Georgia Public Library System, primarily supported by Equinox Software, stand as the two open source ILS products with rising prospects.
Progressive Technology Federal Systems, Inc., or PTFS, was co-founded in 1995 by John Yokley, who leads the company as its Chief Executive Officer. The company, based in Bethesda, MD, initially worked primarily with libraries at federal agencies. It provides services related to document imaging and management and built software products in support of these activities.
Its flagship product is ArchivalWare, a digital archiving solution based on the Excalibur RetrievalWare developed by Convera. In recent years PTFS has expanded its interests to public and academic libraries and to other aspects of library automation. PTFS employs a total of 120 personnel.
Another company, named PTFS Europe, is not directly part of PTFS. It was established as a distributor of PTFS ArchivalWare, and has since also entered the Koha development support arena.
The success of Koha at the Nelsonville Public Library led to the establishment of LibLime in January 2005 as an independent company to provide development and support services for Koha. The business model was to market Koha for adoption in libraries while selling support services and contracts for sponsored development. Libraries interested in using Koha that required functionality not already present in the software would contract with LibLime to program those features. These extensions would be integrated into Koha to benefit all the other libraries that use the software. This model of sponsored development provided an added income stream to LibLime, and these cumulative enhancements allowed Koha to become an automation product that would satisfy the needs of ever more libraries
One of the major extensions to Koha involved the integration of the open source Zebra search engine developed by Index Data. This and many other sponsored features represented a major redevelopment of the software as it advanced into its third major release, marketed by LibLime as Koha ZOOM.
Following the path established by Nelsonville Public Library and other early adopters, Koha found a receptive audience of other libraries interested in alternatives to proprietary library automation systems. Also, as established ILS vendors were sold and/or offered abrupt changes in product availability, libraries became more receptive to open source automation. LibLime saw strong growth in the number of libraries customers engaging its services for Koha support and development services.
Through its own development efforts and through the acquisition of assets from other companies, many of the assets related to open source library automation have been concentrated in LibLime. These assets will soon belong to PTFS.
LibLime has been involved with a series of business transactions where it has acquired the majority of assets involving Koha. The February 2007 acquisition of the Koha division of Katipo Communications resulted in LibLime’s ownership of a variety of resources related to Koha, including the copyrights to the source code and documentation developed by Katipo, the koha.org domain, the content of the web site, and the trademark for Koha in the United States and other countries.
In 2006, LibLime acquired copyrights on early versions of Koha documentation from Skemotah, a small consulting firm led by Stephen Hedges, who served as the documentation manager prior to the establishment of LibLime. In July 2008, LibLime acquired the assets of Care Affiliates, a firm led by Carl Grant devoted to open source library automation products for federated search and institutional repositories.
Recent activities of LibLime include the development of biblios, a cataloging module designed for use with Koha, but also available as a standalone product; biblios.net, a service that tethers biblios with a large database of public domain MARC records, GetIT, a stand-alone product to perform acquisitions of library materials; and LibLime Enterprise Koha (LLEK), a product based on Koha with additional features not present in the standard releases of Koha.
While LibLime has built a large customer base and has continued to attract new library customers, its workforce has seen a sharp decline, with a couple of customers moving to other support arrangements.