In a move that strengthens the commercial support of open source software for libraries in Europe, BibLibre, a company that offers support and development for open source software in libraries, has formed a strategic alliance with Agence Française Informatique (AFI), a much larger company involved in open source software for local government. This business transaction is not the typical merger where one organization acquires the other. Rather, AFI and BibLibre will continue to operate independently as their owners make investments in each other through an exchange of stock. The two companies will then pool resources and operate in strategic cooperation as they address the library sector with open source products and services. Both companies will remain separated, shareholders and managers remain in place, all teams and resources will be pooled in the operational framework.
The combined company will employ a total workforce of 45 personnel. The combined organizations work with a customer base of around 600 libraries primarily in France, but with additional clients in Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece.
The executive structure will undergo relatively minor changes. BibLibre currently has two general managers and will expand to three as Arnaud Lelache joins its management. AFI, governed by a board of directors, will expand with Paul Poulain and Philippe Chabano, joining from BibLibre.
Background of BibLibre
From its inception, BibLibre has been involved in open source software for libraries, primarily centered on the Koha integrated library system. Paul Poulain, Nicolas Morin, and Henri- Damien Laurent founded the company in October 2007 and are its principle owners. BibLibre employs around 20 personnel. Providing services to more than 90 libraries, it has annual revenues of around €1 million. Philippe Chabanon serves as the company's Chief Executive Officer.
BibLibre has become established as one of the major providers of services for the open source Koha integrated library system in France. In recent years BibLibre has also expanded its offerings to include Piwik for handling library collection and use statistics and Omeka for managing digital collections. The company is deeply involved with Koha development. It has a development agenda, coordinated with the international Koha community, which includes improvements and enhancements to the software in response to its own customers' needs and for the general advancement of the software. It works with other Koha support companies, such as ByWater Solutions in the United States, in contracts for sponsored development. BibLibre works with an expanding set of academic and public libraries, primarily in France, providing automation services based on Koha. Recent contracts include the Swedish Institute in Rome.
Background of AFI
AFI was founded in 1981, providing software for cities and other local government departments for functions such as accounting and human resource management. The company introduced its first products for libraries in 1989. In 2003, Arnaud Lelache became the chief executive of AFI. Some of the changes in business following this transition included a shift to open source software and further expansion into libraries. AFI currently employs a workforce of 60 personnel and earns annual revenues of €4 million.
In the library sector, AFI offers the AFI-Nanook portal solution and a discovery interface, AFI-OPAC 2.0 to help libraries manage their Web presence. Throughout most of its history, the company developed software under proprietary licenses, but in recent years it has shifted to the open source model. As a whole, AFI exceeds BibLibre by about four times in size, with the majority of its business in a broad range of local government sectors. Libraries represent a minor component of AFI's clientele, with approximately the same level of involvement in this sector as BibLibre, generating about €1.3.
AFI offers an open source library portal product for libraries. BibLibre and AFI currently have five library mutual clients using their ILS and portal products. Going forward, the combined organization is positioned to further expand into their partner's customer sites. According to Paul Poulain, current development plans include developments to enhance the AFI portal beyond its current orientation to French-speaking libraries to attract interest of libraries in other international regions.
The strategic alliance of the two companies provides opportunities to leverage each other's expertise in open software development. Their combined resources form the equivalent of a mid-sized software and services firm with the potential for greater impact than could be achieved competing as smaller companies. As European libraries become increasingly receptive to open source software, this new alliance is poised to benefit.