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LYRASIS and DuraSpace Pursue Merger

Smart Libraries Newsletter [March 2016]


In a move that would result in the consolidation of two major nonprofits providing services to libraries, LYRASIS and DuraSpace are considering a merger of their two organizations. The merger has been approved by the boards of directors of both organizations and has entered a period of public review. Both organizations will continue to operate independently until final approval for the merger takes place.

Both LYRASIS and DuraSpace operate as nonprofit organizations. LYRASIS ranks as the larger, with around 65 employees and annual income of about $75 million. DuraSpace employs about 10 personnel with less than $2 million in income. This proposed merger will expand LYRASIS' portfolio of services oriented to open source technology and will provide the projects shepherded by DuraSpace with a stable and sustainable organizational home. Both LYRASIS and DuraSpace were formed through the mergers of antecedent organizations. LYRASIS brings together a number of organizations that were previously involved as regional networks for OCLC billing and other services. DuraSpace was created to combine Fedora Commons with DSpace Foundation.

LYRASIS Organizational Background

Formed in 2009, LYRASIS brings together a variety of organizations and projects under its fold. By virtue of its membership of libraries, it is able to leverage discounts on electronic resources and other products. The organization has developed a large array of training programs, digitization services, and many other services for libraries. Its services related to technology have emerged as a strategic priority in recent years.

LYRASIS has received a variety of grants, primarily from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to develop its capacity to support open source software. The Mellon Foundation has channeled a number of the projects it funds into LYRASIS for organizational support, technical infrastructure, and governance. Support and hosting for open source software represents a growing portion of the business activity for LYRASIS. LYRASIS was founded in the context of the former OCLC regional networks needing to consolidate as a result of dramatically reduced income opportunities as OCLC shifted to more centralization and self-sufficiency in its operations. The vestiges of many of the former OCLC regional networks were consolidated into LYRASIS.

Table 1. OCLC Regional Networks
NameArea ServedHeadquartersFoundedStatus
SOLINETSoutheastern United StatesAtlanta1973Merged into LYRASIS April 1, 2009
PALINETMid-Atlantic RegionPhiladelphia1936Merged into LYRASIS (originally Union Catalog of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area) April 1, 2009
NELINETNew EnglandSouthborough, MA1964Merged into LYRASIS April 2009
AmigosTexasDallas, TX1974Active
NEBASENebraskaLincoln, NE1976Merged into BCR in April 2009
BCRAlaska, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa,Kansas, Montana, Nevada,Oregon, Utah, Washington, andWyomingAurora, CO1935Operations phased out in October 2010. Members offered transition to LYRASIS
WLNWestern United StatesOlympia, WA1972Merged into OCLC Pacific in January 1999

CAPCONDistrict of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia Washington, DC1974Acquired by OCLC in November 2003; became OCLC Eastern in 2008
MINITEXMinnesota, North Dakota, South DakotaMinneapolis, MN1968 Active
NylinkNew York1973Phased out operations in May 2010

A look back into these regional cooperative networks provides some context for the organization that LYRASIS has become. As OCLC grew to deliver services throughout the United States, and internationally, it facilitated the emergence of partner organizations, or regional networks, to provide specific functions within a specific geographic regions. Table 1 presents a partial list of the OCLC Regional networks, the areas served, and their current status.

The regional networks served as a type of business agent for OCLC. They worked directly with member libraries within their service area to provide services related to OCLC. Each network would re-sell OCLC products to their members, based on negotiated pricing that each was able to establish independently. The networks also provided support and training for OCLC products. Each network received income from the OCLC products brokered. The networks would also offer products and services that were not directly related to OCLC.

In July 2009 OCLC introduced significant changes in its business practices that ultimately meant the demise of the OCLC regional networks. Standardized pricing nationwide reduced the compensation of the networks, and OCLC began providing more services directly. These changes resulted in substantially less income for the OCLC regional networks. While most of these organizations also offered other services, this change left many with marginal operational viability. Those that had a more diversified set of services less dependent on OCLC revenues, such as SOLINET, Amigos, and MINITEX, were able to survive. Others eventually either phased out operations or merged with other organizations.

LYRASIS was formed through the consolidation of multiple former regional networks as a nonprofit membership organization, providing a diverse set of services independent from OCLC. The initial merger included SOLINET, based in Atlanta, originally known as the Southeastern Library Network, serving the southeastern states, and PALINET, serving the mid-Atlantic region. That merger was approved by the boards of both organizations, vetted through a period of public comment, and was finalized on April 1, 2009. Kate Nevins, executive director of SOLINET, led LYRASIS in a similar capacity until her retirement in June 2015. Catherine Wilt, executive director of PALINET, served as President of LYRASIS following the merger in 2009 through June 2010. Following on the merger of SOLINET and PALINET to form LYRASIS, NELINET, serving states in New England, announced in April 2009 announced that it would also be merged into LYRASIS, effective in the fall of that year. BCR, originally the Bibliographical Center for Research, founded in 1935, also operated as an OCLC Regional Network. BCR, which had absorbed NEBASE the previous year, phased out its operations in 2010 with its members offered an opportunity to shift to LYRASIS. (The merger of SOLINET, PALINET, and NELINET was covered in more detail the July 2009 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.)

Following its formation, LYRASIS branched out into a number of areas of service. Though rooted to an extent in the geographic area served by its antecedent organizations, its scope is increasingly national and international.

LYRASIS operates as a nonprofit organization designated as a 501(c)(3), which requires an annual filing of a 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service that must also be made available publicly. Some basic organizational statistics, derived from these 990 filings and financial reports made available through the organization's website, are presented in Table 2. LYRASIS has become one of the largest nonprofits dedicated to providing services to libraries, though still roughly a third of the size of OCLC (LYRASIS annual revenue: $74 million; OCLC: $213 million). The revenue LYRASIS receives for its technology-related services and programs represent a minority of its business activity.

LYRASIS gained new management in May 2015, following the retirement of Kate Nevins, with the appointment of Robert Miller as its Chief Executive Officer. Miller was previously General Manager of Digital Libraries at the Internet Archive. Kate Nevins led LYRASIS and its antecedent organization SOLINET for 20 years. Kathlin Ray, Dean of Libraries and Teaching and Learning, University of Nevada, Reno currently serves as chair of the LYRASIS Board of Trustees. John Herbert was named Director of Digital Technology Services for LYRASIS in April 2015.

Grants for Open Source and Governance

Support and governance activity has grown prominent as LYRASIS has become the organizational home for an increasing number of open source projects. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has channeled many of the software projects it has sponsored in the library, museums, and archives arena to LYRASIS for organizational and technical support.

In October of 2009 LYRASIS was awarded a planning grant of $192,000 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help launch a new set of services to assist libraries with the adoption and support of open source software. As LYRASIS investigated expanding its services in this area, it needed to develop internal expertise and capacity, survey the projects available, and gather input from stakeholder communities. This planning grant was followed by a variety of other programs and activities related to open source software.

In April 2011, the Mellon Foundation awarded an additional grant of $486,000 to help fund the startup of LYRASIS Technology Service, a new program within the organization dedicated to the services defined in the earlier planning grant. Peter Murray, formerly of OhioLink, was Assistant Director of the newly formed Technology Services Department. One of the outcomes of this grant was the creation of FOSS4LIB, Free/ Open Source Software for Libraries ( This initiative included tools to assist libraries, archives, and museums in assessing the applicability of open source software for their organizations and to evaluate and compare the capabilities of the available products.

In October 2012 LYRASIS received an additional $670,000 grant from Mellon Foundation. Among other activities, this grant supported the creation of programs related to decision support for open source alternatives. Through this grant, LYRASIS organized a set of conferences and meetings surrounding the topic of open source software in libraries. With the support of the Mellon Foundation, LYRASIS continued to expand its leadership in the area of open source software.

In April 2012 LYRASIS was designated as the organizational home of ArchivesSpace. A grant from the Mellon Foundation funded development of the software and enabled LYRASIS to provide the organizational infrastructure it needed for this role. ArchivesSpace was created to help archives and related organizations describe and manage their collection, with support for the metadata formats and workflows appropriate for those organizations. ArchivesSpace itself was a convergence of the two leading open source tools for managing archival collections, the Archivists Toolkit and Archon. By November 2015 more than 250 organizations had joined as member supporting ArchivesSpace.

In January 2014 LYRASIS became the organizational home for CollectionSpace, supported through an additional two-year grant of $1.5 million from the Mellon Foundation. Collection- Space, an open source collection management system for museums and related organizations. A group of North American and European organizations with museum collections began development in 2008. The Mellon Foundation had provided funding to support the initial development of CollectionSpace.

LYRASIS provides commercial services for hosting and support for both ArchivesSpace and CollectionSpace in additional to facilitating the communities surrounding these two open source projects.

Foray into Commercial Open Source ILS Support

In addition to educational opportunities promoting open source software, LYRASIS also began offering commercial services for hosting and software support. When libraries in the United States implement open source ILS products, they often use an external firm to provide hosting and support services. These arrangements enable a library to implement and operate an open source ILS without local technical expertise beyond what would be needed for a proprietary system.

LYRASIS joined the fray of organizations offering hosting and support services for Evergreen, an open source ILS oriented to consortia of public libraries. It initiated contracts to provide Evergreen support for at least three organizations, Including the Maine Balsam Library Consortium; the Michigan Evergreen consortium, organized through the Midwest Collaborative for Library Services; and the Virginia Evergreen project, organized through the Virginia State Library.

Commercial services for open source ILS products were by then a well-established niche, dominated by commercial companies, especially Equinox Software. LYRASIS involvement in this particular activity was short-lived; these consortia shifted to support from Equinox in 2012.

DuraSpace Joins LYRASIS

In yet another phase of expansion into open source software, DuraSpace, a nonprofit organization in open source repository software has proposed a merger with LYRASIS. DuraSpace was founded in July 2009 in the merger of two organizations surrounding the leading open source repository platforms, DSpace and Fedora. Subsequently it has taken on organizational responsibilities related to VIVO. DuraSpace characterizes its mission through the tagline: “open technologies for durable digital content.”

The DSpace Foundation was established as the governance organization for DSpace, an open source application designed to provide a platform for institutional repositories with a low threshold of technical difficulty. As a turnkey repository, DSpace has been very widely adopted in almost all global regions, primarily by educational institutions. The development of DSpace began in 2002 through collaboration between MIT and Hewlett Packard.

As its use became widespread, DSpace required a stronger organizational and governance structure. The DSpace Federation was launched in 2004 as an informal community of DSpace users and developers. In 2007 the DSpace Foundation was established as a nonprofit organization by MIT and Hewlett Packard. Michele Kimpton served as its executive director from the founding of the organization through its merger into DuraSpace in July 2009. Plimpton continued as Chief Business Officer of DuraSpace through 2011 and as Chief Executive Officer for DuraSpace through early 2015.

Fedora was developed as technology infrastructure for repositories. Its initial development was centered at Cornell University in the mid-1990s. The University of Virginia collaborated with Cornell to further develop the Fedora architecture into a stable and more robust repository platform. Fedora differed from DSpace in that it was a more complex set of technologies that required technical expertise for implementation and customization. This complexity enabled flexibility in the types of content, organizational structure, and presentation interfaces that the software could support.

Fedora also saw very wide implementation across many different types of organizations. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to establish Fedora Commons as a nonprofit organization, led by Sandy Payette. Payette served as the organization's executive director, through June 2011.

DuraSpace also serves as the institutional home for VIVO. This project traces its beginning to about 2003 to the Virtual Life Science Library, developed at the Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University by a team led by Jon Corson-Rikert. This project has since seen significant technology development and has an ever growing network of participating institutions, and has had a great impact on the way that academic and research institutions share data and collaborate. VIVO, based on semantic web technologies, provides an environment for collaboration among scholars and researchers, spanning many disciplines and inclusive of all institutions. The environment incorporates detailed profiles of researchers, including publications and courses taught. VIVO facilitates collaboration by helping researchers connect with each other, institutions measure the impact of research or highlight areas of excellence, and funding agencies identify experts, as well as a variety of other scenarios. As an environment based on semantic web technologies, all data are stored as RDF triples.

The VIVO project joined with DuraSpace in July 2012, initially as one of its incubator projects and its organizational home. Layne Johnson was hired as VIVO Project Director in April 2014.

DuraSpace has developed services surrounding each of these open source technologies, including DuraCloud, DSpace Direct, and ArchivesDirect. Its DuraCloud provides a cloud-based platform for the storage of digital objects in repositories. Replicates can be maintained spanning multiple cloud storage providers. DuraSpace launched DSpaceDirect in 2014, providing a fully hosted service for institutional repositories based on DSpace. In February 2015 DuraSpace launched a new offering, ArchivesDirect, a hosted cloud-based service for digital preservation. This service is based on the Archivematica open source platform for digital preservation ( developed by Artefactual. This menu of services can address any of a variety of needs an organization may have related to repositories and digital collections. These fee-based services complement memberships and grants as sources of revenue to sustain its operations.

The Digital Public Library of America, Stanford University, and DuraSpace received a $2 million, 30-month grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to further develop a national network of interoperable repositories based on Hydra, announced in April 2015. The role of DuraSpace for this project includes the implementation of scalable infrastructure for Hydra hosting.

DuraSpace recently has come under new leadership. Debra Hanken Kurtz was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of DuraSpace in February 2015. She previously served as the executive director for the Texas Digital Library. Michele Kimpton remains involved as a strategic advisor. Selected statistics describing the organization are seen in Table 3, with data derived from the organization's publicly available 990 filings. Fedora Commons continues as the organization's legal name, though since its merger with DSpace Foundation it operates as DuraSpace.

The Shape of the Proposed Merger

LYRASIS and DuraSpace have both become established as the organization of record for a growing set of open source software projects. LYRASIS has earned the confidence of the Mellon Foundation to take responsibility for two of the projects it has sponsored, ArchivesSpace and Collection Space, and has attracted additional funding to build capacity for the support, governance, and promotion of open source software in libraries, archives, and museums. DuraSpace has gained a leading position in the open source arena of repositories and research support.

Though LYRASIS ranks as a much larger organization overall, much of its activity falls outside the scope of open source technologies. The technology-oriented component of LYRASIS and DuraSpace may be more equally paired. Both organizations have created organizational infrastructure for the support and governance of open source software projects in addition to deep technical knowledge related to the specific products and projects they have adopted.

Announcements related to this proposed merger state that Robert Miller would be Chief Executive Officer and Debra Hanken Kurtz will serve as Chief Operating Officer. It has not yet been stated publicly whether DuraSpace will be merged into LYRASIS or if a new nonprofit organization will be established.

This proposed merger brings together two well respected nonprofits involved in open source software to consolidate a large portfolio of projects under a single organizational structure. The software products of the two organizations address distinctive areas. Consolidation of the organizations has the potential to improve efficiencies in the area of overhead related to administrative support, software governance and support, and technical infrastructure. Both organizations offer hosted services and there may be opportunities to leverage infrastructure. The combined organization will have greater capacity for outreach needed to expand membership and improve financial support.

Organizations that provide support for open source software projects face many challenges. Activities related to performing or coordinating the development of open source software can be complex and expensive. Finding sustainable business models can be extremely difficult. It's a given that the software can be accessed and implemented without cost. Revenue to sustain the organization must be earned by offering services that will be valued by the organizations interested in the software, such as through membership fees and paid hosting and support services. Providing these services to a community of libraries, archives, museums, or educational organizations, themselves nonprofits with limited budgets, amplifies the challenges in establishing adequate revenue streams to fund the organizations. This proposed merger will provide a more efficient organizational framework with the potential to strengthen the position of open source software within these communities.

View Citation
Publication Year:2016
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 36 Number 03
Issue:March 2016
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: Lyrasis
Subject: Mergers and acquisitions
Record Number:21780
Last Update:2022-05-24 09:58:05
Date Created:2016-08-03 06:08:26