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OCLC Expands Its Reach into Resource Sharing

Smart Libraries Newsletter [March 2017]


The global non-profit organization OCLC has taken two steps to strengthen its position in the resource sharing arena. It has acquired Relais International, a major provider of resource sharing technologies, and has launched Tipasa as its new service for interlibrary loan management.

OCLC to Acquire Relais International

In a move with considerable implications for the resource sharing arena, OCLC has acquired Relais International, which develops and supports the Relais Discovery to Delivery (Relais D2D) consortial borrowing system and related products. This acquisition strengthens OCLC in the sphere of resource sharing, adding to its stable of products a peer-to-peer consortial borrowing solution to complement its core WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service. This move also represents a further narrowing of the providers of resource-sharing technologies.

Resource sharing stands as one of OCLC's core services. Founded in 1967 as a bibliographic utility, the organization has offered interlibrary loan service since 1979. OCLC provides the dominant brokering system to enable libraries to supply materials that they do not own to their patrons. The current WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service was branded as WorldCat Resource Sharing prior to its relaunch on a new technology platform in 2013. OCLC reports that 10,161 libraries participate in its resource sharing services and that in the 2016 fiscal year, it processed 7,533,796 interlibrary loan requests.

OCLC's WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service follows a centralized approach for interlibrary loan, based on the massive WorldCat database. WorldCat is comprised of bibliographic records describing each resource and the participating libraries that hold each item. Libraries that make use of World- Share Interlibrary Loan pay annual subscription fees for the system to broker requests and fulfill items that they don't own. Interlibrary loan services enable libraries to provide access to an almost unlimited universe of materials, which are available as requested, to supplement their core collections.

Another model of resource sharing can be seen in consortial borrowing programs, where members agree to share materials with patrons throughout the consortium. This approach provides access to a body of materials substantially beyond each member's individual collection, but without the need to pay fees to an external organization. These consortial interlibrary loan programs depend on technology components that manage the request and fulfillment of each request, which can include the ability to process transactions through the ILS of each member institution. A consortial borrowing service can reduce interlibrary loan costs and provide faster fulfillment, especially when supported by a regular courier service to expedite delivery of materials. In cases where the item requested cannot be fulfilled within the consortium, the transaction can be handed off to an external interlibrary loan service, such as OCLC's WorldShare Interlibrary Loan.

By acquiring Relais International, OCLC gains consortial resource sharing technologies to supplement its existing centralized interlibrary loan service. Relais International has become well established as one of the leading providers of consortial resource sharing technologies. The company's core products include:

  • Relais D2D, a full-featured consortial borrowing environment, including a discovery component that represents the aggregated collections of the member libraries as well as the request management technology to process requests and communicate with the ILSs involved.
  • Relais ILL, an ILL management tool used in Canada and Australia.

These products expand the tools and technologies OCLC can offer to meet the resource sharing needs of its members and customers.

OCLC and Relais International have an established history of cooperation. In March 2012, OCLC enabled access to the APIs of its WorldShare Interlibrary Loan platform to the Relais ILL product to facilitate more seamless interoperability between the two services. Such access had previously been possible through the ISO-ILL protocol, but working through the API provided additional capabilities and was more efficient technically.

Details of the Transaction

Through this business transaction, OCLC will purchase Relais International. All the current personnel of Relais International will become employees of OCLC. Financial details have not been released but are expected to become available after the end of the next fiscal year when OCLC publishes its next Annual Report and when its I-990 statement required by nonprofit corporations becomes available.

Previous Related Acquisitions

OCLC has previously made acquisitions of organizations involved with resource sharing:

  • WLN (Western Library Network), a bibliographic utility that also offered interlibrary loan services merged into OCLC in January 1999.
  • PICA, a European organization providing a variety of services to libraries was acquired by OCLC in three phases beginning in 1999. Its products included CBS (Central Bibliographic System), designed for national or regional union catalogs, which included interlibrary loan capabilities. Several implementations of CBS remain in use, though some have transitioned to OCLC's WorldShare Platform.
  • OCLC acquired RLG in July 2006, including its RLIN bibliographic service and interlibrary loan system.
  • Fretwell-Downing, a company based in the United Kingdom offering a variety of library automation and resource sharing technologies was acquired by OCLC in November 2005. The VDX (Virtual Document eXchange) product developed by Fretwell-Downing delivered consortial borrowing functionality, which OCLC used as a component of its WorldCat Navigator. This product is no longer actively marketed by OCLC.

Relais International Corporate Background

Based in Ottawa, Canada, Relais International was founded in 1996. Clare MacKeigan has led the company as its Chief Operating Officer. The company was originally called Network Support, Inc and was renamed Relais International in 1998 after its primary product. The impetus to the concepts and products of the company emerged out of the IntelliDoc document delivery initiative in 1994 within the Canadian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI). Relais was owned briefly by EBSCO Industries (1998-2001) but has subsequently been owned by MacKeigan and Chief Technical Officer Kevin Stewart.

In its twenty-year business history, Relais International has remained a small company but has steadily increased its customer base. Some of the major organizations and projects that rely on technologies from Relais International include:

  • BorrowItNow, an expedited resource sharing service among the members of the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA).
  • BorrowDirect, an unmediated resource sharing service, serving Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • E-ZBorrow, which is implemented by the Pennsylvania Academic Library Consortium, Inc. (PALCI) for its 70 academic library members.
  • UBorrow service, serving 13 academic institutions in the Midwest that participate in the Big Ten Academic Alliance.

SirsiDynix formed a partnership with Relais International in September 2016 to integrate its resource sharing technologies as an optional component of its BLUEcloud platform.

A Narrow Genre

The arena of consortial borrowing technologies includes a very modest number of competing products. In addition to the products from Relais International, the major competitors include:

  • INN-Reach from Innovative Interfaces, which was originally developed by library consortia exclusively using the company's own Millennium product, and over time, it has gained the capabilities to work with other ILSs. INNReach includes a union catalog and a request management component to manage patron requests among the ILSs of the participating institutions. The product was originally launched in 1991 to support the academic libraries in Ohio participating in OhioLink and has since been implemented by dozens of library consortia.
  • Auto-Graphics offers its SEARCHit union catalog and SHAREit interlibrary loan software, which has been implemented by a number of state-wide resource sharing initiatives. The company also offers the Circulation-Interlibrary Loan Link (CILL) to provide interoperability with the ILS circulation modules to streamline the processing of requested materials. SEARCHit can be configured to create a physical union catalog of the aggregate holdings of the participating institutions or to provide discovery via a virtual catalog that uses Z38.50 to dynamically search across the catalogs. Around 16 consortia currently use SHAREit and SEARCHit for resource sharing. Auto-Graphics also offers the VERSO ILS used mostly by small and mid-sized public libraries. (For more information on SHAREit, see the July 2015 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.)
  • FulfILLment, which is an open source interlibrary loan product developed by Equinox Software and commissioned by a number of sponsors, primarily state libraries, interested in the development of a new low-cost resource sharing alternative. The initial development of the FulfILLment software was completed in 2012. This software has not yet been put into production by a major consortium.

The category also includes products that have been discontinued:

  • The Universal Resource Sharing Application (URSA), developed by CPS systems in Australia in the mid-1970s, was acquired by Ameritech Library Services (later known as Dynix, now part of SirsiDynix). URSA had become established as one the leading resource sharing product but was discontinued by SirsiDynix in 2011.
  • Pigasus Software, founded in 1997, developed the Wings Request Management System, which was implemented by 18 consortia and related organizations. The company ceased operations after a failed acquisition by Auto-Graphics.
  • OCLC's WorldCat Navigator, based on software from Fretwell-Downing, is also nearing the end of its product life.

OCLC Introduces Tipasa Interlibrary Loan Management System

Many libraries operate an office dedicated to the management of interlibrary loan and document delivery requests. The tasks involved with tracking the lending and borrowing activity can be complex and time consuming. Functionality to automate these tasks is not within the scope of ILSs or interlibrary loan services, such as WorldShare Interlibrary Loan. Libraries often deal with multiple interlibrary loan services and need automation tools to integrate and automate the processing of requests and fulfillment.

OCLC's interlibrary loan services Atlas Systems, Inc., a small software firm based in Virginia Beach, VA, created ILLiad to automate the tracking of lending and borrowing interlibrary loan transactions. ILLiad operates as a Microsoft Windows application, though it has web-based interfaces for submission of patron requests.

ILLiad was originally developed by the Interlibrary Loan Office of the Virginia Tech libraries. Atlas Systems was founded in 1996 to continue development and provide support for ILLiad. OCLC has served as the exclusive distributor of the software since October 2000. Over 1,200 libraries have implemented ILLiad.

OCLC has announced that it will create a new product with functionality similar to ILLiad that will be entirely webbased and deployed on its WorldShare Platform. The development will be performed within OCLC in partnership with the interlibrary loan community, rather than through a third party, such as Atlas Systems. OCLC initially revealed its roadmap to create a new interlibrary loan management system in March 2016, which was announced as Tipasa in January 2017. The shift from ILLiad as a Windows-based application to Tipasa as a service deployed via the WorldShare platform should result in several benefits for interlibrary loan operations. Tipasa will provide simplified workflow and interfaces, smother interoperability with the WorldShare Interlibrary Loan service, and will relieve libraries from much of the technical overhead in operating and continually upgrading a local Windows-based application.

The initial version of Tipasa was made available in January 2017 with fifteen libraries currently making use of the software in production. OCLC reports more than 50 libraries have committed to serve as early adopters of Tipasa.

Atlas Systems will continue with the development and support of its other products. The company has developed other products, such as Ares for managing academic reserves and Aeon for managing and tracking the use of materials within a library's special collections unit. Atlas will continue its support and training services for ILLiad until libraries make the transition to Tipasa.

View Citation
Publication Year:2017
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 37 Number 03
Issue:March 2017
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Subject: OCLC vs Clarivate
Record Number:22329
Last Update:2023-02-01 18:13:50
Date Created:2017-03-13 10:58:23