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Smarter Libraries through Technology: Start-Ups Inject Innovation into the Industry

Smart Libraries Newsletter [April 2017]

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The library technology industry is dominated by a set of large organizations, most of which have been in business for multiple decades. These organizations provide an array of complex and sophisticated products that libraries need to support their work. They work with large numbers of libraries and create products that will have broad appeal. These large, well-established organizations have less tolerance for risk and less ability to focus on potential products based on emerging technologies or for smaller niches.

In the context of these large companies, new start-ups and smaller initiatives can insert new innovations into the mix. The efforts of these companies can produce new categories of products, address an under-served niche, or posit some new approach to library services. Organizational trajectories can also vary. Some may fizzle—such are the risks of new start-ups. But others will find success with their products and business models and may grow over time as independent companies or may be tapped for acquisition by an established player.

A variety of the companies and products can be seen as emerging start-ups rather than developing from established industry players. Each has made interesting contributions to the arena of library technologies.

SFX, the original link resolver, emerged as an entrepreneurial initiative in Ghent University in Belgium in the late 1990s. Being able to create reliable links to articles in a scalable manner was a critical problem in the emerging realm of electronic journals and this tool addressed this need. The quantity of articles available had quickly made hardcoding manual links unsustainable. The work of Herbert Van de Sompel led to the development of the SFX context-sensitive link resolver and the formation of the OpenURL standard. Ex Libris acquired the rights to SFX in 2000 and commercialized it to become one of its key offerings, which also launched a new competition in this newly-established genre.

BiblioCommons was founded as a start-up in 2007 by Beth Jefferson based on her research in the area of teen literacy, including the Perfink Project in collaboration with the Toronto Public Library. The company experienced a relatively slow start. Following an initial deployment in some pilot libraries, it worked to strengthen its technical platform. Since about 2009, the company has attracted some of the largest and most prestigious public libraries in the United States, Canada, and beyond to its discovery service, which embraces concepts from the social networking sphere. The company has remained independent and has grown to be one of the major providers of patron-facing interfaces for public libraries.

Biblionix was formed as a very small family business in 2006 to support and market a new web-based automation system for small and mid-sized public libraries. The development of its Apollo Integrated Library System (ILS) was originally created beginning in 2006 for the Westbank Community Library by family member Xan Charbonnet. In the decade since, the company has remained independent and has amassed a customer base of almost 650 libraries. Biblionix remains a small company, but leverages a modern multi-tenant platform to efficiently support its ever growing customer base.

SIPX (Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange) began in 2012 as a start-up out of Stanford University led by Franny Lee as a technology initiative to help students reduce the expenses for course materials by leveraging materials already owned by the library and through more sophisticated tools for copyright management and licensing. Following its launch as a company in 2013, the company found a strong reception to its product, leading to its acquisition by ProQuest in 2015. The SIPX technology is now under the jurisdiction of Ex Libris, which has integrated SIPX with its Leganto product for managing course reading lists. They are also continuing to develop and support it as an independent product.

ByWater Solutions began in 2009 as a small consulting firm providing support services for the open source Koha ILS. The company has found a warm reception to its services and is now established as the leading Koha support company in the United States with almost 700 library customers spanning over 1,000 individual branches.

TIND Technologies was recently established in 2013 as a start-up out of the CERN high-energy physics research facility in Switzerland. TIND provides support services for the open source Invenio platform originally created for the CERN library, which has since been adopted by a relatively small number of libraries with similar configurations in support of research organizations. TIND has attracted some attention in the United States following its selection by Caltech libraries. The company remains small and in its early stages of business development.

Koios is a very recent start-up focusing on helping libraries market themselves through better visibility on the web. The company originally developed a browser plug-in that would layer in results from a person's local library as they performed searches on web platforms, such as Amazon or Google. Koios recently launched Libre, a service able to create lists of featured items as digital displays as a means to improve a library's visibility on the web. Chattanooga Public Library has partnered with Koios as one of the first to deploy Libre.

Yewno, also a start-up out of Stanford University, has ramped up very quickly to develop and market an innovative new search technology for libraries. This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter provides an in-depth look at Yewno's product, technology, and business development.

These companies and initiatives represent a sample of the relatively new organizations that have emerged within the library technology arena. I appreciate the impact and innovation they bring to libraries. In the context of a heavily consolidated industry, these new companies and initiatives expand the choices available to libraries. It will be interesting to follow the trajectories of these organizations to see how they impact the ongoing dynamics within the sphere of library technology.

View Citation
Publication Year:2017
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 37 Number 04
Issue:April 2017
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:22561
Last Update:2023-01-19 23:11:51
Date Created:2017-05-02 17:43:33