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Strategic library technologies: current realities and future possibilities

[February 2018]



Libraries rely on a variety of resource management and discovery technologies to carry out their daily operations and to succeed in their strategic missions. They make costly investments in products such as integrated library systems, library services platforms, discovery services, and other categories of technology products. In order to guide these investments, libraries need to be aware of the capabilities offered by each product and the relative position of each of the vendors. Given that libraries tend to keep their strategic resource management products for as much as 15-20 years, it is essential that libraries have a long-term perspective as they make selection decisions. While any technology product must meet current needs, it is just as important to anticipate that it will continue to evolve in parallel to the changes expected to take place in libraries over time.

This paper is based on information garnered from a variety of sources, each of which aims to tap into specific aspects of the library technology ecosystem. These resources include the Library Technology Guides website, the annual Library Systems Report, and the annual Perceptions Report, based on the International Survey of Library Automation. The Perceptions Report is published directly by Library Technology Guides. (See References and Resources for specific citations and links.)

Library Technology Guides ( functions as a repository of information related to libraries, vendors, and products. The site includes the directory of libraries, which collects data related to the major public, academic, special, and school libraries and their current and previous technology systems implemented. This directory documents the current market share of the major technology products deployed in each country or region, as well as the patterns of migration over time. includes entries for 184,849 libraries from 177 different countries as of October 2017. The site also includes a repository of news releases from all of the major library technology vendors, providing documentation of the events in the industry. This archive, of over 13,000 announcements, preserves press releases going back to the 1980s, thereby providing historical context as well as current trends. A database of vendors lists all the major for-profit companies and non-profit organisations offering technology products and services to libraries. In-depth profile pages are available for the most prominent vendors. The procurements section provides an archive of the requests for proposals and related documents. Libraries engaged in a procurement process will often want to review documents issued by peer institutions. The site provides many different reports, lists, and visualisations that illustrate trends in the adoption of technology products and services by libraries. This website was launched by Marshall Breeding in 1999.

The Library Systems Report has been authored by Marshall Breeding and published in American Libraries since 2014, continuing the Automation Marketplace feature published in Library Journal from 2002-2013. These annual reports are based on a survey and narrative information collected from each of the major vendors. The vendors provide statistics describing the numbers of sales made in the year, total installations, lists of libraries acquiring their products, and the number of personnel they employ according to specified categories, as well as a narrative summary of the major product developments and other accomplishments. The report combines this data with other sources to present the state of the industry in that year and to highlight important trends. (The latest library systems report appeared in the May 2017 print and online issue of American Libraries


The annual Perceptions Report is based on responses given by libraries to a survey designed to assess levels of satisfaction with their strategic library management products, including multiple aspects of functionality, technical support received, and impressions of the organisation's support services. This survey has been conducted from 2007 to 2017, with the report summarising its findings issued as original publications of Library Technology Guides. Survey responses are collected during November and December of each year, with the report published the following January (See: 4,042 libraries responded to the 2016 survey; cumulative responses for all years of the survey total 26,601.

The information made available in these resources provides an in-depth view into the global arena of library-oriented technologies and trends. However, a realistic view of the current realities and emerging trends must be informed by constant involvement with libraries, as they work with these technologies, and through discussions with those involved in developing and supporting them.

Libraries make use of many different types of technologies. Space does not allow a comprehensive treatment of them all. This paper will focus on the larger-scale products such as integrated library systems, library services platforms, and discovery services. These products have been implemented by almost all libraries and represent a significant portion of their technology budgets. It is essential for technologists, administrators, and librarians involved in decision-making related to these key products to have a solid understanding of the current landscape and any apparent trends.

Integrated Library Systems

Current realities

Integrated library systems (ILS) continue to be the strategic automation product for public, school, and special libraries. The conceptual design of the integrated library system has remained fairly consistent since the 1990s. It is based on a centralised set of databases supporting multiple functional modules: circulation, cataloguing, acquisitions, serials management, and an online catalogue. The functionality for each module has been continually enriched, adapting to changing expectations.

Integrated library systems have evolved through multiple generations of technology. Early versions were based on mainframes or mid-range computers, with staff and patron access provided through display terminals. The age of client/server computing saw the same basic model of automation deployed through high-performance network servers, with staff clients and online catalogues provided via graphical software running on desktop computers using Microsoft Windows or the Apple OS. Online catalogues rapidly shifted to Web-based interfaces in the mid to late 1990s. Today, the client server architecture continues to prevail in most legacy ILS products, although many are moving from desktop graphical clients to Web-based clients.

The functional design of integrated library systems has not been able to provide strong support for the management of electronic resources. These resources require substantially different business logic, not only in basic workflows to handle ever changing license terms, but also in regard to inclusion of comprehensive knowledge bases of the various packages and products to enable portfolio-based management. A pre-populated knowledge base enables a library to manage and provide access to the thousands of e-journal titles covered by an aggregated content product with a single selection. Academic libraries with large collections of electronic resources, and which continue to use an integrated library system, tend to use a separate electronic management system, or have moved to a library services platform with built-in support for these materials.

The web-based online catalogues of integrated library systems have seen significant advancement in recent years. They have been enhanced with interfaces more consistent with the look and feel of other types of information resources on the web, such as relevancy-ranked results, facets to narrow search results, inclusion of cover art, recommendations, and other features that not only improve the visual appearance and usability of the display, but also lead patrons to additional resources beyond those in the raw search results. As libraries have become increasingly involved in lending e-books, the online catalogues of the ILS products have gained capabilities to fully integrate the content and services from the major e-book lending platforms such as those from OverDrive, bibliotheca cloudLibrary, and Axis 360.

Many of the well-known library automation products fall within the category of integrated library systems: Symphony and Horizon from SirsiDynix, Amlib from OCLC, Sierra from Innovative Interfaces, Library.Solution and CARL.X from The Library Corporation, and the Koha and Evergreen open-source products.

Automation Systems Installed

Counting by Library Facilities . You can click on each pie slice in the chart below to view lists of libraries that use them.

Figure 1 Integrated library systems deployed by public libraries in Australia as of January 2018

Integrated library systems are rapidly shifting away from on-premises installations to vendor-hosted deployments. Almost all new ILS implementations in recent years involve hosting services provided by the vendor, in arrangements marketed as managed services or software-as-a-service. Many libraries are moving their existing on-site implementations to hosted services as their local equipment reaches end-of-life. Few libraries remain interested in purchasing server hardware and allocating the limited time of their technical personnel to managing ILS infrastructure. Many libraries in Australia and other countries rely on their parent institutions for information technology services and do not manage their technical infrastructure directly. Previous obstacles to vendor-hosted systems, such as slow or unreliable Internet connections, have diminished.

Future Possibilities

The integrated library system will inevitably continue as the foundation for resource management and fulfilment for many types of libraries. One of the key qualities of the ILS has been its ability to evolve through multiple generations of technologies and to adapt to new expectations in functionality. This evolution will continue. Some libraries--especially academics--may shift to library services platforms that have broken away from the evolutionary path of the ILS into a new technology and functional model. However, the ILS continues to work relatively well for other types of libraries, and little call for radical re-invention of the genre has been voiced. Many libraries prefer incremental change to wholesale upheaval.

In the long term, the integrated library system will need to morph substantially in order to be viable technical infrastructure for libraries. The transition from staff clients implemented as desktop software to fully web-based interfaces is well underway. For some products, the web-based modules offer a subset of the functionality offered by the desktop clients, but libraries can expect full capabilities in the near term. System vendors are motivated just as much as libraries to get away from the development and support of desktop software.

The functionality of integrated library systems will also evolve to accommodate current and future realities of library collections and services. All types of libraries will see increasing involvement in electronic and digital resources, driving demand for more integrated resource management. The technical deployment of the ILS will evolve away from legacy, server-bound, single-tenant architecture toward more modern and supportable platforms. The current trend toward vendor-hosted implementations may help drive re-engineering the internal architecture of legacy products toward multi-tenant platforms. The integrated library system of the future may gain more of a resemblance to the library services platforms of today.

Library Services Platforms

A new genre of software emerged beginning in about 2010, following a conceptual design substantially different from the integrated library system. These new library services platforms were conceived to provide comprehensive management of library resources spanning digital, electronic, and print formats through unified task workflows. These products provide much of the same functionality as integrated library systems for print materials, but also included built-in knowledge bases and workflows required for the management of complex collections of electronic resources.

Library services platforms are created on multi-tenant web-based platforms, made available to libraries via software-as-a-service subscriptions. These products represent a distinct break from the client/server architectures typical of integrated library systems. They also expose APIs (application programming interfaces) to enable extensibility of functionality and interoperability with external systems and services.

Two products can be considered as falling well within the conceptual model of the library services platform. Ex Libris created Alma, specifically for academic and research libraries, to provide a unified platform for managing electronic and print collections. Launched in about 2011, Alma has since become the dominant product selected by large academic institutions and consortia. OCLC released its WorldShare Management Services in approximately the same timeframe. It manages library resources, both print and electronic, based on unified workflows with a representation of the WorldCat database at its core. Rather than maintain a separate bibliographic database for each library or consortium, WorldShare Management Services associates holding and item records with the WorldCat record, which is shared across all libraries implementing the product. WorldShare Management Services has been adopted mostly by smaller and mid-sized academic libraries, with a smaller contingent of large universities.

ProQuest embarked on a project to create a library services platform called Intota, but this project languished and was abandoned at the time the company acquired Ex Libris. An open-source project, called Kuali OLE, to create an open-source library services platform was active from 2007-2016, but ultimately did not result in a fully functional product.

Many of the participants in this project are now involved in FOLIO, an open-source project to create a new open-source library services platform, launched in 2016 with major backing from EBSCO Information Services. FOLIO has been designed to embrace the characteristics of the library services platforms. Its design departs somewhat from the established products, not only by being created as open-source software, but also through its more modular design. FOLIO has also been developed according to the microservices architecture, an approach that had not yet become prevalent at the time that development of Alma and WorldShare Management Services began. The initial framework for FOLIO was created by Index Data, a software development firm specialising in open-source infrastructure for libraries. A variety of other organisations and libraries have also partnered with EBSCO and Index Data toward the development of FOLIO modules. A fully functional version of FOLIO is anticipated to be available for production use in libraries by 2018.

Axiell, a library technology vendor based in Scandinavia, has announced a library services platform for public libraries called Quria. While Alma and WorldShare have been designed primarily for academic libraries, Axiell serves mostly public libraries, and has created its new-generation product on a functional model and technology infrastructure quite consistent with the genre of library services platforms. This new product, with its first production implementations, is expected in late 2017 or early 2018.

Figure 2 Global Distribution of Alma implementations by collection size as of November 2017

Figure 3 Global distribution of WorldShare Management Services implementations by collection size as of November 2017

The distinction between integrated library systems and library services platforms is not always strictly defined. Some products exhibit characteristics of both product genres.

SirsiDynix BLUEcloud can be considered a hybrid product. The BLUEcloud modules are delivered on a web-native multi-tenant platform consistent with the concepts associated with library services platforms. However, libraries using BLUEcloud modules must also use Symphony or Horizon, which clearly remain within the ILS category.

The Spydus library management product from Civica embodies many of the characteristics of a library services platform. It provides web-based interfaces for staff functions and for its online catalogue, it supports management of print, electronic, and archival materials, and contains built-in business analytics. The product has evolved from earlier versions of the Spydus ILS and retains some of that character as well.

Future possibilities

The genre of library services platform continues to evolve. The currently-established products, notably Alma and WorldShare Management Services, have been in production use in libraries since 2011 and have seen continual enhancement. These products can no longer be considered as emerging technologies, but as well established and maturing.

Given the current levels of momentum, we can anticipate that the adoption of Alma and WorldShare Management Services will continue to grow. Both organisations have substantial development capacity and strong marketing efforts. At the same time, there are disruptive possibilities. The FOLIO project comes on the scene relatively late, but still at a time when more academic libraries remain on legacy systems than have implemented library services platforms. Depending on the success seen by early implementers once the full platform is available, FOLIO could generate significant interest, especially from those excited about open source and that look favourably to a more modular design. EBSCO has invested heavily in the development and marketing of this emerging product.

Library services platforms modernise the internal infrastructure needed for academic and research libraries. This infrastructure, while important to the library, is not conspicuous to the wider academic institution. The more strategic advantage of the library services platform will come into being, as it provides a foundation for other services that the library can develop in support of the teaching curriculum and for scientific research. Academic libraries have been increasingly active in working with researchers to provide assistance with preserving and providing access to research data sets. Funding agencies increasingly require data management plans be included as a component of grant proposals. The growing requirement that data sets be made available for review and reuse represents an important opportunity for libraries. Research data joins the other categories of content that libraries must have the capacity to support within their technical infrastructure.

Discovery Services

Current realities

Most academic and research libraries invest the vast majority of their collection budgets in subscriptions to electronic resources, and therefore require specialised interfaces to aid their patrons with finding and gaining access to these materials. The online catalogue of the integrated library systems does not work well for providing access to electronic resources, since these products include metadata only at the level of the e-journal titles and not for individual articles. Patrons entering a query for a title, author, or subject into the online catalogue of the ILS will find monographs and occasionally book chapters, but will not see individual articles in the results as they might expect.

Satisfactory discovery of these materials requires specialised interfaces, able to return search results that include all the articles and other resources available through the library's subscriptions to proprietary content and to those available as open access. The index-based discovery service has emerged as the dominant patron search tool implemented by academic libraries. These products are based on a large-scale index populated with bibliographic citation data and full text of a very high proportion of the articles from the scholarly and professional publishers, as well as open-access content from institutional and disciplinary repositories. The developers of the index-based discovery products acquire metadata and content from publishers or aggregators for ingestion into their indexes. When patrons perform a search, results are returned based on the index, but when an item is selected for viewing or download, the patron is linked to the version on the publisher's platform. While the index is populated with the largest possible representation of materials form the entire corpus of scholarly and professional publishing, an individual library's implementation of the service is configured to return results only for the items available via its active subscriptions, and for the content available to all persons as open access. This search model provides a convenient and powerful interface for library patrons, while preserving the publisher's control of their content.

The index-based discovery services provide a specialised interface optimised for search and retrieval of electronic and print resources. In addition to the centralised index for article-level access to electronic resources, these products include connectors to the library's local ILS to present integrated search results. In most cases, the ILS records are harvested in advance to support comprehensive relevancy-based search results, with API calls made in real time for each search to display current status or availability.

The major index-based discovery services include EBSCO Discovery Services (EDS) from EBSCO Information Services, Primo and Summon from Ex Libris, and WorldCat Discovery Service from OCLC.

Ex Libris has designed its Alma library services platform to operate with Primo as its patron interface. Primo and Summon have been designed to work with any ILS product. Many academic libraries using Voyager, Aleph, or ILS products from competing companies have implemented Primo or Summon. Alma does not include a traditional online catalogue, and must be used in conjunction with a discovery service. By default Ex Libris bundles Primo with Alma, but has recently begun to support other options. Likewise, OCLC packages WorldCat Discovery Service (or WorldCat Local) with its WorldShare Management Services. The bond between the library services platform and the discovery service is not absolute. Following its acquisition by ProQuest, Ex Libris developed the ability for Summon to be used as the patron interface for Alma. Ex Libris has also begun to support open-source discovery services, including VuFind and Blacklight, as patron interfaces for Alma. OCLC has worked with EBSCO to enable EDS to serve as a patron interface for WorldShare Management Services, although this arrangement has been implemented only by a very small number of libraries.

EBSCO Discovery Service, in contrast, operates with any of the major integrated library systems. EBSCO has formed partnerships with over 60 integrated library system vendors to enable integration with EDS, either to provide article-level search results through their interface or to enable EDS to serve as the primary interface for system.

The dominance of Ex Libris Alma among the top-tier of academic libraries and the lack of formal support for EDS as a patron interface for Alma at least partially fuelled EBSCO's initiative to launch FOLIO. The momentum of Alma and Primo results in the displacement of EBSCO Discovery Service and in future opportunities to license that product. FOLIO, as a competitor to Alma, will support any discovery service, including EDS. Conceptually, the modular approach embraced by FOLIO aims to diminish the tight association between resource management and discovery.

Future Possibilities

Index-based discovery services have seen widespread adoption since their initial release into the academic library arena in 2006. The majority of mid-sized to large academic libraries have implemented one of the commercial index-based discovery services. Some libraries have implemented open-source discovery interfaces, delivering article-level search results by taking advantage of the API of one of the index-based discovery services.

These products, although overcoming the substantive limitations of online catalogues for academic libraries, have not been able to overcome all the critical problems related to discovery and access of library resources. Search results continue to fall short of the vision of comprehensive access to all available resources potentially available. Some publishers still do not provide feeds of their resources to all the discovery service providers. The relevancy rankings of search results do not always surface the most critical resources, at least from the perspective of librarians and subject experts. The most critical issue with discovery services lies in the reality that most library patrons do not think to use them, but instead rely on Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, or general web search engines.

The single search box of the index-based discovery service increasingly stands as one of the essential components of the overall discovery and access strategy for academic and research libraries. This strategy must also include other layers of tools and technologies. Access to the native interfaces of the disciplinary content resources will continue to be required by advanced scholars and researchers working in their own field. These experts do not need generalised discovery tools for the resources with which they are already familiar, although they may turn to them when working in multi disciplinary projects. Some researchers may also continue to appreciate a dedicated catalogue for the books owned by the library.

Libraries must also improve access to their resources, beyond the discovery interfaces and catalogues they provide directly. Strengthening discoverability stands out as one of the most important challenges libraries face today. Library resources should be easily discoverable and accessible through external platforms and interfaces. Within the institutional environment, improved access to library resources can be accomplished through integration with course management systems. Products such as Talis Aspire, rebus:List developed by PTFS Europe, and Ex Libris's Leganto each expose library resources through the platforms routinely used by students rather than expecting that they will come to the library website or catalogue.

Technologies that improve the discoverability of scholarly resources throughout the general web will be critical for libraries in the future. In recent years, libraries have increasingly worked to expose their resources via semantic web technologies. MARC21, although highly efficient for the exchange and management of resources among libraries, was never adopted by other information-oriented communities and in effect led to the isolation of these resources.

The BIBFRAME initiative (see brings library bibliographic resources into the realm of linked data. Instead of MARC21's monolithic unit records, BIBFRAME centres on URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) for each entity or concept and provides bundles of RDF triples. BIBFRAME offers great potential for the integration of library resources in the broader information ecosystem.

Other semantic web technologies of potential benefit to libraries include exposing libraries via Online catalogues, discovery interfaces, or other web-based resources can improve discoverability on the Web through incorporating encoding within the templates used to generate individual resource pages. This approach enhances pages so that they can be easily understood by search engines as structured data, including descriptive, location, and service information. Libraries can use the same techniques as retail establishments to expose their inventory, so that Google and other search engines can provide links to the local facility where the item is available, display opening hours, and other relevant information.

Industry Trends

Current realities

The companies and organisations that provide technology products and services have been subject to many business transitions and other events that have reshaped the industry. A relatively small number of companies now dominate the library technology industry, which has become increasingly absorbed into the general library services economy.

The consolidation of the companies offering integrated library systems and related products has been underway for around two decades. Direct competitors have been joined, primarily through deals orchestrated by private equity companies and other types of investment firms, to form a tier of large companies with responsibilities for multiple ILS products. These types of events have formed several very large companies offering library technology products.

  • SirsiDynix, now owned by ICV Partners, which acquired the company from Vista Equity Partners. This company carries forward a number of incumbent organisations, including Sirsi Corporation, Dynix, Data Research Associates, Ameritech Library Systems, NOTIS Systems, multiLIS, INLEX, and others.
  • Innovative Interfaces, currently owned by JMI Equity Partners and HGGC (Huntsman Gay Global Capital), which acquired the company from its founder in 2012. Polaris and VTLS were acquired in 2014.
  • Follett, privately owned by the Follett family members has consolidated the ILS market for K-12 school libraries. It acquired many competing products including Winnebago Spectrum, Athena, and InfoCentre. Its Web-based Destiny ILS is well established as the dominant automation product for US public schools. The company also acquired the Aspen student information system. The company also has deep involvement in content distribution for schools.
  • OCLC, a non-profit library services organisation owned and governed by its membership, has also contributed to the consolidation in the ILS sector, primarily through companies offering ILS products in Europe it has acquired. These acquisitions include PICA (1999), Sisis Informationssysteme (2005), Fretwell-Downing (2005), Openly Informatics (2006), Amlib (2008), Bond GmbH (2011), as well as other non-profit networks and related organisations.

Beyond the horizontal consolidation produced by the mergers of the ILS companies, library technologies have also become embedded in the vertical consolidation of the wider library services economy. The top tier companies with diverse offerings to libraries, often with content products at the core, have shown greater interest in adding technology companies to their portfolios.

Ex Libris, now the dominant provider of technologies to academic, research, and national libraries, has been part of the horizontal consolidation. Under its first private equity owner, Francisco Partners, Endeavor Information Systems and its Voyager ILS was acquired and merged into the company, joining together two of the top contenders in the academic library technology sector. Ex Libris executed a successful business strategy, based on research and development producing new products, as it passed through a succession of ownership arrangements. The company began development of the Alma library services platform in about 2009, which is now established as the dominant product in that genre for academic and research libraries. Ex Libris became part of ProQuest in 2015 marking a major event in the vertical consolidation of the technology sector into the broader library services economy. Mati Shem Tov, incoming President and CEO of Ex Libris, was appointed to lead all of ProQuest in January 2017, solidifying the prominent role of technology and workflow tools in the company's business strategy.

Vertical consolidation was also advanced in the acquisition of Baker & Taylor by Follett, folding a major content distributor for libraries into one of the largest companies serving school libraries and academic institutions. This merger expands the economic footprint of Follett to around $3.6 billion in revenue annually.

EBSCO, another top-tier company in the library economy, has established a diversified set of business activities, initially centred on serials subscription services and the creation of abstracting and indexing products, delivered through its EBSCOhost platform. In recent years, EBSCO has increasingly acquired or created new technology and workflow products. Its EBSCO Discovery Service has become the most widely implemented index-based discovery service; Full-text Finder was developed to modernise its linking and electronic resource management tools. EBSCO Information Services has not expanded into the ILS sector directly, but through sponsorship and investment in FOLIO, an open-source project to create a library services platform competitive with Ex Libris Alma. EBSCO's involvement with FOLIO will include commercial services for hosting and other value-added products. Although not achieved through the conventional route of business acquisitions, FOLIO represents the same type of vertical consolidation between content, technology, and services seen with ProQuest and Ex Libris.

Other examples of this type of vertical consolidation have been running their course within the scholarly publishing sector. Companies traditionally focused on the production of scholarly e-journals have expanded their business interests into other aspects of the research and publication process. The ever-increasing interests and mandates for open-access publishing models have exerted tremendous pressures on these companies. Although publishers continue to reap significant revenues from article processing fees paid for open access, the opportunities to monetise content may be more constrained in the future. Elsevier, one of the largest scholarly publishing corporations, has made a number of acquisitions that have expanded its involvement into other aspects of the research process.

The aggressive horizontal and vertical consolidation of the commercial ecosystem for libraries has important implications.

On the positive side, these large diversified companies have incredible capacity for the creation of new technology products and services. In the previous eras of the library technology industry, a larger number of smaller companies participated in a fragmented competitive environment. These companies each had relative limited capacity for development and the products of the time were less differentiated. The work of libraries has become ever more complex, as their collections routinely encompass digital, electronic, and print materials, with each format requiring specialised functionality for management and patron access. The new genre of library services platforms represents some of the most sophisticated and complex software ever created for libraries. These products emerged out of the large organisations in this consolidated business environment. Although the new products are far from perfect, they reflect a more ambitious and strategic development agenda than emerged from the previous era of fragmentation.

The converse side of the equation means that the number of technology options for libraries has narrowed. This smaller slate of product offerings may mean that only one or two products may be judged as viable as libraries make selections to replace legacy systems. Fewer competitors may ultimately result in higher pricing.

Another area of concern relates to the interdependencies of content and technology emerging from these vertically consolidated companies. It will be important for libraries to understand any direct or indirect relationships between the content offerings produced by a company and its technology products involved in the management and discovery of information resources. Libraries license or purchase content resources from many different providers and generally would not appreciate any bias inherent in their technology products toward the content offered within the corporate sphere of its developer. In the current phase, no such biases have become apparent, but this will be an important issue to monitor as consolidation becomes even more aggressive.

Future Possibilities

Industry consolidation seems likely to continue. Libraries should expect more competitors to merge within the ILS sector, including companies based in North America as well as across global regions. It is even more likely that the top-tier companies will continue to make acquisitions, including those offering technology based products and services. These companies seek involvement in the complete ecosystem of library procurement, resource management, discovery, and other areas of patron-facing services. While the ILS companies may have been the first line of interest, other product genres may be perceived as assets of potential value in subsequent rounds of acquisitions.

We can also expect other types of companies to take an interest in the library technology sector. The major scholarly publishers have increasingly diversified into workflow and technology products. Elsevier, one of the largest and most aggressive of these publishers, increasingly positions itself as a technology and analytics company. In recent years, Elsevier has acquired products that reach into the mechanics of scientific research workflow, including Mendeley, Pure, SSRN, and most recently bepress. Elsevier was briefly involved in the ILS industry through its ownership of Endeavor Information Systems from 2000-2006.

The library technology industry will inevitably see new rounds of aggressive consolidation, as existing private equity firms and other investors or owners seek to recover their capital. Large companies already involved in adjacent areas, including scholarly publishing, enterprise business applications for educational institutions or governmental organisations, or even related business or consumer technologies, may find library technologies an interesting strategic investment. While these possibilities are all speculative, libraries should not expect the current business landscape to remain static.

New start-ups will continue to emerge, with new and innovative products and services. While large companies have the capacity for complex and strategic development, they usually have little appetite for risk and experimentation. Start-ups in the library technology arena may or may not ultimately find a wide market for their products. Those with the right idea at the right time may eventually succeed as a standalone company in a unique product niche, or they may receive rewards for their risk and investment through new investors or acquisition into one of the ever expanding top-tier companies.

Changes in the business landscape may also spark interest in library-driven open source initiatives. Open-source library automation products are a routine segment of the library technology ecosystem. Depending on the region, open-source ILS products can represent as much as 20 percent of the deployed systems. Many countries have national efforts to implement open-source library automation. Almost all public libraries in Turkey and the Philippines, for example, use the Koha ILS. (See The FOLIO project could also be energised by a future business environment perceived as overly aggressive, despite its backing by one of the largest companies.

The library technology sector today can be considered at a key juncture. The era of cloud computing is rapidly ushering in a new phase of technical infrastructure, including new library services platforms and a shift to vendor-hosted integrated library systems. The business environment has seen deep consolidation, meaning more sophisticated systems, although fewer options. As a result, libraries may have more powerful tools than ever before for managing and providing access to their resources. Libraries naturally need technologies able to provide the best functionality and to make efficient use of their personnel and financial resources. However, the real value of new technologies will be seen in extending the reach of libraries into new areas of service of strategic value to the institutions and communities they serve. The core technical infrastructure established in the form of library services platforms or discovery services enables libraries to explore additional components supporting areas of service such as reading list support, copyright management, management of research data, and other areas of involvement beyond traditional library services.

References and Resources

Breeding, Marshall. "Library Systems Report 2017: Competing visions for technology, openness, and workflow." American Libraries May 1, 2017. Previous editions available via Library Technology Guides: (including translations in Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic).

Breeding, Marshall. "Perceptions 2016: An International Survey of Library Automation." Library Technology Guides. January 25, 2017.


Previous editions available:

Chad, Ken. "Rethinking the library services platform." UKSG eNews. (November 2015). Available online:

Grant, Carl. "The Future of Library Systems: Library Services Platforms. Information Standards Quarterly. Vol 24, No. 4 (Fall 2012). Available online (accessed November 1, 2017).

Library Technology Guides. Created, edited, and published by Marshall Breeding. Launched 1999.

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Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Issue:February 2018
Place of Publication:Melbourne, Australia
Notes:This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. Published as a paper for the VALA 2018 conference in Melbourne, Australia.Session Description
Record Number:23126
Last Update:2022-11-28 16:10:37
Date Created:2018-01-09 07:51:12