The library technology industry, as we have chronicled in Smart Libraries Newsletter, is increasingly dominated by a shrinking list of ever-larger corporations. Some of these organizations have broad portfolios of products, touching almost every aspect of library operations, content offerings, and services. Others remain focused on technology products, but even here consolidation has made an enormous impact, and these companies work hard to create new products to penetrate into new areas of interest.
As these organizations become larger with more complex and sophisticated product offerings, the strategies set at the top executive level can have a crucial impact on the library communities they serve. Naturally, these executives are charged with operating their companies in a way that satisfies their owners, investors, and boards. But they must also shape their business model to be conducive with their current and prospective library customers.
It is important for executives in this industry to have insight into the economic realities of libraries and to understand the values of the profession. It's rare for a new executive to come into the industry who has actual experience working in a library. It's much more likely that they will have come in from other businesses in related industries, such as publishing, the technology sector, or other business-to-business or business-to-consumer companies.
Doing business with libraries is unlike most other commercial sectors. Libraries, like other non-profits, have certain expectations for their commercial partners. First, they require technology products and services consistent with their missions and values. Libraries, for example, value objective access to their content and services and work to safeguard the privacy of their clientele. These premises differ drastically from those that push advertising content and extract every possible detail of consumer identity and behaviors. It is also important to understand the non-exclusive manner in which libraries acquire products and services. Few libraries will be willing to channel all their funds toward any single provider. It's essential to be able to procure content packages from a diverse set of providers in order to build collections well customized to the needs of their patrons and to purchase technology products and other supporting services that operate in a neutral way.
Those individuals leading companies that work with libraries must have realistic expectations regarding library funding levels and what constitutes reasonable pricing for their products. Libraries generally have modest budgets, which unfortunately are barely often able to afford even the bare essentials of what might be needed to support their missions. Companies that squeeze these budgets too hard will not stay in favor in the long term. It is also important for business strategies of library vendors to understand the long budget planning cycles typical in most libraries. Such an environment defies sudden changes in pricing or expectations that libraries will be able to make purchases on short notice.
Most of all, it is important for those in leadership positions in the library vendor community to understand the collaborative flavor of libraries. Libraries will work with their peers to the extent possible to reduce their costs and to increase the impact of their services. Libraries also appreciate vendors willing to treat them as partners rather than mere customers. Rather than expecting to deliver each product or service according to internally-developed processes, reaching out to libraries to help shape them will naturally be appreciated and will also result in producing more desirable and valuable offerings.
This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter features the change of leadership at ProQuest, with Matti Shem Tov taking the reins of one of the most powerful and influential companies in the library industry. Shem Tov comes into this role following a very successful tenure leading Ex Libris, which has become the leading provider of technology products to academic and research libraries. Ex Libris was acquired by Pro- Quest over a year ago. This experience with Ex Libris should provide a valuable perspective as he enters this new role.