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SAGE Publishing Expands Its Tech Offerings

Smart Libraries Newsletter [October 2018]


There has been a strong trend in recent years for publishers to become involved with technologies supporting the broader scholarly communications process. SAGE Publishing has likewise joined this trend. Throughout its business history, SAGE Publishing has consistently expanded its portfolio of publications and its international involvement, both through launching new publications and through acquisitions. The company has increasingly been involved in open access publications. This year, SAGE has also ventured in to the technology arena, through the acquisitions of Talis and Lean Library and with the launch of the Advance preprint archiving service.

SAGE Acquires Talis and Its Reading List Management Application

SAGE Publishing acquired Birmingham UK-based Talis, Ltd. in August 2018, bringing into the fold Talis Aspire, a reading list management application. Talis Aspire has been implemented in about 100 higher educational institutions, primarily in the UK, but with some installations in Europe and Australia.

Talis Aspire, launched in 2009, enables course instructors to incorporate scholarly resources in course packs and reading lists, primarily derived from the library's body of subscriptions. These reading list management tools provide an important bridge between the library's collection resources and the academic curriculum. In addition to providing a convenient way for instructors to assemble lists of the resources associated with a class, these products can reduce costs for students and the institution by making use of resources already covered by the subscriptions owned by the library before purchasing material from publishers.

Talis Aspire was the initial entry in this new category of reading list management applications. Other products in this genre include rebus:list, which was developed by PTFS Europe and sold to Kortext and the Copyright Licensing Agency in 2017, and Leganto from Ex Libris, which launched in 2015.

For SAGE, the acquisition of Talis means a closer insight into the way that scholarly materials are used in academic courses. Talis will join its Technologies for Learning and Research Division, led by Karen Phillips, Senior Vice President. For Talis, becoming part of SAGE Publishing provides opportunities to promote its product to a broader audience of academic institutions globally and to pursue more ambitious development. Under ownership by SAGE, Talis will continue to operate under its current leadership and its Birmingham, UK facilities.

Talis Corporate History

The acquisition of Talis by SAGE represents the latest phase of a very long and interesting history for the organization spanning almost five decades. The organization has operated under a variety of business models and has traversed through multiple computing eras and product offerings.

Talis traces its corporate history to the Birmingham Libraries Co-operative Mechanisation Project (BLCMP), established in 1969 as one of the early library automation initiatives in the United Kingdom. Early BLCMP members included the University of Birmingham and other major libraries in the surrounding region. It was organized as a nonprofit cooperative, owned by its members and governed by a board of trustees.

The organization's early services included cooperative cataloging service for its members, eventually leading to the development of automated systems operated on IBM mainframes. The capabilities of the BLCMP system culminated in about 1980 into a complete integrated library system. (Note: in the UK, the term library management system is used rather than integrated library system). An online catalog module was added by about 1985.

With the decline of mainframe-based computing, BLCMP began the development of a new library management system. This new Unix-based library management system named Talis was introduced in 1992 and offered as a commercial product for UK public and academic libraries.

In about 1999, the organization shifted from a non-profit cooperative managed by its trustees to a for-profit company named Talis after its flagship product. Dave Errington headed the new company as its Chief Executive Officer. As a for-profit business, Talis was able to seek external funding, pursue business partnerships, and engage in other activities not easily accomplished when governed by trustees. At the time of this transition, its library management system was rebranded as Alto.

As a private, for-profit company, Talis diversified its development efforts to also include semantic web technologies in addition to the ongoing development and marketing of its Alto library management system and Prism web-based catalog interface. The company developed TalisList, the predecessor of Aspire. This product was initially launched in about 2000, following a development effort in partnership with the University of Sussex. The original TalisList product was not widely implemented.

During this period, Talis became a proponent of semantic web technologies and linked data for higher education and beyond. The company developed the Talis Platform as a strategic product, designed to manage business information in multiple business sectors using linked data. Talis developed a new version of its Prism discovery interface for its Alto learning management system as its initial application of its semantic web platform. Talis launched an Education Division in June 2009, with Aspire, originally introduced as TalisList, as its initial product.

The energy of the company was eventually shifted from library management systems to technologies surrounding linked data. In March 2011, Talis sold its library management division to Capita Group for around $32 million to fund its semantic web initiatives. Capita is a major provider of technology products and outsourcing services to local government authorities in the United Kingdom and saw the Alto library management system as a good fit within its portfolio of products for this sector. At the time of this acquisition, about 100 libraries had implemented Alto, all within the United Kingdom.

The number of Alto implementations has decreased somewhat since that time, but it remains as one of the major library management systems in the UK. About 77 library services in the UK currently use Talis, which is also branded as Chorus when deployed as a hosted service.

Talis' strategic focus on semantic web technologies proved to be a short-lived business activity. As noted in a Computers in Libraries article:

That bold move ultimately did not prove to be a huge commercial success. In July 2012, Talis announced its withdrawal from business activities related to the semantic web. The company, now somewhat downsized, focuses primarily on the Talis Aspire reading list management product for higher education and on digitization services. Despite growing interest in the semantic web, Talis acknowledged in its press announcement that commercial opportunities remain limited. It seems to me that although Talis was ultimately not able to build a profitable business model based on semantic web technologies, it was successful in building awareness of these concepts in the library community and beyond.[1]

In the period since its exit from semantic web technologies, Talis saw considerable success in developing and marketing its Aspire reading list application. It has been adopted by most UK higher educational institutions as well by universities in Europe and Australia. The success of that product has culminated in its acquisition by SAGE Publishing.

SAGE Acquires Lean Library

In August 2018, SAGE announced that it had acquired Lean Library and its browser plug-in technologies that help researchers gain access to the full text of scholarly resources. Its products were designed with a library focus, helping to ensure a role of the library in resource access, even when the researcher does not start from library-provided catalogs or discovery services. Since only a limited proportion of students and researchers affiliated with a college or university begin their research using the discovery services provided by the library, it is important to provide alternatives for authenticating and linking to subscribed resources outside those environments.

The May 2018 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter included a brief summary of Lean Library and its products:

Lean Library offers a browser extension branded as Library Access that facilitates access to scholarly resources. It emerged from a prototype originally developed at Utrecht University Library, which gained distinction through its strategy not to offer its own discovery service but to encourage the use of Google Scholar and other disciplinary resources.

The Library Access browser extension from Lean Library facilitates access to scholarly content provided by the library. The extension sits in the background until the user opens a resource available with the library's subscriptions, and then it presents the versions of the link from the institution's proxy server. Library Access works to make it easier to access libraryprovided resources, removing any complications related to authentication from on-campus and off-campus locations. Like Unpaywall and Kopernio, it attempts to find open access copies when subscribed versions are not available.

Lean Library focuses on the perspective of the library to assist its users in gaining easier access to subscribed resources and to provide analytics related to usage that can be used to inform decisions on developing its collection of electronic resources. Lean Library appeals to libraries through its policy of not sharing or selling usage data. The data it collects is anonymized and not shared beyond the library. Lean Library was founded by Johan Tilstra in October 2016 with assistance from UtrechtInc, an incubator that provides services and financing to new startups. Prior to launching Lean Library, Tilstra was affiliated with Utrecht University.[2]

In addition to Library Access, Lean Library has also developed Library Alternatives, which provides supplementary functionality to identify other copies of an article of interest that might be available in open access repositories or from within the library's portfolio of subscriptions. Library Alternatives works with the organization's link resolver behind the scenes. Library Assist provides site-specific messages from the library displayed on the user's web browser. The library, for example, can configure Library Assist to display a message when the user connects to the website of a publisher for which a subscription is available. The message might notify the user that the library has purchased a subscription and provide information on obtaining any needed login credentials. Browser plug-ins have been a product genre gaining increasing interest in the scholarly communications ecosystem. The May 2018 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter included coverage of the acquisition of Kopernio. Unpaywall, developed by the non-profit Impactstory, falls within the same niche as Kopernio and Lean Library.

SAGE Launches New Advance Preprints Service

SAGE has launched a new open access preprint service for papers in the social sciences and humanities, Advance. Positioned as a preprints community, Advance serves as a repository for research papers that have not yet been peer reviewed or published. Advance facilitates early availability of research as well as a vehicle for submission of papers to appropriate SAGE journals. Preprint servers such as Advance not only provide early access to research but also ensure that authors receive credit for their work. All papers submitted to Advance are assigned a DOI and remain permanently in the repository even when they are subsequently published. The Advance service has been implemented in partnership with Figshare, which provides its technology platform. Figshare's primary service is a repository launched in 2011 for datasets, images, video, and other files produced through research projects. Figshare is owned by Digital Science. SAGE offers Advance as a free service. Preprints deposited in the repository can simultaneously be submitted to SAGE journals, but there is no obligation. The platform provides a commenting feature so that authors can receive feedback from readers. Preprints in the repository are available as open access and can be cited and shared freely. This service aims to benefit the academic community in the social science and humanities in the same way that arXiv supports disciplines in physics. SAGE benefits from Advance as a streamlined submission channel for its journals.

SAGE Publishing Background

SAGE has grown from a small firm established in 1965 issuing a single journal to one of the largest academic content businesses with a broad and diverse portfolio of publications and multiple international divisions. The company was founded by Sara McCune who led the company as its President through 1989 and as its Executive Chairman thereafter. In 2004, Blaise Simqu was named Chief Executive Officer of SAGE.

SAGE is privately owned by Sara McCune, with a succession plan to transition to ownership by a charitable trust to ensure the perpetual independence of the company. SAGE has continually expanded its portfolio of content offerings, both through launching its own new titles and imprints as well as through acquisitions. Some of the major events in its content advancement include: acquisition of five journals from Greenwood Publishing Group (1972), launch of Cowan (1990), Pine Forge Press (1990), Paul Chapman Publishing (acquired 1998), SAGE Reference (launched 2001), expansion in content areas beyond social sciences to STEM (1998), Technomic (acquired 2001), Hodder's Arnold Journals (2006), launch of (2009), CQ Press (acquired 2008), Learning Matters (acquired 2011), Adam Matthew (acquired 2012), Symposium Journals (acquired 2014), Vathek Publishing (acquired 2014), Pion Limited (acquired 2015), and Royal Society of Medicine journals (acquired 2012).

The company has also made advancements in technology consistent with evolving trends. The company was launched in the era of print publishing. As the industry shifted to electronic publication, so did SAGE. Beginning in about 2000, SAGE began the transition of its journals to an online platform. The company also launched new digital products including SAGE Reference Online (2007), SAGE Knowledge ebook and electronic reference platform (2012), SAGE Navigator literature review tool (2013), and SAGE Stats (2014).

SAGE has also seen considerable geographic expansion. Beginning from its original formation in New York in 1965, the company relocated to California in 1966 and has moved its headquarters facilities multiple times to accommodate its growing workforce. New international divisions were formed, including SAGE Publications, Ltd (London, 1971), SAGE Publications India (1981), and SAGE South Pacific (2006). Today SAGE employs over 1,500 personnel and is active on five continents.

SAGE also created business units and partnerships as it became increasingly involved with technology. These endeavors included Scalari software division (1995-2004) and a partnership with Acrobatiq for adaptive courseware in social sciences (2014). The acquisitions of Talis and Lean Library further expand the company's technology portfolio.


1. Marshall Breeding, “Linked Data: The Next Big Wave or Another Tech Fad?” Computers in Libraries 33, n. 3 (April 2013).

2. Marshall Breeding, “Smarter Libraries through Technology: Addressing Disruption in the Discovery and Access to Scholarly Literature,” Smart Libraries Newsletter XXXVIII, n. 5 (May 2018): 4–5.

View Citation
Publication Year:2018
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 38 Number 10
Issue:October 2018
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: SAGE
Talis Education Limited
Record Number:24066
Last Update:2022-12-05 14:52:35
Date Created:2019-03-05 17:27:47