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Smarter Libraries Through Technology: Looking Forward into the New Year

Smart Libraries Newsletter [January 2019]

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This January issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter gives us the chance to review some of the events in the field that happened in 2018 and speculate about what might lie ahead in the next year or so. It's helpful to look at past events to get a better sense of the trajectory of ongoing trends that will impact the technology decisions that face libraries in the near and long term.

The library technology industry last year can be characterized as a period of incremental advancement on existing products and strategies, though there were some important new initiatives. The realm of integrated library systems (ILSs) has especially been in the mode of gradual evolution. Each of the products from global companies, such as SirsiDynix and Innovative, have seen important enhancements in features and a gradual evolution of their underlying technologies. The ILSs from The Library Corporation, Auto-Graphics, and Biblionix have likewise seen steady enhancement, as well as the open source products Koha and Evergreen.

The BLUEcloud Suite from SirsiDynix continues to gain new capabilities in its web-based interfaces, though the most advanced features continue to be accessed using the staff interfaces to the underlying Symphony or Horizon ILS. For Sirsi- Dynix, BLUEcloud has been a wise strategy even though it has taken longer than planned to fully develop. Innovative likewise has made advancements in providing web interfaces for Sierra and Polaris, but most libraries continue to rely on the graphical desktop client software. The release of a new version of Evergreen with a fully web-based staff client was an important improvement.

This incremental approach seems endemic with the genre of ILSs, most of which have evolved over decades and multiple phases of technology architecture. For many libraries, incremental advancement may not necessarily be seen as a negative quality since it has resulted in stable and feature-rich products. Any new-from-the-ground-up development comes with significant disruption, even when imbued with innovations that will ultimately improve library workflows or strategies.

The library services platform arena has been one of steady advancement for the last few years, even though these platforms were initially launched not quite a decade ago as a new and disruptive product genre. The academic and research library arena is well along the way to a broad shift to services such as Ex Libris Alma and OCLC WorldShare Management Services that provide comprehensive automation spanning electronic and print resources. The periodic deployment of new releases characteristic of true SaaS offerings means that the concept of incremental advancement is essentially baked into the product. As Alma becomes more mature and well-established, it has seen a continual growth in its rate of adoption. Seen as a riskier choice a few years ago, the selection of Alma today has become the safe option for large academic libraries and consortia.

Libraries remain conservative in their procurement decisions. They tend to have a low tolerance for risk and often prefer to remain with an incumbent product and vendor even through periods of dissatisfaction. Movement to shift to a new vendor is triggered only when difficulties rise to a high level. These difficulties may take the form of vendor performance or changing circumstances, where the software in place no longer meets the basic needs of libraries.

These dynamics lead to a couple of ongoing trends to expect in the near term. The incremental development of ILSs has led to less differentiation among products, especially from the perspective of public and school libraries. Given a field of products with such similar capabilities, the motivation to change systems remains low, resulting in a fairly low churn of system migrations. There are some cases of libraries moving from one ILS to another even though the moves are almost lateral in terms of functional capabilities and technical architecture.

We can anticipate that academic libraries still running ILSs will continue to shift to Alma and WorldShare Management Services. EBSCO Information Services stands strong in the mix on the discovery front. These products have a great deal of momentum and the ILS has difficulties in managing the vast proportions of electronic resources in the collections of these libraries. Companies offering ILSs used by multiple types of libraries have significant challenges in competing against products developed specifically for academic libraries.

In the longer term, we can anticipate the customer base of each company to increasingly drift according to library type. The businesses offering library services platforms are already dominantly academic; over the course of the next few years ILSs will prevail mostly among public and school libraries. Next year will mark a new phase of disruption in system selections and migrations. Multiple products are on the cusp of entering the market with the potential to alter some of the current dynamics. The level of impact will depend on early implementations delivering on the promises and vision that have been articulated during the development phase.

The FOLIO project to develop an open source library services platform has been underway since late 2015. This initiative has built an extensive global community of libraries, developers, and companies working together to create a new microservices platform able to deliver typical library management capabilities as well as an operating environment for other types of applications. Early adopters are scheduled to put the software into production in 2019. EBSCO Information Services helped launch the FOLIO initiative and has provided significant financial support and has been a major contributor to its architectural design and technical development. Index Data was engaged by EBSCO to develop the initial microservices environment and user interface framework and has continued as an ongoing contributor. The FOLIO project was featured in the May 2016 and January 2018 issues of Smart Libraries Newsletter. A significant group of libraries, spanning multiple international regions, are on track to implement FOLIO once it is considered ready. Some of these implementations will take place in early 2019. This year will be a critical year for FOLIO as it enters its implementation phase and will be an indicator of whether interest in this open source product will make a dent in the momentum of Alma.

Axiell's Quria, featured in the April 2018 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, is poised at a similar juncture. This new library services platform was built new from the ground up apart from any of the company's legacy ILS. Quria is the first library services platform created specifically for public libraries and is based on a digital-first design. Its first implementations were completed in 2018 in libraries in Norway and Germany. In the global public library market dominated by ILSs with marginal differentiation, a new library services platform carries a strong possibility for disruption.

OCLC's Wise platform may likewise have interesting possibilities for public libraries. As covered in the April 2018 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, Wise is based on the bicatWise product OCLC acquired from KHA in 2013, which is used in about three-fourths of the libraries in the Netherlands and has recently been selected by a large consortium in the Flanders region of Belgium. OCLC positions Wise as more of a “community relationship management system” than a traditional ILS, with a much stronger focus on patron use patterns with built-in marketing and engagement capabilities. In 2018, OCLC launched the product in North America, following some new development to accommodate interests of libraries in this region. Wise has seen some initial interest by some influential libraries including the Allen County Public Library in Indiana and the Anythink library system in Colorado.

Innovative has articulated plans to launch its new platform in 2019 that will support its future products. Its initial product will be a new discovery service based on technology and content sources it positions as a “context engine.” Success of this new product will be critical for Innovative as it works to stem the bleeding of its academic customers to Alma and WorldShare Management Services.

Cicero, a new platform developed by Systematic for the public and school libraries in Denmark, may also be ready to seek new global opportunities. This new platform was featured in the June 2018 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, following the completion of its implementation in the public and school libraries in 97 out of the 98 municipalities in Denmark. It has subsequently been implemented in the final hold-out, making it a truly national system, and it has been adopted by a neighboring Southern Schleswig region of Germany. Implementation of Cicero in a consortium of 500 private schools is also underway. With over 2,500 libraries automated through a single instance of the platform, Cicero has proven itself as scalable and reliable. We can anticipate its expansion into other global regions, though that move may be a few years away.

Ex Libris, has not rested on its laurels with the development of Alma, but has instead taken advantage of its base platform to create products addressing other aspects of the academic institution. Leganto, released in 2015, addresses the teaching side of the institution through its reading list and copyright management capabilities. Esploro was announced in 2018 as a new institutional research services platform based on the Alma platform. These products further strengthen the capacity of Ex Libris as a formidable competitor in the academic library sector.

Following a period of sluggish turnover in systems for public libraries, these developments indicate the possibility for a faster rate of change in the public library sector. In the academic library realm, it's hard to anticipate a major interruption of the momentum of Ex Libris Alma.

Business Consolidation?

The library technology saw only a low level of mergers and acquisitions activity in 2018. Events included the acquisition of Talis Group by Sage Publishing and Lean Library (see the October 2018 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter), Ex Libris acquired Research Research, Ltd. (see the September 2018 issue), Follett acquired Fishtree (see the August 2018 issue) and NextTier Education (see section below), and Clarivate acquired Kopernio (see the May 2018 issue).

Although it isn't possible to predict these kind of business events in advance, the library technology industry may be poised for a higher level of consolidation in the next year or two. Several companies now owned by private equity firms may be reaching the period in their ownership cycle where the incumbent investors are seeking an exit. The investment periods in the industry have varied from four to eight years. Any possible exits could take the form of lateral transfers of ownership to other investment firms, an acquisition of multiple companies by a single investor to create a merger, or a strategic acquisition by a larger scale entity in an adjacent industry.

The scholarly publishing sector is currently in the throws of disruption. Demand for a transition to open access has reached a critical threshold. The past year has been busy with new initiatives that challenge the current stranglehold that the large scholarly publishers have gained through the incumbent subscription-based business model. Plan S (https://www is a broad-based initiative supported by many European countries, the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and others demanding:

After 1 January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.[1]

A growing number of influential organizations have taken aggressive steps, such as not renewing their contracts with publishers such as Elsevier. Examples include the University of California system in the US, and Projekt DEAL, an initiative led coalition of research institutions in Germany, recently including the influential Max Planck Institute.

The scholarly publishing industry has resisted a complete transition to open access, offering instead hybrid journals that include both subscription-based and open access articles. This hybrid approach is increasingly under fire as interest in comprehensive open access for new publication intensifies.

The demand for open access has disrupted the business models of scholarly publishers. While these organization continue to successfully monetize open access publishing through premium article processing fees, they are also working toward new business models based on deeper involvement with the research process. We can see major companies including Elsevier, Clarivate, Digital Science, Gale, EBSCO, and ProQuest each working to complete a matrix of product offerings that address the full lifecycle of research and publishing, especially focusing on workflow, analytics, and discovery. Filling in cells of the matrix has mostly been accomplished through business acquisitions. We can anticipate these acquisitions to continue and to even reach more deeply into the publishing and library business ecosystem.

Regardless of whether any big moves are in store for the next year or two, it would be unusual for the next year to be absent of business transitions of modest impact. However these trends play out, expect to see detailed coverage in upcoming issues of Smart Libraries Newsletter.


  1. 10 Principles,” Science Europe, accessed December 18, 2018,
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Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 01
Issue:January 2019
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
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Record Number:24086
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:48:09
Date Created:2019-03-06 12:45:45