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Smarter Libraries through Technology: What to Expect in the Library Tech Industry 2022 and Beyond

Smart Libraries Newsletter [November 2021]

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Smart Libraries Newsletter has chronicled incredible changes in the library technology industry. The recent rounds of mergers and acquisitions have shifted the balance of power, with more technology products concentrated into a smaller number of organizations, some of which are massive. The drivers for business consolidation have been relentless and are ongoing. Given current trajectories, what changes can we expect to play out in the next five years or so?

This new consolidated reality raises concerns regarding the options available to libraries, but it also brings some potential benefits in the form of new technologies that would be less likely to emerge from smaller companies with limited development capacity.

The acquisitions of Ex Libris and Innovative by ProQuest were bold moves, catapulting the company into a role as the largest provider of technology to academic libraries. These acquisitions disrupted the relative power among the top competitors, especially relative to EBSCO Information Services and OCLC. Mid-level players like SirsiDynix, The Library Corporation, and Auto-Graphics walk in looming shadows of the industry giants. The proposed acquisition of ProQuest by Clarivate, if completed, will be the boldest move yet in the library sector, with a stated valuation of $5.4 billion. The finalization of this acquisition has been delayed by a few months to clear regulatory hurdles through the Federal Trade Commission. ProQuest's acquisition of Innovative was also complicated by FTC review but was approved without conditions. If this acquisition is completed, it will establish a key precedent for the next phase of the industry.

We can be sure that additional moves lay ahead that will further deepen industry consolidation. Bold moves that realign the positions of the companies in the industry rarely go unanswered. The timing and the form of those next moves may take aren't easily predicted. The pattern currently underway involves larger companies adjacent to the community of those directly oriented to libraries. There are many possibilities of adjacent businesses that may see library technology and services as an opportunity that would complement their business strategies. Changes in ownership of multiple smaller or mid-sized library technology companies would be expected in the next few years. Possibilities include lateral ownership moves as well as those that assemble multiple companies together, including acquisition into larger strategic organizations.

Even within the context of a deeply consolidated industry, we can also expect some smaller companies to thrive. Many companies are not interested in joining the fray of mergers and acquisitions and will continue to offer their more specialized products and services, representing essential layers of competition to the field.

The business environment will have great impact on the next phase of library technologies. The characteristics of public, academic, and school libraries increasingly diverge, leading to even less overlap in the technology products and services. Technology products have become ever more specialized by library type, and this trend will likely continue and accelerate. The supersized vendors have the potential to accelerate the development of new technologies for any library sector that they opt to address.

Technologies in support of public libraries have considerable room for expansion and modernization. The integrated library system (ILS) remains at the core of public library automation and most of the products currently used have evolved over multiple decades to adapt to current needs. The current area of technical development is concentrated on patron interfaces and digital services. Public libraries will increasingly prioritize patron-facing interfaces and services. These libraries have high expectations for catalog interfaces and website management tools consistent with the current f lavors of the web, including easy use through mobile devices. Building interest in tools in support of marketing strategies and outreach initiatives will drive adoption of the current line of specialized products and will spark the creation and integration of these capabilities as part of the business infrastructure for public libraries.

Looking further into the future, the core ILSs used by public libraries are overdue for modernization. If the incumbent vendors fail to fully modernize or rebuild their core products, they will be vulnerable to new challengers.

Among academic libraries, the library services platform continues to be well established as the preferred model for resource management. The number of academic libraries using legacy integrated systems remain substantial but going forward will fall rapidly. Those legacy systems will be increasingly outdated and ill-suited to manage the electronic and print collections of academic libraries. Drivers for libraries to defer moving away from legacy systems have eroded since migration options are as diverse now as can be expected, with open source and proprietary alternatives available. Beyond the core resource management systems, academic libraries will accelerate their use of supplemental products for reading list management. Some will acquire tools to help manage institutional research processes, though the role of the library in this area of the university remains less well defined. The need for cutting-edge interfaces for library patrons and technologies to build patron engagement will continue to build, though in somewhat different directions than those for public libraries.

The accelerated movement away from legacy systems in use by academic libraries will eventually spell the demise of some long-standing products, though any such extinction lays at least five years from now and would apply only to those mostly used by academic libraries. One of the important, and fortunate, trends in the library technology sector is that vendors do not sunset products as long as libraries continue using them. The low cost of ongoing support for mature and stable products means that it makes good business sense to avoid premature product withdrawal that would incur wrath from customer libraries.

These are only some of the possibilities that may play out in the next few years. The pace of change seems to be accelerating, which brings potential for positive developments as well as concerns for a more adverse environment. These changes may drive the relative balance of power between vendors and libraries as customers of their products. Libraries will need to collectively find ways to amplify their influence in the directions of product development and to moderate pricing. The next phase of the industry will involve higher stakes than any previous era.

View Citation
Publication Year:2021
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 41 Number 11
Issue:November 2021
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
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Record Number:26849
Last Update:2022-12-05 14:33:13
Date Created:2021-11-17 09:34:09