The Merger of the Century: EBSCO Acquires H. W. Wilson

June 3, 2011

In a surprise announcement June 2, two of the leading names in digital reference publishing told their library customers that they have merged to strengthen the value of their databases and print resources. EBSCO Publishing, a subsidiary of EBSCO Industries founded in 1944 and headquartered in Ipswich, Massachusetts, has acquired the staff and product lines of the H. W. Wilson Company, founded in 1898 and located in the Bronx, New York, since 1917. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

H. W. Wilson President and CEO Harry Regan said of the merger, “EBSCO and H. W. Wilson have been engaged as business partners for a number of years and are now officially operating as one. The result will be a broader and deeper range of products and services for the library reference community with significantly added value.”

In a FAQ describing the move, EBSCO said that the “vast majority of Wilson databases will continue to be maintained, and there are many planned enhancements. Some Wilson databases will be merged together with closely related EBSCO databases to create more robust versions.”

EBSCO Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Sam Brooks told American Libraries that the company’s goal is to have the Wilson databases available through its EBSCOhost platform by December 31. “Our plan is to release new, more comprehensive products in early 2012 covering applied sciences, art, biography, education, humanities, law, and library science,” he said. “Our customers will have the choice to continue to subscribe to the Wilson version, continue to subscribe to the EBSCO version, or to upgrade to the more comprehensive, merged EBSCO/Wilson version."

EBSCO expects to discontinue very few of the existing Wilson databases, and when that does happen, customers will be upgraded to an enhanced Wilson version at no additional charge. The FAQ mentions that all current subscriptions to Wilson print books will be fulfilled by EBSCO’s subsidiary, Salem Press. However, print resources that have experienced a decline in interest levels from librarians may eventually be discontinued. Brooks added that they are “not looking to make substantial cutbacks here and will let market demand for these products drive decisions.”

The well-respected Wilson thesauri will be merged into the EBSCO thesaurus, which will improve the subject indexing in many of the databases. Wilson’s precise and abundant subject terms are expected to enhance EBSCO customers’ search results.

“Further,” Brooks told AL, “WilsonWeb has a great feature that will be added to EBSCOhost. WilsonWeb keyword searches match against their controlled vocabularies and return results from ‘use for’ terms. For example, a keyword search for Burma also returns results for Myanmar, because Myanmar is a ‘use for’ term for Burma.” That functionality will be added to all EBSCO databases as well as to the EBSCO Discovery Service, the company’s unified index application that searches across an institution’s EBSCOhost database holdings as well as such partner databases as Alexander Street Press, LexisNexis, NewsBank, and Readex.

An as-yet-to-be-determined number of Wilson’s 200+ employees in the Bronx and Dublin, Ireland, will eventually join EBSCO’s 800 workers at the Ipswich facility. “All H. W. Wilson employees are now EBSCO employees,” Brooks said.

The H. W. Wilson Foundation will remain a separate entity and plans to continue its mission of supporting libraries and librarianship with the annual John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Awards, cosponsored with ALA’s Library Leadership and Management Association division. Wilson has provided support for these awards since their inception in 1946. EBSCO plans to take over sponsorship of the Library Staff Development Grant that Wilson has been supporting.

Former ALA Executive Director Robert Wedgeworth pays tribute to the legacy of the H. W. Wilson Company in a companion article.