The library technology industry, broadly speaking, shows more affinity toward utility than innovation. Library automation systems are not necessarily exciting technologies, but they are workhorse applications that must support the complex tasks of acquiring, describing, and providing access to materials and services. They represent substantial investments, and their effectiveness is tested daily in the library. But more than efficiency is at stake: These products must be aligned with the priorities of the library relative to collection management, service provision, and other functions.
Outdated automation systems can reinforce work patterns that no longer reflect priorities as core library activities change. Bursts of innovation can create new products better aligned with current library realities. The products that emerge out of these creative booms then become mainstays that support the next phase of library operations. The academic library sector can be seen as a cycle of innovation that began eight years ago with the inception of an automation product substantially different from previous systems. The trajectory of innovation for public and school libraries has followed a different course, characterized by incremental change layered on top of longstanding systems with aging architectures.
The state of the industry
The library technology field continues to see modest growth overall, though that growth is unevenly distributed among companies. Large companies with expanding portfolios of products and services are giving new shape to the landscape. Despite the dominance of a few globally diverse and large companies, midsized and small companies continue to hold their own and in some cases thrive. Massive companies such as Follett, ProQuest/Ex Libris, and EBSCO represent formidable competition for any challenger in their markets. SirsiDynix and Innovative Interfaces continue to retain and attract diverse libraries to their evolving integrated library system (ILS)–centric product portfolios.
It’s a complex industry, with different business and technology trends running simultaneously, often along divergent paths. Economic prospects are low risk, with adequate room for new business opportunities. It is an industry of established companies and few start-ups. It resists new entrants or even the advancement of local or regional companies to the global sphere. The global market for library companies must be seen in the context of client saturation. Almost all libraries that fall within the ranks of eligible customers have at least some level of automation infrastructure in place. In such a zero-sum economy, the success of one company comes at the direct expense of another.
The cost and difficulty of changing systems lead libraries to keep existing systems unless they have strong vendor or product dissatisfaction, or they think certain technologies better align with their goals. Ex Libris and OCLC have capitalized on the latter, fueling a decade-long migration cycle of academic libraries away from legacy, print-centered ILS products to a library services platform (LSP) designed to manage complex multiformat collections.
Follett’s products designed for school libraries carry the same characteristics. Destiny dominates the US public school library market to an extent unmatched in any other sector—its market share is five times that of its nearest competitor. And Follett’s economic weight extends beyond library systems. It’s a significant supplier of content products for libraries, for the classroom curriculum, and for student information systems for district administration.
The slate of competitive products in some sectors has become uncomfortably narrow, though none has claimed a monopoly. Even lesser competitors exert pressure to moderate pricing and spark innovation. Once a library implements a new automation system, it will probably not be back in the buying market for a decade or two. As a result, vendors can’t rest on their laurels, since libraries demand sustained improvement cycles for technology products in which they have already invested.
Ex Libris was the leader in 2018 sales, reporting 115 new contracts representing 448 individual libraries for its Alma LSP. The 113 licenses for Primo indicate that almost all new Alma selections were paired with Ex Libris’s own discovery service. New category products, including Leganto with 46 new sales and Esploro with 10 sales, further bolstered the company’s position. OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services provided competition at a lower sales level, with 53 new licenses signed this year. In the ILS category, SirsiDynix made 107 deals for Symphony, many of them to multibranch libraries. BLUEcloud product sales were strong, including 83 for Enterprise, 64 for BLUEcloud Analytics, 58 for BLUEcloud Mobile, and 23 for Portfolio. These figures for the premium products include BLUEcloud modules available without cost to its ILS customers. ByWater Solutions added 43 new Koha service contracts representing 225 libraries, demonstrating the strong competitive position of open source technology when backed by solid support arrangements. Follett placed Destiny into 4,507 additional school libraries in its continued dominance of that sector. In the small library sector, Book Systems made 145 new sales.
Innovation and evolution
The current innovation cycle in the academic sector began about a decade ago, in response to the fundamental shift toward electronic resources. The new generation of LSPs has succeeded considerably in its promise to introduce business infrastructure aligned with the new proportionality of electronic, digital, and print resource management. These products dominate current migration selections, and defections have been negligible.
Cycles of innovation in the library technology industry turn slowly. The launch of a new technology, even if well conceived and well executed, will be tried out by a handful of early adopters who are usually aligned with the vendor’s vision. If these implementations succeed, a sales cycle may ensue. The early sales and adoption period validates the viability of the product. Some have failed, notably Intota and Kuali OLE. But the few that find traction can see significant opportunities. Alma and WorldShare Management Services fall in this category, and both entered a cycle of adoption in 2012 that has continued unabated, though at different levels.
The trajectory of new products follows a distinct arc: It takes at least two or three years for products to become established enough to find their way into current procurement processes. Risk-adverse libraries observe from the sidelines during the shakeout period of new offerings. Early success can lead to mainstream adoption and to a growing sales cycle that may swell over the course of more than a decade. As a case in point, from its introduction in 2012 until 2014, Alma was considered risky among academic libraries, who were skeptical it would live up to promises of more efficient resource management. Since then, Alma has become the conservative choice, due to its growing prevalence in that community and its functional capabilities. Libraries using Alma do not necessarily rave about its features, especially since it goes against the grain of many long-established work patterns.
Finding economic opportunities requires conceiving and developing products beyond core systems. These products can target new interests within or beyond the library and fill in gaps not yet addressed.
Overdue: web-based interfaces
One key focus of development for ILS products for the last few years has been upgrading web-based interfaces on software applications installed on library personnel computers. The maintenance of staff-facing clients has been a longstanding pain for libraries using ILS products. The transition to web interfaces is long overdue and unfortunately consumes much of the development capacity of the vendors at the expense of creating new functionality or services.
The path from graphical to web interfaces isn’t trivial. Graphical interfaces offer rich, mature functionality with good ergonomics and efficiency. Creating web-based interfaces with the same qualities has been a major challenge, with most of the recent development not yet reaching a break-even point relative to incumbent workstation-based clients.
Examples of retrofitting existing products with web interfaces include the BLUEcloud Suite from SirsiDynix, Innovative’s new interfaces for Sierra and Polaris, and Spydus from Civica, which will be fully web based in its latest release. A web-based client for Evergreen introduced in version 3.2 will be the standard for development going forward.
Products with web interfaces have an advantage and can focus development on new functionality. Koha, for example, has had web interfaces for both staff functions and its catalog since its initial release in 1999. Apollo likewise was web based from its inception in 2006, and LSPs Alma and OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services have web interfaces for all staff features, as does open source LSP FOLIO.
Discovery products continue to represent an important category, though one of somewhat diminished strategic value. During the initial phase of index-based discovery products beginning in 2009, these offerings were able to drive the direction of a library’s technology investments. Success in placing Primo, Summon, or EBSCO Discovery Service increased the likelihood that a library would eventually acquire other more strategic products from that vendor. Today the tables have turned.
Index-based discovery products are perceived as less differentiated from each other and of more modest strategic value. Each of the discovery services reasonably covers the body of scholarly and professional literature of interest to libraries. Important differences can be seen in interface features and retrieval algorithms. The current trend of product bundling translates into strong sales for Primo, riding on the coattails of Ex Libris’s Alma. But these products have not made a dent in the reality that most researchers rely on Google Scholar or disciplinary indexes more than library-provided discovery services. These products remain in the must-have category, with academic libraries almost universally featuring a single search box powered by one of these index-based discovery services on their websites.
SirsiDynix, a company built through multiple rounds of mergers and acquisitions, offers a diverse portfolio of technology products. It has operated under several owners, passing in 1999 from private founder owners to venture capital firms to (in 2007) Vista Equity Partners, which sold the company to ICV Partners in 2014.
SirsiDynix is the largest of the ILS companies, with a workforce of 391. The size of its postmerger workforce peaked in 2014 at 421 and has gradually slimmed down in the following years. While SirsiDynix can be considered a large company compared to other ILS providers, it is midsized in comparison to diversified organizations like ProQuest, EBSCO, and Follett.
SirsiDynix products have been implemented by all types of libraries. This strategy puts the company in competition with specialist companies like Follett for school libraries and Ex Libris for academics. Even in light of stiff competition, SirsiDynix products are a strong presence in the industry. Symphony had its highest number of installations in 2016 at 2,573 libraries and has slipped only slightly to the 2,498 reported for 2018. SirsiDynix reported 107 contracts for Symphony in 2018. Major sales included the London Libraries Consortium, serving 17 library authorities in and around London and spanning more than 150 branch libraries. SirsiDynix made 17 sales of Horizon, mostly extending existing installations to additional libraries. The number of libraries using Horizon peaked in 2007, just after the company’s takeover by Vista Equity Partners.
SirsiDynix continues to market and develop EOS.Web (a web-based ILS for special and smaller academic libraries), which it acquired in 2013. Installations of EOS.Web peaked in 2014 at 1,137 and have declined slightly since.
Development of the BLUEcloud Mobile app has been a priority, with new functionality—including options for full account management, hold placement, item renewal, enhanced discovery, and viewing of ebooks and other digital content—expected in an upcoming release. SirsiDynix continued development of BLUEcloud Circulation in 2018.
The company launched its Community Engagement Platform based on automated marketing to help a library communicate events, programs, newsletters, and other content to patrons, targeting areas of interest and other factors.
SirsiDynix’s core product strategy centers on developing BLUEcloud as a modern interface that delivers the existing functionality of Symphony and Horizon, as well as additional capabilities beyond the conventional ILS. This plan enables existing customers to adopt modern technology at their own pace without having to replace core systems and migrate data. SirsiDynix is working toward a more complete development of BLUEcloud in which most of its customers will use those interfaces rather than the staff clients of their Symphony or Horizon ILS. The company anticipates reaching that goal in the next few years and reports that more than 2,000 libraries use at least one BLUEcloud module in production.
The BLUEcloud Suite sees the strongest sales trends. These modules will be part of almost any product bundle for new customers, though the largest portion of sales goes to existing customers. In 2018, 44 existing customers licensed BLUEcloud Analytics, and 20 were part of new client deals. Of the 35 sales for eResource Central, 22 were to existing sites; the 83 contracts for the Enterprise discovery interface went to 57 existing customers and 26 new ones.
Innovative Interfaces offers multiple ILS products, including the Sierra and Polaris ILS. Its legacy products Millennium and Virtua, though not actively developed, continue to be supported and have a substantial number of remaining installations.
Innovative did not supply a detailed response to the vendor survey but instead provided a narrative response of its general accomplishments and plans. In the absence of verifiable data, analysis of this company cannot be as thorough. It reported several major contracts, such as one for Sierra to the Consortium of Icelandic Libraries, serving 300 libraries in the country, including the National Library and Reykjavik University. Libraries moving to Polaris include Whatcom County (Wash.) Library System, St. Charles City-County (Mo.) Library, Tippecanoe County (Ind.) Public Library, Bloomington (Ill.) Public Library, and Parkland Regional Library in Alberta.
Innovative was also subject to academic library losses in 2018, including 29 Sierra institutions that signed with Alma, such as Baylor University; many in California’s Community College League consortium; the University of Houston; and the University of Sydney. Fifty-two Millennium libraries selected Alma in 2018.
To counter competition in the academic sector, Innovative has begun an ambitious effort to develop a next-generation environment, offering characteristics not found in other products. This new platform will be based on a context engine built on linked data concepts and BIBFRAME. The context engine follows a multidimensional data model that can make connections with library data within the platform as well as with external sources. Innovative reports that it has completed the initial version of Innovative Inspire, a discovery service powered by the company’s new Context Engine that offers capabilities such as contextual browsing and its graphical Context Wheel for exploring connections among resources.
The company notes that Innovative Inspire is now available, but it did not mention specific libraries that have implemented it. The company also continues to enhance Sierra, Polaris, Encore, and its other active products. Innovative has achieved ISO 27001 certification and this year implemented General Data Protection Regulation compliance for patron security and privacy.
Open source businesses and strategies
Library systems based on open source software rather than proprietary licenses continue to grow. In the US and other economically advantaged regions, most adoptions of open source ILS products are based on commercial support arrangements, which provide comprehensive services for hosting, migration, implementation, and product support. Open source ILS implementations currently represent about 14% of ILS installations in the US and 6% of academic libraries. These libraries are mostly small to midsized, with a smattering of larger institutions.
Business configurations differ for companies providing services for open source products from those involved with proprietary software. Companies offering proprietary solutions are responsible for each aspect of product development and enjoy exclusive control and financial benefit. For these companies, the software represents an important corporate asset. The business model includes software licensing and fees for hosting, support, and other services.
The open source arena relies solely on a services-based economy. Organizations cannot claim ownership of the software but rather provide support services for the free software their clients use. These services make open source products accessible to libraries without in-house technical expertise. While most of the organizations involved in open source support have some involvement in the technical development of the product, they have no obligation to do so. For Koha, an extensive network of developers collaborates on its development. These organizations devote much smaller proportions of their personnel to software development and higher proportions to support personnel.
Koha, launched in 1999, has received continual development, with version 18.05.09 released in February 2019. Koha has been implemented in every global region and is dominant in many countries, including India, Malaysia, Turkey, and most Latin American countries. In the developed world, Koha participates in the general mix of the ILS arena, usually through commercial support firms.
ByWater Solutions provides support services for Koha and other open source technologies. In 2018 ByWater signed 43 new contracts representing 225 libraries. Although the number of contracts was smaller than last year, the number of libraries represented was more than four times larger than 2017. ByWater broke into the ranks of the Association of Research Libraries, supporting Virginia Tech in its migration from Sierra to Koha, Coral, and EBSCO Discovery Service.
In business for just a decade, the company now supports 1,221 libraries on Koha. It employs 24 personnel with three dedicated to product development. ByWater relies considerably on the broader Koha development community for advancement of the product, supplemented by its strategic and sponsored enhancements. For comparison, SirsiDynix devotes 129 of its 391 personnel to development. In the open source business, interested stakeholders share development, enabling the companies to focus their resources on services and outreach.
Some of the enhancements ByWater notes include the creation of new ebook APIs for multiple providers, including OverDrive, Recorded Books, and bibliotheca cloudLibrary.
PTFS Europe, based in the UK, provides support services for open source software. The company has a business relationship with US-based PTFS and represents its Knowvation digital resource management system for Europe. PTFS Europe provides support services for Koha based on the open source community project, unlike PTFS in the US, which works with a private version of Koha and now focuses on its new proprietary ILS, branded as Bibliovation.
PTFS Europe has been successful in attracting European libraries of all types to Koha. These include academic libraries, for which it also includes Coral for electronic resource management along with third-party knowledge bases and discovery services. The company recently introduced Metabase, a new open source business analytics tool for use in conjunction with Koha.
In 2018 PTFS Europe made an additional seven contracts for Koha support, increasing its Koha customers to 109. One of these also contracted for Coral, increasing the number of supported sites to 14. PTFS Europe has 18 employees, with four involved with development.
Equinox Open Software Initiative is a nonprofit organization providing development and support services for open source software. It operated as a commercial company from its founding in 2007 through 2017. Equinox includes individuals involved with the creation of Evergreen for the Georgia PINES project and continues to be involved in its ongoing development, contributing about 80% of the new features and bug fixes applied to the codebase. The Evergreen ILS, designed for consortia of public libraries, is used mostly within the US and Canada, with a handful of installations in other international regions.
In 2018 Equinox signed support contracts for 11 new libraries spanning 54 branches, increasing the number of libraries it supports to 1,503. Equinox notes that about 2,000 libraries are now using Evergreen, including those that are self-supported and that work with other service providers. The company also provides support services for Koha, especially for libraries interested in open source automation but not as part of a consortium. It began support for seven additional libraries for Koha, for a total of 40.
The company developed a specialized hosting infrastructure, launched in 2014 and branded as Sequoia, optimized for hosting open source library applications, especially Evergreen and Koha. Equinox now hosts 18 instances of Evergreen, totaling 436 libraries on Sequoia.
TIND is a relatively new start-up that offers services surrounding open source software originally developed by CERN in Switzerland. TIND provides multiple versions of the product, each based on the same technology platform. The TIND ILS offers the full capabilities of an ILS and has been implemented in the US by Caltech Library and the University of California, Berkeley Law Library. Last year the company worked on the development of serials and acquisitions modules for the TIND ILS in collaboration with the Berkeley Law Library. Three new libraries selected the TIND ILS in 2018, including Mills College in Oakland, California. A total of 14 libraries have implemented the TIND ILS. The company also offers the TIND IR institutional repository, which saw four new contracts in 2018 and is now in use in 22 libraries. The TIND DA digital collection management system was selected by four institutions. TIND has developed a version of its platform for research data management, which has been implemented by three libraries. TIND is a small company, employing 11 people.
A global community continues to develop the open source FOLIO LSP. This project was initiated by EBSCO Information Services, which provides financial support as well as technical and organizational leadership. FOLIO remains on the cusp of implementation, with multiple libraries slated to put the software into production later this year. Several organizations will provide hosting and other support services for FOLIO, including EBSCO, Index Data, ALZAD, and Infoestratégica Latina. ByWater Solutions will offer support services based on EBSCO hosting services. This January saw the launch of FOLIO Aster Release, the first iteration of a product expected to gain more complete functionality and technical integrations.
Some of the libraries engaged with FOLIO and likely to implement it once it has reached a sufficient threshold of functionality include Cornell University, Duke University, Five Colleges Consortium, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University, University of Alabama, and University of Chicago. Each of these institutions has significant experience with and commitment to open source software. Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden plans to implement FOLIO as an early adopter, based on EBSCO’s hosting and support services.
Academic libraries have distinct needs for technology support, given the high proportion of electronic resources in their collections and their evolving roles in service to their parent institutions. The need for effective management of electronic resources and corresponding discovery services for patrons has proven to be the major driver of change in this sector of the industry. The release of Ex Libris’s Alma in 2012 led to a major wave of migrations away from ILSes. Companies offering ILS products to academic libraries remain competitive mostly by assembling additional components to offer similar capabilities to LSPs.
Alma dominates new system selections in the academic and research sector, capturing almost all large libraries, multicampus systems, and consortia. In its shadow, OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services sees moderate success among midsized and smaller academic institutions. Last year Association of Research Libraries member McGill University selected WorldShare Management Services, interrupting the clean sweep of large libraries by Alma. Virginia Tech opted for Koha and Coral, reflecting some academic institutions’ interest in exploring alternatives.
The innovation cycle in academic libraries will likely run to completion in the next five years with ever-growing momentum. The window of opportunity is limited for new systems to enter and disrupt the current wave of movement toward Alma and WorldShare Management Services. FOLIO stands ready, however. After three years of development, community building, and evangelizing, early adopters are on the cusp of implementation. With the full force of EBSCO’s support, strengthened by a natural affinity toward open technologies, FOLIO seems positioned to make a dent in the momentum of Alma as its rate of adoption grows each year.
Despite the current momentum of Alma and WorldShare Management Services, more than half of academic libraries in the US, and even more globally, remain on ILSes. The clock has not run out entirely for other products to attract significant proportions of the academic library sector.
Ex Libris, a ProQuest Company, is working to increase business integration and product unification. With Alma established as the dominant resource management system for academic libraries, the company is now leveraging the platform as the foundation for its new products Leganto, Esploro, and Rialto. The recent launch of ProQuest One reflects a unification of its core content products into a single-user interface and delivery infrastructure.
Ex Libris has followed a consistent business strategy based on large investments in product development. The company has a history of attracting investments to create products that have transformed the academic library sector. Its consolidation with Endeavor and multiple rounds of private equity investments give it the resources to enter or create new cycles of product genres. Its development activities have been costly, have represented considerable risk, and may have moderated short-term profits. These bets paid off in terms of the valuation of its business through each new cycle of ownership and in building reliable channels of new revenue.
Ex Libris continues to attract the largest academic libraries and consortia to Alma. Some of the major deals concluded in 2018 include all libraries in the Community College League of California, which migrated from multiple systems including Horizon, Millennium, Polaris, Sierra, and Symphony; the University of Hawaii system; the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois, which featured 91 libraries migrating from Ex Libris’s Voyager; the PASCAL consortium of academic libraries in South Carolina, which migrated from Millennium, Sierra, Symphony, and WorldShare Management Services; the Ontario Council of University Libraries, migrating from multiple systems; the National Library of Poland; 64 campuses that make up the State University of New York, which migrated from Ex Libris’s Aleph; Michigan Shared System Alliance; and National Taiwan University.
In early 2018 Ex Libris announced Esploro, a new product initiative to address multiple aspects of academic research services and support. This product, to be created and designed in consultation with multiple development partners, will help universities manage research outputs, identify funding opportunities, highlight researchers and primary investigators through published profiles, and assist in other related areas. Esploro will be built on top of the Alma technical platform.
ProQuest and Ex Libris will jointly develop a new library acquisitions environment, branded as Rialto and based on the Alma technical platform. Rialto will offer capabilities similar to book acquisitions platforms such as OASIS through a reconceived workflow based on business rules, buying patterns, and ways libraries acquire content.
OCLC, a large nonprofit membership organization, includes many technology products in addition to metadata, research, and other services. The organization employs 1,251 people, more than any other ILS company (though fewer than top-level companies Follett, EBSCO Information Services, or ProQuest).
In 2018 OCLC signed 53 new contracts for WorldShare Management Services, increasing its installations to 565 libraries. Some of the major libraries selecting WorldShare Management Services include The Revs Institute, the Tolstoy Library in Germany, Oxford Brookes University in the UK, the University of the Basque Country in Spain, and the SAE Institute in Australia. Library and Archives Canada has begun implementing WorldShare Management Services and has launched Voilà, a national union catalog based on Syndeo, a related service designed for national libraries that enables use of specialized authority files and other record ingestion and distribution workflows.
To expand its presence in public libraries in the US, OCLC launched Wise, a library automation product it positions as a community engagement system. In addition to standard ILS functionality, Wise incorporates characteristics of a customer relationship management system with marketing tools and analytics to provide personalized services and targeted messaging to patrons. Wise is based on the bicatWise product acquired from HKA in 2013, which is used by most public libraries in the Netherlands. Last year Cultuurconnect, representing 300 libraries in the Flanders area of Belgium, signed an agreement to implement Wise. Early adopters for Wise in the US include Anythink Libraries in Colorado and Allen County (Ind.) Public Library.
OCLC continues to enhance the Tipasa interlibrary loan management utility, designed to automate routines in interlibrary loan offices. Tipasa was designed as a migration path for ILLiad, the Windows-based utility developed by Atlas Systems. OCLC serves as the exclusive distribution and support channel for ILLiad.
Enhancements to the OCLC digital collection management system CONTENTdm include the creation of support for the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Image and Presentation APIs. This new capability enables libraries to view and share images in CONTENTdm through other IIIF-enabled applications and viewers. OCLC reported that 1,164 libraries now use CONTENTdm.
As a 501(c)(3) corporation, OCLC is required to submit filings regarding its financials, which are also published in its annual reports. The organization’s overall revenues for 2018 were $217.6 million.
EBSCO Information Services, a subsidiary of EBSCO Industries, is a privately owned company offering a wide range of content and technology systems for all types of libraries, most prominently academic libraries. We focus on its technology services, but abstracting and indexing databases represents much of its overall business. The company’s expertise in creating subject indexing for content also flavors its approach to other discovery and technology products.
EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) can be seen as one of its most strategic products, with search technologies that treat subject indexing as a key retrieval and relevance factor. In 2018 the company licensed EDS to 552 additional libraries. EBSCO expanded its base index with content from more than 50 new subject databases. Recent enhancements include support for Google authentication, responsive user interface design, and improved citation searching.
EBSCO offers support for OpenAthens, an authentication framework from Eduserv, as a commercial service. OpenAthens provides an alternative to single sign-on for all of its licensed resources and avoids many of the problems and limitations with IP authentication. In 2018 EBSCO gained 196 new customers for OpenAthens, including GALILEO, a University System of Georgia initiative that represents more than 400 individual sites.
EBSCO also recently launched the Knowledge Services suite of modules to provide interoperable tools based on its content and technology components. The initial part of this set, branded as HoldingsIQ, encapsulates EBSCO’s knowledge base of holdings data and link management services for integration with external systems or services developed by the library or by other EBSCO technology partners. Scenarios for HoldingsIQ could include implementations of FOLIO that are able to benefit from EBSCO’s licensed products for electronic resource management and discovery. EBSCO also plans a new round of enhancements to Full Text Finder.
The public library sector has not yet experienced a significant new cycle of innovation. It remains reliant on ILSes that are modified to fill in the gaps required to support critical integrations in ebook lending and other digital offerings. One of the key concerns for public libraries is whether they are poised to enter a disruptive cycle of innovation or if the current pattern of incremental advancement will continue.
All of the ILS products in the established public library market are based on aging internal architectures. This is a field of evolved systems—many of which have been substantially reengineered from their antecedents—but none have been developed anew. These include Atriuum (2001), CARL·X (2004 and reengineered from the CARL ILS that launched in the 1980s), Evergreen (2007), Horizon (introduced in 1994), Koha (2000), Library·Solution (1996), Polaris (1997), Sierra (introduced in 2011 and based on INNOPAC, which launched in the 1980s, and Millennium, launched in 1997), Symphony (launched as Unicorn in 1982), and VERSO (2001).
The maturity of the ILS competitors translates into lackluster energy for system migrations. Few public libraries opt to make a lateral move that will result in marginal strategic gain. Some react to prevailing issues of discontent, but most remain with incumbent systems and dread painful migrations, knowing that alternatives have their own foibles and flaws.
In a year of sluggish churn in the public library sector, The Library Corporation (TLC) made 14 new contracts for Library·Solution, increasing total installations to 766. Library·Solution has been implemented mostly in small to midsized public libraries and by school districts. This year the El Paso (Tex.) Independent School District selected Library·Solution to replace SirsiDynix Horizon ILS. On the public library side, Library·Solution competes in a challenging niche market vulnerable to libraries moving into consortial implementations of open source products such as Evergreen. Library·Solution faces strong competition from Follett for district-wide school library automation. The Berkeley (Calif.) Public Library selected CARL·X, confirming interest in a product oriented to large public libraries and consortia. Since mostly large libraries implement CARL·X, the product remains within the critical mass needed to sustain its development. This year substantial enhancements were made to CARL·X, such as new displays in CARL·Connect Discovery that are organized according to Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records principles. TLC offers a variety of products and services in addition to its ILS products, including its BiblioFile bibliographic services. Its SmartTECH division offers a family of products to facilitate STEM learning, which can be implemented in makerspaces and other contexts. The company, established in 1974, is privately owned by its founder and CEO, Annette Murphy. TLC is one of the very few remaining founder-owned companies.
Auto-Graphics made four new sales spanning 27 branches for its VERSO ILS, increasing its installed base to 529 and six for its MONTAGEdc digital collections management application, now installed in 44 libraries. While VERSO attracts mostly small public libraries, the company also specializes in large-scale resource sharing, with its SHAREit platform used in many statewide interlibrary loan projects. This year Auto-Graphics made an additional sale of SHAREit for a project for the Reaching Across Illinois Library System that currently supports 450 libraries. SHAREit now provides interlibrary loan or resource sharing to more than 6,000 libraries. In early 2019, the company will release the sixth version of its platform, which will include a variety of enhancements in search capabilities, database management, and security measures. Inbound and outbound APIs are also being developed so that the products can provide the interoperability its clients expect. Auto-Graphics specializes in technology products for public libraries and is the only publicly traded company in the industry.
Book Systems had a very strong sales year in 2018, with 145 contracts representing 235 library facilities. Of these, 67 were to public libraries totaling 122 branches. The company’s customer base is divided among school libraries, small public libraries, and small academics, with 4,575 libraries in total using Atriuum; 3,104 of these are in pre-K through grade 12 schools. While locally installed versions of Atriuum are still available, almost all new customers are opting for its hosted version. In 2018, 98% of new contracts were for Atriuum ASP/Express hosted solutions. Atriuum Version 12 was released in 2018, and it included a wide range of enhancements. This year Book Systems released its Librista mobile app for Android smartphones. Book Systems also continues to support its Windows-based Concourse ILS, though it did not report new sales. The company reported revenues in the $5–$10 million range.
Biblionix, focusing exclusively on public libraries, gained 58 new customers in 2018 to increase its installed base to 719. Although the number of new sites is on par with recent years, Apollo has begun attracting ever larger libraries, including multibranch systems. Biblionix reports an increased number of libraries moving to its products from flagship competitors, including Library·Solution, Polaris, Sierra, and Symphony, rather than from legacy or PC-based products. Biblionix now offers a lightweight consortial configuration based on VersaCard and VersaCat discovery. This option enables libraries to implement Apollo individually, but selectively share resources with partner libraries and provide a union catalog of shared resources. Biblionix is a small, privately owned company with no debt or involvement from external investors. Apollo is offered exclusively as a hosted service residing on hardware Biblionix manages directly. The platform does not rely on shared cloud services such as Amazon Web Services.
Infovision Software has developed the Evolve ILS, used primarily by small public libraries in the US. Through 2010 Infovision was the US distributor of the Amlib ILS, which was created in Australia. That year Amlib was acquired by OCLC, and Infovision opted to make a new ILS rather than continue with Amlib. Since that time, Evolve has been implemented in 147 libraries, almost all of which are US public libraries. Development activities in 2018 include the launch of a mobile app offering similar functionality to its online catalog. Infovision employs 11 personnel; five are in product development.
LibraryWorld offers a web-based ILS designed for small libraries and available at an affordable price to accommodate limited budgets. The LibraryWorld ILS is available as a hosted service. As of February, 3,064 libraries have implemented it, and 2,010 of those are school affiliated. The others are public, academic, and special libraries.
BiblioCommons, now in its 10th year of business, specializes in user interface technologies for public libraries. Its initial product, BiblioCore, provides a complete replacement for a library’s online catalog. In addition to a user-experience design based on extensive studies of public libraries, BiblioCore includes collaborative social sharing features and the full feature set associated with online catalogs and self-service patron requests. Enhancements to BiblioCore include a new approach to item display grouping based on the principles in FRBR. Other features include a new format chooser to view all available bibliographic item displays, providing an easy mechanism for patrons to find items of interest in other available formats, and keyword search suggestions on each page that can channel searches to external resources.
BiblioCloudRecords provides shared records for collections of digital resources that are available without the need to load them into the library’s ILS. In 2018 BiblioCommons extended the shared records to include Hoopla content in addition to the existing OverDrive collection records.
BiblioWeb, introduced in 2016, provides a complete library website replacement, managed through an administrative console. The product is based on WordPress infrastructure but managed through a console developed by BiblioCommons. BiblioCommons also released BiblioWeb 3.0, which includes a new page builder that enables additional flexibility in presenting content beyond its templates.
The company’s newest product, BiblioOmni, will be a multichannel marketing platform designed to deliver content and messaging to specific groups of library patrons. Delivery of the initial version is expected in late 2019.
New libraries implementing BiblioCommons in 2018 include Contra Costa County (Calif.) Library; Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois; Herrick District Library in Holland, Michigan; Indianapolis Public Library; Pleasanton (Calif.) Public Library; San Antonio Public Library; Santa Clara (Calif.) City Library; Tampa-Hillsborough County (Fla.) Public Library; and Burlington Public Library in Ontario.
Libraries in pre-K through grade 12 schools represent a major component of the industry, though some schools and districts may not operate traditional libraries. The economy of a school library is distinctive, with sales measured in higher increments than other sectors, consistent with the proportion of schools to public or academic libraries. A sale to a school district may include hundreds of individual schools. While district-wide sales are lucrative, the sales value per school library served is modest.
Follett School Solutions dominates the pre-K through grade 12 library sector and continues to increase its penetration of products in aspects of the school or district beyond the library. Its sale of Destiny to Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools included 234 schools that will serve 188,000 students. Follett states that 23 of the 25 largest school districts in the US have selected Destiny. In 2018 Follett also launched its Classroom Ready Collections, a wide range of learning materials through a body of curated open educational resources, all searchable through Destiny. Follett School Solutions is a business division of Follett Corporation, a large, diversified business with about $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
Mandarin Library Automation develops library automation systems primarily used by school libraries but also by other types of small libraries. The current version, Mandarin M5, is offered as software for local installation and as a hosted service. Like other vendors, the company emphasizes its hosted service. In 2018, 344 libraries signed contracts for Mandarin M5 as a hosted service and only eight as local software. Installations for Mandarin M5 hosted service totaled 1,533, with 695 continuing to use the locally installed version. The company reported that 1,570 libraries continue to use Mandarin M3. Recent developments include a new web-based reports module. The company employs 23 individuals, down considerably from its 2014 peak of 38.
Media Flex has developed the web-based OPALS ILS, primarily used by school libraries and other types of small libraries. The software has been released under an open source license, though Media Flex exclusively develops it. This contrasts with other open source applications such as Koha, where a broad community of stakeholders participates in its development. OPALS has been implemented by many schools and school districts. It is also offered through the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) organization, which provides automation systems for school districts in New York. In these cases, BOCES and Media Flex collaborate to provide services and support for OPALS. Recent developments for OPALS include implementation of HTTPS encryption, improved Americans with Disabilities Act compatibility, and functionality for management of physical assets such as multimedia devices and IT equipment. Media Flex employs 18 people.
Lucidea, formed through a series of acquisitions of companies offering products and services to special libraries, offers a slate of ILSes and knowledge-management applications. Its slate of products includes DB/TextWorks, GeniePlus, and Inmagic Presto, along with Argus, CuadraSTAR SKCA, Eloquent Archives, LawPort, LookUp Precision, and SydneyEnterprise. These products have been implemented by law firms, corporations, museums, archives, and other types of organizations. Lucidea also launched two new products based on its LucideaCore platform, including ArchivEra for large archives and ArchivEssentia for smaller organizations. It also introduced ArgusEssentia, a collection management and integrated portal application for museums. Last year, Lucidea opened a new office in Melbourne, Australia, following its acquisition of Maxis, a company established in 1984 that had previously served as Australian distributor for its Inmagic and other knowledge-management products. Lucidea Press, which publishes books oriented to the development of professionals in the field, issued two books in 2018. The company reported 80 employees.
Soutron Global offers its information management platform to manage library collections, archives, and records. The company recently launched a discovery service that is in an early adoption and implementation phase. Other product developments include internal reengineering to incorporate the latest version of Microsoft.NET technology and to develop new APIs. New functionality will give library staff more content management capabilities and offer users more self-service options, such as self-registration. Other enhancements include expanded support for third-party authentication options, added controls to make its products GDPR compliant, and protection of end-user submitted content through reCAPTCHA. In 2018, the company made 33 new sales of its Soutron ILS product, increasing its installations to 231; the eight new sales of Soutron Archive resulted in a total of 33 total installations.
Keystone Systems fills an important niche in the industry, specializing in technologies for libraries that serve people with visual disabilities. Last year the company developed a duplication-on-demand system named Scribe in collaboration with North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and with financial support from a Library Services and Technology Act grant. Scribe incorporates a streamlined workflow optimized for people with visual disabilities. Keystone was also able to leverage its development of Scribe for a similar project for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Keystone made a new sale of the Keystone Library Automation System (KLAS) to one additional organization, the Trauma Center Association of America, increasing its installations to 117. This installation featured an embedded version of the KLAS catalog. Keystone is a small, privately owned company employing 15 people.
The international scene
The industry includes many players more involved in regions other than North America. Their products and technologies are part of the global competition, and these companies many have their sights set on new geographic opportunities.
Axiell, based in Sweden, is a large and well-established provider of technology products, digital content, and other services to libraries, museums, and archives. The company’s public library and education division manages its products for public and school libraries. As a result of a string of acquisitions in 2007, Axiell accumulated a roster of ILS products used in specific countries. In recent years the company reduced its slate of active systems, focusing energy on Aurora, BOOK-IT, OpenGalaxy, and BIBDIA for public libraries and WeLib for schools. Last year’s acquisition of Bibits added MikroMarc, used by most public libraries in Norway, to the mix. Contracts made in 2018 include 12 for BOOK-IT, one each for Aurora, BIBDIA, and Open Galaxy, 117 for WeLib, and five for Quria.
Along with its support for these ILS, Axiell has developed Quria as a library service platform for public libraries, based on a digital-first design. Quria was introduced in 2016 and is now in early implementation phase in libraries in Norway, Germany, and Switzerland. Following these implementations, Axiell will begin offering Quria as a forward path for its existing public library sites and beyond. Its announcements surrounding the recent acquisition of Bibits mentioned that libraries using MikroMarc ILS would be a new potential market for Quria. Axiell’s library products have not previously been implemented in the US. Last year it gained a small foothold with an institution awarding it a contract for a comprehensive solution supporting its library, archive, and digital asset management. This project falls within Axiell’s recently launched Integrated Knowledge Platform strategy.
Axiell continues to implement new APIs for its products to enable interoperability with its new discovery environment as well as other external systems. Axiell signed 25 contracts for AbsysNet representing 47 libraries, increasing the number of libraries using the product to 3,442. The company also implemented an institutional repository for Nebrija University using specially configured versions of AbsysNet and other components.
Other activities reported include the introduction of the school library WeLib product in Norway. Axiell Media was awarded a national contract for ebook distribution for public libraries in Finland, and the company’s Biblio ebook app was launched in Finland and Sweden. The Archives Libraries and Museums (ALM) division continues to expand, and all 100 museums in Denmark have placed Axiell’s Adlib ALM product into production. Axiell has launched a new services division and has been engaged to operate three libraries in Nacka, Sweden.
Civica is a large international company active in multiple business sectors. Its education and libraries division develops and supports the Spydus library management system, now in its 10th major version and fully web-based for staffer and user interfaces. Only a small number of libraries in the US and Canada use Spydus. The company’s products are used mostly by public libraries, with a small number of academic and special libraries. In 2018 Civica re-signed the National Library of Singapore, one of its major clients. New deals signed in Australia include Northern Beaches Council in New South Wales, Port Headland Council, and Gosnells and Kwinana in western Australia. The company has 484 employees, most involved in product support and outsourcing services. Civica has been operating the school libraries for the Ministry of Education in Singapore since 2005.
Infor Library and Information Systems is a small unit in the public sector division of Infor, a large enterprise software and services business with annual revenues of about $3 billion. Its library products include the V-smart ILS and the Iguana discovery interface and integrated library portal. Infor reported 21 new contracts for V-smart, increasing its installed base to 390. The five new contracts for Iguana resulted in a total of 524 installations. Some active 2018 developments included implementation of single sign-on across all products, implementation of new APIs, and compliance with GDPR. Enhancements oriented to libraries in North America include support for BIBFRAME, integration with Syndetics Unbound for display of cover art, and integration with Overdrive for discovery and access of ebooks and other digital content. Infor is reengineering Iguana with a more robust internal infrastructure which will be the basis of the upcoming fifth version of the product. The development of a new Iguana Library mobile app is underway. A new component for the V-insight analytics portal, V-Insight Widgets was developed to display statistical data and visualizations in external applications supporting iFrame.
Baratz, based in Madrid, develops and supports the AbsysNet ILS used by libraries in Spain and neighboring countries and in Latin America. Its development efforts are channeled both on enhancements to AbsysNet 2.3, the current version of its core product, and in the creation of a next-generation platform. Enhancements to AbsysNet include updating its catalog with a responsive design to work with all devices, including smartphones, as well as privacy management capabilities consistent with the GDPR regulations of the European Union. Other developments planned for 2019 include the creation of a new discovery interface compatible with both its current- and next-generation products. This new discovery service will also be designed to interoperate with third-party systems such as interlibrary loan, digital content, and institutional repositories.
Prima offers two distinct ILS products, SophiA and Philos. SophiA is a full-featured ILS that has been implemented by all types of libraries. Prima signed 24 contracts for SophiA, increasing its installed base to 679 sites, 471 of which pay support fees. Prima also offers SophiA Web as a hosted service and is working toward migrating SophiA ILS customers. It signed 21 contracts for SophiA Web, increasing its installations to 54. The company also offers Philos as a hosted ILS for school libraries. The 40 new contracts resulted in 391 total installations. As an initiative in support of public schools in Brazil, Prima donated 500 licenses for Philos, inclusive of hosting and support, to selected schools throughout the country. The company is based in Brazil, and its products are also used in Argentina, Chile, and Spain. A midsized company, it employs 134 people.
Library technology has experienced considerable consolidation. Strategic acquisitions by top-level companies such as Follett, EBSCO, and ProQuest can be seen as permanent. The acquisition of Prima by Volaris Group is similarly positioned as permanent. These companies regularly make acquisitions and rarely divest.
There are also signs of fragmentation. Previous rounds of mergers and acquisitions brought together companies with limited capacity for innovation and development, resulting in overlapping products with marginal differentiation. The current slate of ILS companies fits that bill. Each company works hard to advance its product lines incrementally, but even mid-tier companies may not be able to create market-changing innovation.
The library technology industry sits poised for new rounds of business transactions. Continued churn of large businesses buying new technology firms to expand product areas seems likely. The ownership arrangements of multiple companies are approaching their due dates. Investments made in companies by private equity firms are usually of limited duration, typically four to seven years in the library technology industry. Investment firms and lenders backing leveraged buyouts are working toward an exit from the onset of their engagement.
SirsiDynix was acquired by ICV Partners in December 2014. JMI Equity and Huntsman Gay Global Capital gained control of Innovative in 2012. It would be surprising for these arrangements to remain in place much longer, though the time frames are uncertain. Possible next moves might include lateral transitions to new investors and strategic acquisitions by top-level companies in the broader library and publishing sectors. Consolidation involving any of the small or midsized companies in the industry would not be outside the range of possibilities. While predictions are speculative, inactivity would nonetheless be surprising.
Note: The Library Systems Report 2019 documents ongoing investments of libraries in strategic technology products made in 2018. It covers organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, offering strategic resource management products—especially integrated library systems and library services platforms—and comprehensive discovery products. The vendors included have responded to a survey requesting details about their organization, sales performance, and narrative explanations of accomplishments. Additional sources consulted include press releases, news articles, and other publicly available information. Most of the organizations provided lists of libraries represented in the statistics reported, allowing for more detailed analysis and validation. Charts with statistics on sales trends and installations are available here.