Monday, April 7, 2014

The library automation company mergers resume.


Many industry observers of the library automation field have long predicted that the industry consolidation of the past would continue.  While there was a bit of a lull over the past couple of years, it has picked up again with SirsiDynix’s acquisition of EOS Intl and this past week’s announcement that Innovative Interfaces had purchased Polaris.

Marshall Breeding has written an excellent article about this most recent transaction and if you haven't already done so, you should read it in order to understand the background, the specifics of the purchase and the history of both firms.

I’d like to add some comments on the business aspects of the transaction.

So what does this transaction mean?  

While this transaction involved one firm buying another, the buying firm is one owned by equity investors and thus, what I’ve said about equity investors in a previous post remains valid and should be considered by the customers of both companies while contemplating their future with Innovative.

What is different about this transaction is that both Innovative and Polaris have customer bases that are running on proven, but what is rapidly growing dated, technology.  Both companies have tried to address the need for a “next-generation” library automation solution by largely moving to cloud based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings that reuse existing technology, i.e., Innovative with Sierra and Polaris with LEAP.   While that approach is fine for the short-term, in the long run, that solution won’t be sufficient for the newly  combined customer base of Innovative.

Library Journal called and interviewed me after the news was announced and they wrote an article in which I noted that both companies need to get a true library service platform (LSP) on the market.  (If you want an explanation of why and LSP is radically different from an ILS, read this post and this post. By combining companies and resources, Innovative/Polaris will likely be better positioned  to ultimately succeed. 

However, that won’t come without a significant delay and price for the customers.

It is very unlikely that a new platform will happen more quickly and time is of the essence here because other organizations (OCLC, Ex Libris) do have LSP’s available that can be delivered and put into operation today.  However, with Innovative/Polaris being combined, their first goal will be to merge operations, company cultures, customer services and sales.   That involves some serious organizational disruption, overhead and thus time.  Once that is achieved, they’ll start a more serious effort at combining the product plans.  Customers of either company that believe their products of today will live on indefinitely are probably dreaming, although they will continue on for some time.   However, the reality is that company mergers like this are ultimately dependent on re-consolidating the company offerings to one main product offering at some point in the not too distant future.  In this case, that will be a new Library Service Platform, probably a substantially a totally rewritten product that is neither Sierra or LEAP products.  Once the combined resources of these two companies are assembled and applied to this task, the result will appear more quickly. Still, it’s important to note that developing a new LSP from the ground up is no small task, in fact it is a significant task.  ProQuest has been trying to do this for some time now with their product Intota and we’ve seen the release date pushed back numerous times.  This is not unusual, so any release dates announced for a new LSP by Innovative should be viewed and evaluated through the lens of experience.  The questions that must be considered about later entrants in the field are these:  1) Since these systems are cloud-based but not totally truly open to customers of other organizations, the size of the customer base using each respective product will ultimately help determine it’s overall viability. Services based on large aggregates of data, such as analytics and metadata function at a higher level and provide more value when that occurs. So the longer the new product takes to get announced and available to the market and start capturing market share, the less effective some of it’s functionality will ultimately be for the customers, and 2) By the time they do get a totally new product to the market, where will the other organizations be with their products?  When you have competitive platforms released this far apart, the need to leapfrog the competitors becomes even greater.  That too is not an easy task. 

Let's also remember that the customer bases of these two companies bought the chosen products for very distinctive reasons.  Polaris customers were largely tied to Microsoft Windows OS's and valued superior customer service.  Innovative customers valued rich functionality and a reliable offering, although one that was very expensive and one where customer service was good, but not great.  Still, customers can be extremely loyal to their original decisions and thus there will be upset (read the comments on Marshall Breeding’s post above) as a result of  the merger of these two companies.  It’s not unheard for customers to jump ship to another entirely different vendor after feeling abandoned in this type of transaction. That too will diminish the customer base size.   

As I noted in the Library Journal article, I’ve long admired Bill Schickling (CEO of Polaris) and his focus on customer service.  Kim Massana (CEO of Innovative) is a sharp business person and I truly hope that he can successfully keep Bill an active member of the Innovative team and transfer and maintain those customer service capabilities as they merge operations.  It would be a huge benefit for the newly combined customer base.  


This won’t be the last merger/buyout of automation companies serving libraries, I’ve been in the field long enough to see many other companies start up and then disappear.  Polaris was always an interesting firm to watch and thus I’ll miss their being an independent player.  They raised the bar in some important ways.  

At the same time, I wish Innovative, Kim, Bill and the newly combined customer base, every success as well.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Take a moment for one, in return for us all…

I’m certain you’ve experienced that moment, the one where you’ve read something or heard someone speak, and you thought:  “This person has a gift that will change our world, our country or our profession…” you can fill in the blank.  It might have been the depth of their thinking, or the way they expressed those thoughts, but whatever it was, it moved you.  Deeply.   You knew it the moment you consumed it. Maybe it was the leader of a political movement, a pastor or even a friend.  For me, and probably for many of you as librarians, one of those people has been David Lankes.  His book, “The Atlas of New Librarianship” is the Bible of modern librarianship and I keep a copy of it within reach in my office, just because I value it so much.  His videos are the visual and audio versions of that same thinking and I listen and re-listen to them often because I find them so inspiring. 

As many of you probably also know, David is fighting cancer.  He is openly and bravely sharing his journey with all of us on his blog Virtual Dave and via his Facebook page.  David is receiving chemotherapy treatment this week and next week his is facing a stem cell transplant. Today he posted this:
That thing when you day goodbye to your kids to go into the hospital for a life threatening procedure? Yeah, that thing.” 
I don’t know about you, but that one caused me to sit back and think deeply.  David is one of the leading thinkers and movers in our profession today.  He makes us better, he leads us by thought and example and he is selfless in doing so.  Certainly I can’t speak for each of you or what you draw on in moments of deep contemplation be it faith, Karma or positive energy.  Whatever it is, today and in the week ahead we need to share it with David and his family.  We need to surround them with it.  We need to be as selfless as David.  

So I’m asking each of you to please carve a few moments out of your day to go out and buy a card and send it to David.  Let him, and his family knows that we’re thinking of them, sending thoughts, prayers and positive energy their way.  The address is:

Richard Lankes
c/o Upstate University Hospital
750 East Adams Street, 10 H, Room 44
Syracuse, NY 13210

Do it for David and his family.  Let's surround them with so much positive energy, thoughts and/or prayers that we reinforce the medical processes and help him overcome this disease.  Just like his family, we need David and the kind of thinking he represents.  Consider it a very small investment of your time with a major return for all of us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

One content silo removed at the recent ALA Conference in Philadelphia. But we're not done.

I returned from the ALA Mid-Winter Conference in Philadelphia feeling like the profession had made progress in dissolving one content silo and had signs for hope in dissolving another.  Those feelings were based on a couple of announcements that happened right before or during the conference:
  • ProQuest and Ex Libris cooperate to improve research workflows.  I’ve been one of many in the profession calling for content neutrality, i.e the freedom to use various content databases with the access/discovery tool of the library’s choice.  Many have been very critical of the major aggregators that refuse to do this and whose actions lock libraries into content silos or, at the very least, make it extremely difficult for libraries to use the discovery tool of their choice, with the content of their choice.   So now, it's important that we praise a change in that approach by one of the biggest aggregators, ProQuest, because they’ve entered into an agreement with Ex Libris to make a large number of databases, and the associated full-text of those databases available for indexing as part of Primo Central.   This is a big step forward for those libraries that use Primo (over 2,000 libraries world-wide) and who are also customers of ProQuest content.  It’s important for customers of ProQuest and Ex Libris to let those companies know how strongly we support the progress made because obviously, we’re not done yet.  Ebsco EDS content remains available to Ex Libris and ProQuest customers only through a set of API's that provide limited functionality.  And ProQuest content is not yet available to Ebsco EDS customers. While those strategies might make some sense on some business board room whiteboard, when combined with the realities in the world of libraries and education, it results in a strategy that is contrary to many of the core values of those professions. However, even at Ebsco we might be seeing a sign there will be change. 
  • Ebsco gets a new CEO. Tim Collins, a longtime part of the Ebsco management team, is moving into the CEO post.  This is very encouraging news.  While no one will diminish the impressive corporate record of F. Dixon Brooke, his leadership often created a firm that behaved in ways that were viewed as overly aggressive, and even arrogant, in the field of librarianship.  On the other hand, I’ve known Tim Collins for many years and have always been deeply impressed by him.  He’s very smart, capable and extremely personable.   Most important, he listens closely to customers.  With this kind of management moving into place at the highest level of the company, I have high hopes that we’ll see EBSCO make some very important and positive tweaks in how it is run.  Making the EBSCO content, and associated full-text, work more fully with other discovery interfaces would be an excellent step in that direction.  The final ingredient needed here is you.  As librarians in the field you need to make your voices heard on this issue.  I feel confident Tim will listen, but only if there is something to hear.  So, now is the time to start speaking up.
Frequently librarians under-estimate the power they have when they speak in unison to their suppliers.  Yet, when they do exercise that power changes can and frequently do result.  "United we stand, divided we fall".  So speak up -- together -- and make your voices heard.  Write or call the CEO's of all the companies mentioned above and share your thoughts on this issue

Librarians need to be able to choose their content AND their discovery interfaces from a wide variety of suppliers.  A big stride forward has been made. But there’s still a lot more ground to cover.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A more detailed explanation about the concept of Knowledge Creation Platforms

For some time, when I've been speaking at conferences/meetings or writing I've been saying that Librarians need to start working actively on moving past Discovery systems and to start building Knowledge Creation Platforms.   

So, I was very pleased this spring with the new Open Access journal 027.7 from the University Library of Basel, in Switzerland asked that I prepare a paper for their publication on this very topic.  I did and it was published this week.  If your interested in more details about what I envision these Knowledge Creation Platforms doing and why I think we need them, I encourage you to read it here.  Note that in saying we need to move beyond Discovery systems that I'm also openly saying that we need our existing Discovery tools in order to build this functionality on TOP of them (provided they have the needed functionality to enable that to happen, something I discuss further in my paper).  

BTW - While the journal is written in German, don't let that stop you because my article is in English.  If you want to read more at the site, also remember that you can use Google Translate, enter the URL and it'll translate much of the content for you.  Not perfectly, but workable.

I hope you'll find it useful and as always, I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts in response to the KCP concept.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dear Librarian: It's me, not you....

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Over the years, I've had a lot of experience installing discovery systems in a lot of libraries. Many of those experiences have involved all too common themes.  As a result of those experiences, I sometimes have disturbing dreams.   One of them is recurring and involves librarians receiving "Dear John" letters along these lines:


Dear Librarian:

I’m so sorry to tell you this, but I’ve decided to find fulfillment with another; I’m leaving you to find information and knowledge with someone else.  Not as sophisticated or even as smart as you, but it's just so much easier.  I know, I know. I begged and I pleaded for you not to change. Even though I knew your search screens were cluttered and hard-to-use I knew how to work with them, especially for finding books. I begged you not to change them. Yes, I remember that I complained even more bitterly when you didn't listen to me and put in a discovery, one-search-box solution. I moaned and groaned and asked you to return to being what you were. I didn't want you to change!  It's just that I had come to know you so well.  I was so comfortable with that somber and serious face that always greeted me each time when I entered into the library. And I was still comfortable with you even though you confused me  with that look of dismay you gave me when I said I’d searched in your discovery interface and had found something I thought would work, but you replied: “No, no, no! You shouldn’t use that discovery interface. Instead you should come to the library and ask: What is the best database in which to find such information?” Then you would show me that search interface for that best database source. But then it even got more confusing, you had to walk me through it and explain it in detail. If we switched to another database, it used a different and equally complex search interface and you’d have to explain it all over again. However, you did that with such patience and such knowledge. I was in awe. You were wonderful. You were a constant in my life, one of the few in a world that is spiraling out-of-control with rapid change outside of the library doors.

But, I succumbed to temptation and I sampled searching for information and knowledge on the Web (I confess, I even used Wikipedia and Google Scholar.). The interfaces were so attractive, so simple, straight-forward and easy-to-use. I often could find so much with just one search interface! No one scolded me for doing so. I could FIND all kinds of information and knowledge.  Even more important I could do this everywhere I went, no matter what device I used, and I could do it all by myself. Why… some of the new interfaces I used even injected humor into the exchanges. I recently got a new smartphone and I can talk to it and ask it to find information for me and it does. If I get silly with it, it gets silly back. It is great fun and so very useful. And then I realized: I have other options in where I find information and knowledge. Oh, I know, you told me: "It's not as good, it's quality information that matters."  Yet, I realized, you taught me well.  I can take what you’ve taught me about evaluating information sources and apply it -- on my own. I don’t have to come ask you what database to use. I don’t need to have you explain how to search. I can just find information by typing my questions and keywords and see what comes back, and then evaluate it and select, or try again. It’s so easy, so simple. It’s hard to explain, but I just fell in love with it.

I feel terrible and I realize I’m being the fickle one here. You did just what I told you to do, and now I’m leaving you because of it. I’m so sorry. I hope we can remain friends. When I long for the smell and touch of a book, I’d love to be able to drop by and see you again. But it won’t be often, I promise (although I’d still like to sleep on your comfortable sofa and chairs occasionally, if you don’t mind). But when it comes to finding information and knowledge, my heart now belongs to another.

So very sorry.

Your former,



This does not have to happen, nor should it, but what I describe above is based on individual events we've all seen happen.  I hope this post will help some to  step back and critically analyze what they're doing, from the end-user point of view, and then make some adjustments.  In the next post, I'll talk about that.

(P.S. A huge thanks to those librarians who reviewed/commented on this before I posted it.  My posts always benefit from your comments. You know who you are.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The approaching divide in the provision of library services…

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Like many of you, this blogger is deeply concerned about the growing divides we see in our society in the areas of income disparity, medical care and the quality and affordability of education.  These gaps increasingly create a society of have and have-nots.  As history has repeatedly demonstrated (“Qu'ils mangent de la brioche”), when this happens, the friction between those segments can eventually result in violent and ugly resolutions.   

So it alarms me when I see the same kind of divides potentially opening up in the provision of library services to the citizens of our respective societies and the students of our academic institutions.  I always like to think that libraries are the bastions of open and free access to the record of human culture and knowledge.  Yet the application of technology to that access can either create a powerful enabler, or a powerful divider, depending entirely upon how we, as librarians, select and use that technology.  Let me share what I’m seeing and you can decide if you agree there is cause for concern.  

The new cloud-computing library services platforms (LSP’s) we’re seeing emerge in the marketplace are offering some truly impressive new capabilities.  Particularly those that are what I call “true” cloud-computing platforms, i.e. those that use a common image of the software to support all customers connected to that platform and, more important for this discussion, that aggregate usage data globally for all library members connected to the libraries using these LSP’s.  The end result of this is a massive pool of aggregated data, which when coupled with analytic engines and astute data analysts, becomes a currency, a treasure chest if you will, for librarians who are willing to understand how to use this data to provision and provide library services.  Plus we’re very close to having what is called transactional analytics, which means that we’ll be able to analyze the data virtually at the same time is being captured and aggregated, and as a result, we’ll be able to act immediately upon what we find.

So what kinds of actions might be possible as a result of all this intersecting technology?  (Remembering that I’m writing from the perspective of an academic librarian).  Here are some sample ideas of things I’m chomping at the bit for my library to be able to offer our members/users:

  1. Interfacing the LSP data with the student data from other campus departments (be it IT, IS or Assessment), we should be able to do detailed comparisons of those students who used library resources in preparation for a test in a course and we should be able to determine if that provided those that did the use the library with a higher test score.  
  2. If a researcher worked closely with library staff in preparing their grant applications and then win the grant award, we’ll be able to compare them with another user who didn’t use the library and didn’t win.  We’ll begin to have some data that deserves further investigation to see if all other conditions were similar and, if so, then we have a compelling reason to show members that using the library as part of the grant writing process improves their ability to win the grant.
  3. We can do the same thing in helping to determine if the result of library usage results is higher matriculation and/or graduation rates.
  4. Our contributions to the success of faculty will be open to analysis to determine if those that worked with librarians and their subject guides or other materials librarians help prepare resulted in professors who obtain higher ratings from students for the quality of their teaching.
  5. Certainly the library will be in a much better position to help show the role of the library and librarians in producing higher scores on assessment criteria and or accreditation processes.

There are hundreds of additional possibilities.  However, to go into those in detail is beyond the scope of this post.  And I certainly agree that this short list is fraught with many missing details that will need to be added into the mix, properly weighted and assessed in terms of their contribution to the desired outcomes.  However, for discussion sake, let’s assume we can work through those details successfully.  Then let’s talk about might happen if we do.

The desired goal of all this data and analytics is to go from being a reactive service organization, to that of a proactive service organization.  In other words, we’ll be able to reach out to the library membership/end-users and show them that when they’re taking a course, if they, like others before them who achieved a top grade, confer with librarians “x” times and use library resource “y” at time points “a”, “b” and “c” then they’ll likely get a higher grade.  Furthermore, we’ll be able to provide grant-writing researchers with that same kind of proactive and predictive incentive.  

Of course, as we do this, the bar of success, across that institution, not just the library, rises for all. Success builds on success.  

The problem of course, is that as we do this we begin to create the gap in the provision of library services.  Some library members/end-users will get excellent and proactive service that will help them achieve more grant money, higher scores on tests and generally create a wealth of opportunities for them to be more successful.  

Others library members/end-users, that are at institutions without these advanced and proactive services, will start to fall behind because they aren’t being as well prepped and thus they won’t easily compete at the same level.  It’s the haves and the have-nots, only this time it’s in the world of library services.

How to avoid that fate?  The librarian today that hasn’t learned about  analytic capabilities and that doesn’t ensure the systems they’re buying are laying the foundation for this level of service are, quite simply, placing their libraries on the wrong side of this new societal dividing line.  

Installing locally mounted ILS’s, or even hosted ILS’s that aren’t true cloud computing solutions are the activities of librarians that aren’t looking far enough ahead to see the implications of what is happening in the rest of our society.  Nor do they understand how easily “haves and have-nots” can result in their libraries, and more importantly in their communities and/or parent institutions, if they don’t stay on the leading edge of this very important transformational technology shift.

As librarians, we must take it upon ourselves to continually learn, to incorporate new technology as it comes along and most importantly, to stay focused on our members and end-users needs. Technology remains a tool for us to use in addressing those needs.   

Of course, we’ll also need vendors/collaboratives who are willing to listen and engage closely with analytic engineers and librarians to understand exactly what outputs are needed in this process and how those outputs can be turned into proactive service initiatives for the library members/end-users.  

Only then will you be able to ensure your library isn’t left on the wrong side of this fast approaching divide in the provision of library services.  I'm guessing your library's member/users will most certainly want to be on the "have" side of excellent and proactive library services.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A valuable marketing lesson for librarians can be found in something as simple as book jackets…

My morning browse of Flipboard contained this post detailing why book jackets are hated.  This hit a particular note with me as I just recently had a similar discussion in our library.  In reading both the this post and hearing what was said in my library, I was struck with the same thought -- many librarians discount the importance and value of marketing in meeting the day-to-day objectives and goals of librarianship.  Which they should not do.

When I first noted that our library removed all book jackets from purchased works, I asked: Why?  The answers were pretty much what I thought I would hear: a) that book jackets are printed on lower quality paper and therefore they wouldn't last as long as the works themselves, b) they added to the cost and processing time of new works and c) once removed, the book jackets were used by others on campus for art and community event projects.  

In response, I pointed out the following:  1) circulation of printed works is flat and/or declining and 2)  publishers spend a fair amount of money trying to come up with attractive book jackets and for a good reason, which is 3) the value of book jackets is in the marketing of the work, i.e., drawing readers to pick up the work, engage with it and hopefully then read (and in the case of bookstores, purchase) the work, and thus,  4) why do librarians think having book jackets display in the online catalog is important? 5) I wasn't worried about the life of the book jacket, by the time it wore out the work would no longer be new and would likely be shelved in the regular collection, and finally 6) if we could get readers to pick up the work and read it when it was new, wasn't it likely that if they enjoyed it, they would tell friends/colleagues and they too would read the work thus further increasing the usage?

To further illustrate my point, I went to the local Barnes and Noble store, where I walked around and photographed a number of their retail display areas. 

 In reviewing those pictures, it further occurred to me that Barnes and Noble, in particular, displays books they want to move quickly, i.e. new arrivals (as they call them) along with books that are on sale at a discounted price with the cover facing the reader.  Works not in those categories, i.e. works that someone might routinely expect the store to stock, are frequently shelved in traditional style, i.e. with the binding facing the reader.   Interesting.

At this same time, I was in the process of visiting and touring a number of leading research libraries across the countries to see their learning commons.  So, while visiting I checked out their new book display areas.  Virtually all of them were leaving the book jackets on their new books.  Furthermore, many of them were displaying those same new works with the covers forward-facing. 

Loyola University - New Book Display
I further noted that the Dean of the Loyola University Library told me they restocked their new work display every morning.  I was visiting with him in the early afternoon and a fair number of the new works on display were already gone.  Very interesting.

So, back at my library, I laid out my findings and suggested we try putting the book jackets on all new works.  When we ran the analysis the cost was actually quite low, even when further adding a cellophane cover to the book jacket to improve their durability.  The processing time also turned out to be quite modest and, as a result of running that analysis, we found some steps we'd been doing that were no longer needed, thus making this investment of time a almost total break-even.

All new works that come with book jackets are now keeping them.  Finally, we ran stats on our new works for the last year so as to establish a base line of circulation comparison data to measure the impact of this change.  So now we'll see what happens.  However, my instinct tells me we'll see an upward climb in the usage stats.  

As librarians, whether we like it or not, we are competing for the attention of our users.  So are our resources.  Which also means that as librarians, we should consider the importance, value and execution of the marketing and promotion component in conducting our day to day activities.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do-they-or-don’t-they? Ex Libris & EBSCO Information Services; Content-Neutrality & Content Silos. A living example of why librarians should pay attention when warned of the dangers of content silos.

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The Orbis Cascade Alliance last month did a very important service to the library community and the scholarly & academic community at large by issuing a clear and simple statement and request to both Ex Libris and to Ebsco Information Services (EIS):  “We are writing to express our great concern about your failure to make EBSCO academic library content seamlessly and fully available via Ex Libris discovery services....We urge EBSCO and Ex Libris to quickly resolve this issue. Failure to do so is a disservice to your customers and the faculty, students, and researchers we serve.”  They made this communication, and all the followup communications from all parties, available for all to see. 

This is not the first time this topic has come up. The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) issued a statement back in June 2010 stating that they “encourage online providers and aggregators to allow their metadata to be included in emerging discovery layer services on a non-exclusive basis”.  The International Group of Ex Libris Users also issued a petition outlining the same request. And the whole industry came together, through the Open Discovery Initiative, with a clear aim of ”defining standards and/or best practices for the new generation of library discovery services that are based on indexed search”. 

(NOTE: Before proceeding, it can’t go without note that I have twice served as the President of Ex Libris North America.) 

Analyzing the documents, statements and behavior in both marketing materials and from the Orbis-Cascade website, I think it appears the main points of contention between these two companies revolve around the following issues:

How many Discovery systems does a library need to buy and use, in order to discover the content to which they subscribe? 

Most librarians, and most discovery product suppliers, would say one.  Ex Libris certainly does.  EIS’s answer appears to be it depends.  Well, do-they-or-don’t-they?  It really depends.  Let me explain my interpretation of these documents.

EIS markets EDS, their own version of a next-generation, single search discovery solution, in the same category as Primo (Ex Libris), Summon (Serials Solutions) and WorldCAT (OCLC) all products which include an article index along with the discovery interface. There is extensive literature about the benefits of these next-gen discovery solutions, and there is great demand in the marketplace for indexed-based search products. Libraries can find numerous benefits using these options and they can and should evaluate and choose the product that best meets their needs. Most libraries expect, and select, one discovery service for the majority of their content for all of their users.

Yet, EIS’s letter to Orbis-Cascade outlines that their strategy is not to allow library discovery services to index the EBSCO content for the benefit of paying customers. They only offer one method to search the EBSCO content – using an API to their own (note those two words, they’re very important!) discovery service, EDS, which is sold and marketed separately.

What does mean for your library? Well, it appears to say that EIS does not believe in one discovery service, unless it is EDS.  That libraries subscribing to EIS content and using a discovery service other than EDS, will be forced to pay for and use a second, additional discovery service, EDS, in order to access their EBSCO subscription content.  So,  you can either choose to buy EDS or you can be forced to buy EDS if you believe, as Orbis-Cascade and other libraries worldwide do, that another suppliers discovery product gives your organization better value for your money, and you want to use that product to discover your paid-for EBSCO subscription content.

Indexed-search or API-based search?  

EIS, we also learn, believes that indexed-based search is just a bad method to utilize. Their May 8th letter to Orbis-Cascade states that their: "view is that an API solution is superior to a solution that relies strictly on metadata." No, wait. Do-they-or-don’t they? It appears their statements contradict themselves. 

If they don’t believe in indexed-based search, they are clearly in opposition to the vast majority of the profession who believe it to be a core component of modern discovery services. What makes this even more peculiar is the fact that EIS markets EDS as an index-based discovery service – containing both EBSCO content as well as external, non-EBSCO content.  In fact, they just recently announced a partnership with Gale in which they say: “EBSCO Discovery Service creates a unified, customized index of an institution’s information resources, and an easy, yet powerful means of accessing all of that content from a single search box.”

However, I’m sure their marketing people are smart people, so maybe, this isn’t really marketing confusion, but rather a calculated strategy to force their competitors into a “controlled” method for accessing EBSCO content? EIS provides a hint to the answer in one of their letters: Ranking. If your main interest is the content providers’ needs – not the libraries and end-users – it is vital to control the ranking. So, it would appear they’ve found a way to continue to control the ranking of their content and thus avoid content ranking being controlled by the discovery system of the library’s choice. 

And yet there is another problem. EIS participates in the NISO Open Discovery Initiative, which is tasked to help the industry create best practices and recommendations in support of index-based discovery. It is therefore surprising to learn now that a key member of the group is actually clearly opposed to indexed-based search. Now, this is all right – I believe that any and all arguments against the method of indexed-based search should be discussed and reviewed by this group.  However, that should happen in an open and transparent fashion. But as far as I know or can find, this representation of a core objection to the method of indexed-based search was not shared within that group. Should we then assume that because of EIS’s participation in the ODI group, we should expect a change in their corporate strategy in support of index-based discovery? Or is EIS telling us in their letter that the ODI group’s work is good for others, but doesn’t apply to them? Do-they-or-don’t they? Does this make sense to anyone else? Because it sure doesn’t to me… 

The Library, Content Providers and End-Users

EIS is apparently also declaring that single search solutions are bad for content providers. They say that giving users the option to discover content across traditional content silos is against content providers‘, as well as EIS’s, best interests.   

Now let me state that I fully recognize the great importance and the role of native interfaces to the specific content environments – which often include specialized search tools and user interfaces that best match the content in that “silo”. However, it is not an all-or-nothing case, even though EIS is apparently trying to portray it that way. 

Giving users what we all know they want instead of forcing them to only search in traditional content silos is bad for the content provider, EIS says. This is a such a troubling argument, yet it pretty clearly shows where EIS’s thinking is at (and I don’t believe it’s where many librarians thinking is at!). Even more worrisome, I don’t think this is what the majority of content providers think. So EIS is really doing them a disservice as well, because they are out of alignment with those vendors and they are marginalizing the content provided by those vendors.  They’re placing it in a silo and limiting its access, use and impact.  As libraries begin analyzing content usage statistics more fully, and base decisions on renewals on those statistics, content vendors are going to find themselves penalized by the approach of EIS if their content is only available via using EDS. 

But EIS’s priority seems clear - to ensure that users are not “led to believe” that they can get a better user discovery experience outside the content silos via a single indexed-search discovery solution. EIS is well aware of the overwhelming evidence that users want and need single search across content silos, or else why did they build EDS?? So why won’t they make access to all of their content and content enhancements openly available to all discovery interfaces?  It appears they don’t want the competition.  Instead, they want to take the position that their discovery interface preserves the unique values of searching using their native silo searches.  The reason for that is because they limit access to many of those unique enhancements of the content, to their (EIS) search or discovery interfaces. Which is really a big problem for librarians.  As a result, your library is, in effect, locked into a content silo, in which you can only access those content features if you use the products made available by EIS for that content silo.  If you believe that another discovery product better meets the needs of your users, too bad.  If you want their content and enhancements, forget your users’ needs; the only needs that matter are EIS’s.       

So, the bottom line?  It appears EIS does and doesn’t really believe in single search discovery products.  IF your library’s choice is EDS, well, then you can have it.  If you want to do discovery solely with another product, well  then the response appears to be; “Sorry – it’s our way or the highway.”  

As for end-users, well, again, EIS appears to be declaring that single search solutions are bad for them. Yet we now have more than a decade’s worth of overwhelming data about users’ needs and expectations, including the need to have the option (yes - an option) to go to one place, where they will be able to discover content across domains, products and content vendors. 

This is also a critical need of libraries that  face huge challenges in trying to make their users (particularly students) aware of the content for which the library subscribes and pays. These single-search, across content domains discovery tools are a critical component in today’s library technology, but they come in addition to, not instead of, native content interfaces. In fact, many discovery tools ensure that content presented as part of the single result list contains a back-link to the native interface. This is clearly what libraries and their users want: different ways to discover and access content across numerous content-silos. One does not come instead of the other. Rather they complete the spectrum of options and increase the visibility and discoverability of content, especially content that libraries select and for which they pay. The fact that we now have thousands of libraries around the world using single search systems is great evidence of this fact. 

What is indicated by EIS is a radically different understanding of what single-search solutions are all about and the purpose they serve.   Yet, EIS’s priority remains very clear - they seem to think they can force libraries and users, who subscribe to EIS content, into utilizing only EIS’s technology for discovering that content. Sounds like a silo to me.


EIS is also making some very vague claims about rights to content (and/or the lack thereof).  If you examine the second Ex Libris response (dated May 14th,2013) in the Orbis-Cascade list, you will see where Ex Libris very clearly states they aren’t asking for those rights.  In fact Ex Libris doesn’t even need them. In the vast majority of the cases, Ex Libris can get to that content directly through the primary publishers, often with the full-text for indexing purposes.  But this is another instance of do-they-or-don’t they?!?!  Because EIS is now apparently saying that, while they formerly had the rights, now they don’t.  Yet, they provided Ex Libris with content for indexing up until 2010. (Or maybe this agreement ending had something to do with the fact that they introduced EDS to the market in this same time frame?) If your head isn’t spinning yet, well then consider this.  They (EIS) just recently announced a partnership with OCLC.  That seems to imply they do have the rights to make that content available to other parties. So, which version of EBSCO’s marketing is true? Because it seems unlikely they both can be…

However, please investigate and decide on all of this for yourself (and for your library).  Look at the Orbis-Cascade documents and read them and then read between the lines to find the very telling insights that are shown about EBSCO and Ex Libris corporate thinking. 

I have often warned fellow librarians about the danger of content silos.  This appears to me to be a prime example of a very troubling strategy of one content aggregator trying to severely limit the choices and options of librarians. By limiting your library’s options in the discovery of the content your library pays for, by forcing you to use their discovery product, by restricting your ability to apply content neutral, impartial and fair ranking across the content domains. 
It’s about removing the checks and balances in your library’s supply chain.  If we allow this to happen we should expect further restrictions and limitations in the future, all of which are likely to carry severe cost implications for libraries as we see vendors solidify and then take advantage of their position in the market.     

In order to deal with this as a profession, we need to define the guidelines under which we’ll buy products and services dealing with content, content enhancements, and discovery services. We have the annual conference of the American Library Association coming up in mere weeks.  I suggest we encourage these two vendors in particular, as Ex Libris has suggested in part of their correspondence, to have an open meeting and discussion, with invited representation from their mutual customer base, so that we, as librarians, can make sure that whatever is agreed to there actually serves the needs of our organizations, profession and users.  Do-they-or-don't-they? The evidence seems pretty clear but here's a great opportunity for them to clarify.