Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It’s time to define a new brand for libraries. Let’s make sure it leaves people soaring, not snoring.

I’ve always studied other professional fields as a means to try and understand the profession of librarianship and the future of the field. In particular, I’m interested in looking at points in the history of a business and reviewing where mistakes have been made from which we might learn valuable lessons.   You undoubtedly already know some of the most famous examples. Theodore Levitt wrote a classic piece on this topic for the Harvard Business Review in 1960 called “Marketing Myopia” in which he refers to examples such as:  railroads which didn’t understand they were in the transportation business; Hollywood, which thought it was in the movie business instead of the entertainment business; and numerous other smaller examples that existed at that point in history.  

In more recent times, we’ve seen the cycle repeated by a long and impressive list of those who apparently chose to ignore history, including the music industry thinking they were in the record or CD business rather than the music business and Polaroid and Kodak thinking they were in the film/camera business rather than the photography business.

Today, as I listen and read about our profession of librarianship, I have a deep gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach when it comes to the issue of branding.  All too often I find the parallels between the examples just mentioned and what I see the librarians doing in shaping the perceptions of our users about librarianship.  The result could have a major impact on the future of our profession.  It’s important to remember that, for most of those businesses that didn’t truly understand where they added value for their customers, there was not a positive ending.   

So, when it comes to librarianship, what am I specifically talking about?  Librarians’ continued belief and acceptance of “books” as their brand.   When I originally read OCLC’s 2010 Perceptions report, it stated:  
“In 2005, most Americans (69%) said “books” is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the library. In 2010, even more, 75% believe that the library brand is books.” 
I have to say my discontent took firm root at that point. That report went on to say: 
“Brands are hard to change, almost impossible for a brand as strong as libraries—in an environment where saving money on books is even more valued by consumers.” 
Recently, OCLC issued a very interesting new report titled: “At a Tipping Point; Education, Learning and Libraries” which deals, in part, with this topic again. 

This new report says: 
“Our 2014 research tells us that the library brand remains firmly grounded as the “book” brand. In fact, from 2005 to 2014, the perception of the book brand has cemented. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of online users indicated that their first thought of a library was “books” in 2005, 75% in both 2010 and 2014.”
Very significantly, the new report also states: 
“How concerned should we be about the library brand? The answer must be tied to how significantly we believe the context in which libraries will operate in the future will change.” 
“Brands are not impressions held in isolation. Brands are attitudes informed and shaped by the context in which they operate. Shifting needs shift brands—often faster than any change in the brand product itself.”
I would argue that the context in which libraries operate today has already changed dramatically and certainly will continue to do so into the future.  For me, the key in the above is “shifting needs shift brands”, because that statement gives us the keys to the passageway to redefine our brand.

This OCLC report contains some extremely important observations about branding, how it is formed and what it takes to change it.   For instance, it notes: 
"The library brand, “books” has solidified” and that Campus Libraries are now known as “a place to get work done”.   “Libraries have a context challenge, a brand category problem. Relevance is determined by perceptions, not products, not services, not reality.”….  “The library brand is too strongly associated with books, a category that both library users and non-users perceive to be less relevant with the rise of the Web, mobile information and e-books.”… “Strong enduring brands remain relevant by creating and promoting clear differentiators that match the consumer needs while retaining congruency with the expectations of the brand.”
Exactly!  Differentiators that match needs and relevance are determined by perceptions, which are something we can and should define.   Now note that I don't believe that OCLC is saying we should adopt the perception of "a place to get work done" as the library brand.  They didn't say that.  But I do think we should apply some critical analysis to what they're telling us here.  We need to ask some very important questions.   For instance: 1) In digesting the perception, have we really thought about what our users/members are telling us? 2) What is it they are working on?  Is the perception just an indicator of that larger reality? 4) How do we take that perception and turn it into a brand that inspires people to use the resources and services of libraries? 

Frankly, if we just accept the new perception (a place to get work done) as a brand, I'd find it as lacking as the old one (books).  This was underscored for me this week when Library Journal printed a column about the new Amazon Lending Library announcement.  It noted (emphasis is mine):  
“This massive amount of press attention is not only discussing a new service—and who knows how it will turn out—but more importantly, they rarely mention libraries and what they offer,” said Gary Price, editor of LJ infoDOCKET. “So, it’s as much [a point of concern] about mindshare and relevance as it is about a new Amazon service.”
Of course, he’s absolutely right.  Let’s understand though, that this question of mindshare and relevance is as much our fault as librarians as it is anyone’s.  Historically, we simply have not actively defined the perception or the brand to be about anything but printed books.  Think about it.  We use books in our advertisements. If our discovery tools have a browse function, we tend to use visual representations of the book spines (why do we continue to think browsing spines is an easy thing to do?!?) or we use the book covers.  Why?  Why not use audio clips from the authors or photography to give a portrayal of what a work is about? Now, if we let ourselves be defined by the latest findings about users perceptions as a place to get work done, we'll leave our users snoring rather than soaring.

Let’s pause for a moment and put some foundations in place for the rest of this discussion about branding.

As many of you will know if you regularly read this blog or hear me speak, I’m a huge fan of David Lankes work: “The Atlas of New Librarianship”.  One of the many things I so like about this work is the mission statement for librarians, which states: 
“The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.”  
It is simple, clear, and compelling and creates a firm foundation for us to use in creating a new brand.  Now, let’s disassemble that statement just a bit by looking at some definitions of some of the key words used in it (from dictionary.com): 

Mission:  any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed

Knowledge:  acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition

Creation: the act of producing or causing to exist

While we’re at it, let’s add in this definition:

Book:  a handwritten or printed work of fiction or nonfiction.

Now, using those definitions, my take on Lankes’ mission statement is that we, as librarians, take it as our duty and our responsibility to help people produce knowledge through the investigation and use of facts, truths and principles.   Nowhere in there do I find it stated that we must do this only via printed or handwritten works.  

Let me be clear; I love books and I deeply believe in them as a medium.  However, I realize that they are not the only medium for creating and conveying knowledge.  While simple, we must realize this reality in defining a new brand for our profession.  Our new brand must reach out and extend across all the mediums used in conveying existing knowledge and must embrace all people across all societies in order to expose them to the value of librarianship in creating new knowledge.

When changing a brand, marketing experts will often talk about the need to ensure that it aligns with the way the organization operates.  OCLC, as noted above, stated: “retaining congruency with the expectations of the brand”.  Which makes sense.  The users/members of your library want to see that you and your organization walk the talk.  Which, given the knowledge creation approach, is totally consistent with what we see actually happening in many of the leading libraries today. Collaborative learning areas, maker spaces, innovation hubs and visualization tools are all examples of a new dimension of knowledge creation that goes well beyond just reading books.  

At the same time, a new brand needs to be catchy and memorable.  Forbes magazine did a wonderful summary that reminds us of some of the brands that fall into this category.  The following is a subset of those mentioned in that article:

  • The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW)
  • Just Do It. (Nike)
  • Don’t Leave home Without It.  (American Express)
  • Got Milk? (California Milk Processor Board)
  • Think different (Apple)
  • A diamond is forever (DeBeers)
  • It takes a lickin’, but keeps on tickin’.  (Timex)
  • A mind is a terrible thing to waste (UNCF).
  • We bring good things to life.  (GE)
  • When you care enough to send the very best. (Hallmark)

We need, we really must, find a new brand that encompasses that kind of thinking and stickiness.  In London, they call Libraries “Idea Stores”.  I like that.  

While not offering it as a brand, I heard David Lankes give a talk in Florida in which he said libraries should use the word “Question” instead of “Read”.  I also thought that was great because it would cause people to not just accept, but to dig into what interests them, to challenge themselves to learn and to create new knowledge as a result.  

I’ll offer some other possibilities as a continuing step in the community thought process about library branding:  

  • Libraries: A time to know, a time to grow.
  • We feed hungry minds at the Library
  • Growing requires knowing.
  • The world’s best brain food: Libraries.
  • Creating knowledge? The Library has what you need.
  • Your Library: Come grow your mind.
  • Share to grow.  (Contributed by: )

Ok, those probably still need a lot of work but you’ve got to agree they’re more inspiring than: “A place to get work done”.  Furthermore, they focus on the result rather than the process.  Maybe what OCLC could do for us is create a competition inviting both end-users of libraries and librarians to submit branding ideas and then pick the best one.  

Our brand is critically important to our future.  Let’s be sure it defines librarianship accurately, is congruent with user needs, is compelling and, most importantly, that it is inspiring.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

When you step up to that podium, please remember ALL that you represent...

I’m at an international conference and something happened today that bothered me.  I had to take a walk to decide why that was the case.  I did and now I think I know. 

Here’s what happened – during a series of "rant" presentations, a person from the U.S. stepped up to the podium and used language (and displayed some PowerPoints) containing what is commonly called “street language”.  Now, I’m no prude and I understand sometimes language like that is used to show intensity (and it was the stated goal of the session to be a rant) or the ability to communicate broadly across all levels of society.  To be honest, I’ve been known to say a word or two that crosses that same barrier, although not in in this kind of forum.  And that’s what bothered me.  It didn't offend me, but it bothered me.  Here's why.  

This is an international conference and primarily a conference of people who work in libraries and/or Librarians. We’re in the business of being the purveyors of existing knowledge and most certainly a key part of the ecosystem responsible for creating new knowledge.  As such, we are in possession of a rich tapestry of words, phrases, images and recordings that we can use to express our ideas and thoughts. For instance, I love to read Thomas Jefferson or Cormac McCarthy’s writings. Those are two very different authors, yet both are authors who take ideas and express them in amazing sentences consisting of words and phrases that not only convey a concept, but also intrigue and cause one to stop and peel the words apart and look for the layered ideas and meanings contained within. The thoughts conveyed are often illuminating, sometimes disturbing but always intriguing and certainly mind expanding.  It conveys a brilliance that causes one to admire them deeply.  Of course, I also realize, we also shepherd materials that contain far more colorful language.  But those convey something different.  

When a person steps up to a podium to speak in a international conference like this one, they’re obviously taking the opportunity to convey something they think is important and of interest across a wide set of boundaries.   Which is great. 

But here’s what they need to remember, and what I think was lost today, and I sure wish it hadn’t been.  When we step up to that podium, we represent ourselves, our organizations, our profession AND when at an international conference, our country.  There are nearly 500 people at this conference from countries around the world.  So, it’s not an intimate gathering of close friends, it’s a major professional conference. In that context, as a speaker, when you choose to use street language to convey your ideas, you’ve conveyed a lot more than you realize.  

For instance, remember, you don’t likely know all the cultural norms and customs of all those attendees.  So you’re conveying your understanding (or lack) of their culture.  If you use street language, you might also well offend others, just by putting those words on the PowerPoints or saying them.  Which might result in their minds shutting off before you’ve even fully voiced your ideas for them to be heard. For others, you’ve conveyed something (albeit maybe a small something) about you and our profession.  Most certainly, you’ve likely conveyed something about our country that, in this case, may confirm some of their worst impressions, probably formed from what we regularly transmit via television around the globe. Is that what you really wanted to convey?

So here's what I wish people would consider when they choose to step up to that podium.  Remember who and what you represent and please choose your words carefully so as to convey fully and accurately the ideas you wish to share.  Respect others and their cultures.  Finally, let’s use the best of the richness of the vocabularies, materials and ideas we shepherd across the centuries to convey what's valuable about our profession and the people who work in it.  Let’s set the bar really high, not really low. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

OCLC®. The questionable behavior continues…

Over my years in this profession, I’ve often found myself bothered and sometimes outright disturbed by OCLC®’s behavior in the marketplace.  Particularly when I lead companies that competed with them in the marketplace.  Now, as a librarian in an OCLC member library, I’m not finding the behavior any more acceptable.  Frequently their actions lead me to wonder if they weren’t openly flouting anti-competition laws -- at least here in the U.S.

Now we have another example of that behavior with their recent decision to substitute WorldCat® Discovery Services for FirstSearch® or WorldCat Local in order to make the library’s cataloging accessible and visible in WorldCat.org.  

For the uninitiated, a little background.  Per OCLC’s website:
FirstSearch is an online service that gives library and education professionals access to a rich collection of reference databases.”   
WorldCat Local is a webscale discovery solution that delivers single-search-box access to more than 1.7 billion items from your library and the world's library collections.”
I often wondered why you had to buy FirstSearch and/or more recently WorldCat Local in order to get one’s library holdings to be accessible in WorldCat?  Although, one must note that libraries appeared to have endorsed the model for many years by acquiescing to this policy.  

OCLC’s response to this is that those libraries that buy just their cataloging or Inter-Library Loan service from OCLC (in other words, only the catalogers and ILL staff people at those libraries) will be able to add their holdings to WorldCat.  WorldCat Discovery is NOT required for those holdings to be exposed to other cataloging libraries (again, just the catalogers and ILL staff).  The cataloging service consists of the record supply, record quality, KB and holdings registration piece.  FirstSearch and WorldCat Local were the components that supplied the exposure and discoverability pieces, which also includes the mobile interfaces, API’s and further syndication of the metadata.  

Now, comes the most recent announcement, where we’re being told FirstSearch and WorldCat Local are being replaced with WorldCat Discovery Services and that’s what we’ll have to buy to make our records globally accessible.  Here is the wording from the OCLC website:
“WorldCat® Discovery Services, is a new suite of cloud-based applications that brings the FirstSearch® and WorldCat® Local services together, so users and staff can discover more than 1.5 billion electronic, digital and physical resources in libraries around the world, through a single search of WorldCat and a central index that represents nearly 2,000 e-content collections. WorldCat Discovery provides libraries with the ability to add several individual fee-based options to their service. WorldCat Local subscribers have access to all these options as part of their current subscription, and are invited to participate in a WorldCat Local community beta phase starting in late April 2014.”
This announcement should raise the hackles of many librarians.  For instance, my library, not unlike others, has already purchased and is using a Discovery product.  Now, we might also want to use WorldCat Discovery because we’re a research library and serve an incredibly large, diverse user/member group, but what we don’t want is to be told we must buy WorldCat Discovery Services, nor do we want the cost.

With regard to the costs, OCLC reps have publicly stated (emphasis is mine throughout the paragraph): 
“All current FirstSearch subscribers receive access to WorldCat Discovery as part of their FirstSearch subscriptions at no additional charge. If your library subscribes to WorldCat Local, FirstSearch access is included in this subscription. The release of WorldCat Discovery means that many libraries with existing unlimited FirstSearch subscriptions may now benefit from a discovery service without incurring costs beyond their current subscriptions.”
It might begin to sound a bit repetitive after my post last week about caveats in provider wording, but this paragraph again demonstrates how important it is for every library to read carefully the wording put out by supplier organizations.  Because clearly, not everyone is going to get this new bundled offering for the same price as they were paying before.   Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if it applies only to 10 libraries or 100, some libraries are going to be forced to pay increased costs, very likely to buy a service/product they may not want in order to get the product/service they do want.  

Now sure, most of us buy cable TV services, so we’re quite familiar with this type of abusive behavior. But we hate it and complain about it constantly and loudly and recently, even that bundling appears to be under attack per this recent NY Times article. However, OCLC is owned by us and is supposed to be serving us!   So someone please explain to me why we are doing this to ourselves?!?!  

Again, let me step back for a moment and clarify why bundling is not only wrong, but raises other concerns.   Bundling products and services must be done in such a way so as not to violate anti-competition laws.  Wikipedia indicates anti-competitive practices:

  1. Restrict free trading and/or competition between businesses.
  2. Demonstrate abusive behavior by an organization that dominates a market.  This includes anti-competitive behaviors that lead to a dominant position (such a behavior includes tying, defined as the practice of selling one product or service as a mandatory addition to the purchase of a different product or service. 

Now, I’m reasonably certain that if someone asks one of the competing firms offering Discovery products (Ebsco®, Proquest®, Ex Libris®) if they think requiring WorldCat Discovery Services to be used by every library, in order to have their records accessible by all WorldCat users globally, constitutes a restriction on competition, I’d be surprised if they gave any answer other than: “Of course”.  I think it’s very likely this behavior might result in some libraries feeling they need to cancel their preferred discovery solution and adopt WorldCat Discovery Services, rather than trying to explain to their boards and/or administrators why they’re maintaining/supporting two separate discovery services and bearing all the associated costs.    Certainly, if that happens, it would seem competition in the marketplace has been restricted.  

OCLC’s position is that FirstSearch has been expanded and improved with this offering and thus they’ve offered greater value to the membership by replacing the FirstSearch product, which solely searched reference databases, with WorldCat Discovery Services, which searches all of WorldCat and therefore serves as an important reference tool.  

However, we have to view this in a larger context, which is that OCLC is an organization that dominates a market, i.e. bibliographic services and on a national, if not global scale.  Their behavior in this case is clearly that of “tying” or bundling products/services together in such a way as to make WorldCat Discovery Services a mandatory purchase in order to obtain the maximum value of your OCLC cataloging service investment.  

Now I’ll be the first to admit I’m no lawyer and this requires professional legal review to be certain, but the behavior certainly seems questionable and raises major concerns. Given this kind of convoluted business logic, there are librarians saying: “this seems like a road that could easily lead to OCLC requiring a library to purchase WorldShare Management System in order to make "accessible" the cataloging they contributed [and paid for].”   If you need two discovery services for your metadata, well then why not require you to have two library management systems?  I mean, what the heck, it’s only more money, time and staffing. That’s not a problem for most libraries.  Right?!?! 

I’m advocating that OCLC behave in a manner which makes their multitudinous products and services available in discrete, clearly described, defined components, with equal access and pricing to both libraries and for-profit firms that might be willing to use those discrete components as the basis for competitive products and services.  Furthermore, the amount charged over actual costs should continue to be closely monitored by the OCLC Board of Trustees to make sure that it stays within a reasonable percentage, encouraging overall marketplace competition, open and widespread usage of their infrastructure products/services and a sustainable OCLC organization. Reasonable discounts for “bundles” should solely reflect the organization’s reduced cost of sales and administration and absolutely must not be aimed at reducing competitive offerings in the marketplace.  In fact, it should encourage them.  

This sustainability point gets confused, in my opinion, within OCLC. The operating results as a percent of revenue (targeted at 2-4% of OCLC’s net contribution to equity) are frequently used as an indication that they are not overcharging the membership for products and services.  That might be true as a average, but how about when considered on a more granular level? You might want to remember this legal case before answering. Plus there are other items to be considered in evaluating that statement:

First, and equally important to the sustainability of OCLC, are the annual revenues, which (shown below and from their Annual Reports) don’t show such a positive picture:

(in millions)

2009 $240
2010 $228
2011 $205
2012 $203
2013 $206

Clearly, real growth continues to be absent.  OCLC claims this is the result of the recession, divestiture of some assets, the reality of economic conditions of libraries and the fact that they’ve held a cap on fee increases.  

However, growth needs to be restored and thus OCLC should be internally (and possibly are) asking two questions:
  1. Is OCLC making the right investments?  This requires close analysis of the cost of developing a product/service, the revenue it is generating, where it is in the lifecycle of a product/service and the competitive landscape.   Competing with existing products/services is a costly business and must be closely scrutinized unless it is offering a quantum leap (.i.e. major differentiation) forward for libraries and their end users.  Furthermore, this must be balanced against areas where there is entirely new needs that would help broaden OCLC’s reach beyond libraries, yet stays within closely related areas, such as research data management/storage/access or knowledge creation platforms.  Determining which investments will provide the greatest growth in revenue is the end goal here, particularly at a time of flat and/or declining revenues.
  2. How does OCLC best support the profession of librarianship?  I keep wondering if we wouldn’t be better served by OCLC if they truly focused on developing core infrastructure services such that those services could be broadly built upon by libraries, the companies and OSS developers that serve them? The revenue model would be based on recurring subscription fees and I personally believe would ultimately lead to growing revenues because they could become a more widely trusted and utilized partner across the profession and among those companies and organizations that serve the profession.  
The bottom line here is that OCLC is, theoretically, a non-profit organization owned by and serving librarians and library users.  I think it’s time—past time—for it to behave accordingly.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Do-they-or-don’t-they? EBSCO Information Services; Part 2

With Ebsco’s new announcement about metadata usage with discovery systems from all vendors, it appears an important step forward has occurred for those libraries and their members/users where discovery products are utilized.  However, as with most announcements of this nature, a close examination of exactly what was said needs to be performed before a firm answer can be determined.

One of the most important things for librarians to realize about this recent Ebsco announcement is that market forces work when they’re utilized.   Ebsco was clearly rushing this announcement to completion in order to beat a deadline; I specifically suspect an order cancellation deadline.  I personally heard from three Ebsco team members in one day, concerning this pending announcement.  Given the public dismay expressed by the Orbis-Cascade Consortium towards Ebsco and Ex Libris, one might suspect that the consortium, or another large customer like them, made it clear that their Ebsco content renewal would not be happening unless progress was made on this front. 

The next most important thing to realize is that this deal does NOT fully meet the demands of librarians.  As I, and others, have openly and repeatedly said: What we want is for any EBSCO content we license to be searchable under the Discovery interface of our choice.  That is not what we got.  What we received was at best 70% of our request, somewhere around 120+ databases total.  There are some very important products in that list, but equally notable is the exclusion of ABC-CLIO, CINAHL, the Wilson Indexes and others where Ebsco has done a great deal of work in enhancing the searching of databases through the use of subject terms.  We did get the metadata, abstracts and (Ebsco’s words here) "full-text where possible". The reason I note the phrasing “where possible” is that many content suppliers often try to negotiate exclusive agreements with the publishers.  If they’ve done this and then cite the exclusivity as a reason they can’t supply us with the full-text to index, that would be self-serving at best.  I asked this question and was told we should compare what other providers, such as ProQuest are doing to see if in fact the offering is different.  If so, then EBSCO claims they will seek to modify their agreements with the publishers.  We shall see.  

In fairness to all concerned, Ebsco is a business and not unlike other businesses, must please owners/shareholders as well as customers.  Growing value by preserving the unique and differentiating features of products is a tried-and-proven business strategy.  Of course, Ex Libris and ProQuest are also businesses trying to do the same.  Consequently, and at the same time, all parties will be trying to negate the unique and differentiating value of their competitors while at the same time, maintaining their own.  It’s just business.  So, you have the classic compete/cooperate conundrum.  When dealing with a direct competitor, such as these companies will be doing under this metadata policy, it requires a great deal of trust to flow in both directions.  As you will know from reading my previous post on this subject, trust is something that is in exceedingly short supply between these companies.  To restore that will require small steps with plenty of stop-and-evaluate moments along the way.  The Ebsco representative I spoke with clearly stated that depending upon the usage of the Ebsco data under these discovery interfaces, they might revisit this policy in the future.  Note however this wording in the release: “As a content provider, we want to work with all discovery vendors in a way that encourages and requires mutual sharing. Because all major discovery vendors are also ILS vendors, content providers, or both – there exists a logical "two-way street" and opportunity for collaboration on behalf of our mutual customers.”   There are a LOT of exit ramps in that wording.  Caveat Emptor.  Plus, it’s important to note that Ebsco has the sole distinction in the field of being the only metadata supplier to have ever withdrawn their metadata from Ex Libris' Primo Central. And if it happened once….   

The policy Ebsco issued also indicates that the databases being withheld from this policy might be included at a later date.  From the policy:  “A&I resources are developed with specialized components and remain our industry’s most sophisticated data sets, but as such, require intricate, refined search algorithms and approaches to properly leverage their value. At present, not all discovery services are designed to leverage the specialized components of these individual collections, and as a result, are likely to inadvertently de-value and subsequently harm library research were these to be included without proper guidelines. As approaches for discovery service development around A&I resources are more thoroughly documented (with the help of Ebsco and possibly other subject index providers) and subsequently addressed, Ebsco will re-visit its policy for sharing these unique databases with other discovery service vendors.”  See my comments about product differentiation above in evaluating these statements.  What is somewhat frustrating about this however is that the profession and industry have largely come together under the umbrella of NISO and have formed a working group called the “Open Discovery Initiative” to deal with these very kinds of topics.  Ebsco is a member but appears to not totally buy into, nor support, the recommendations of the group.   For the profession of Librarianship, this is frustrating.  From a business perspective, it’s understandable in the short-term, but in the long-term these kinds of decisions tend to hurt the profession overall, thus diminishing the overall market size and thus the number of potential buyers (libraries).  In other words, this is shortsighted on Ebsco’s part in my opinion.

There are a number of answers that Librarians must continue to pursue to properly evaluate this development in the marketplace.  They include:

  1. Bias and Known Item Searching.   There was a very interesting article on Discovery systems in this weeks Chronicle of Higher Education that reinforces a concern I’ve expressed numerous times in this blog about bias in results.   This is a massively complex question and the Chronicle article will give you some flavor of the complexity surrounding the bias issue.  Known-item searching is frequently a point of frustration with many Discovery users because the single-search box approach is left to try and sort through data elements and properly recognize things like author name from words in the title and anything else the searcher might throw into the broad search.   EBSCO’s content and subject enhancements and products like Ex Libris’s Primo can, and frequently do, bump heads here.  Primo has had numerous enhancements to improve known item searching.  But it is likely those enhancements when combined with EBSCO’s subject enhanced metadata, might not produce the prioritization that EBSCO would like to see of their content.  This is in part why EBSCO should provide more compliance with the NISO ODI recommendations, but as I pointed out above, to do so would diminish a key product differentiator, so it seems unlikely to happen.   The result, as the subject of the Chronicle article noted, is that many discovery users just give up and use Google Scholar.  Clearly, that is very unfortunate for librarianship.
  2. Library-by-Library Analysis.  Each library will need to do an analysis of what EBSCO content they subscribe to and pay for and what will be included under this policy such that it will be discoverable with the library’s chosen discovery tool.   Overall utilization of the EBSCO content should also be factored into this model.  One needs to determine a per/use cost and keep careful track of the ratios of those discoverable within the discovery tools and those that require use of a native interface.  It will remain a library decision if that utilization cost is worthwhile for the library members/users.   Clearly, renewal decisions should utilize this analysis.

To wrap this up; was an important step forward achieved?  Possibly.  It’s a better policy than was previously used by Ebsco.  Still, there are a number of caveats in the wording, and in what was verbally said, which could result in this policy suddenly being retracted.  That’s a continuing cause for concern.

The bottom line is that as librarians, we must continue to use our purchasing power, combined when necessary, to collectively and where appropriate, exert pressure on content suppliers to provide what we need to make for meaningful experiences with our discovery tools.  As I said above, this looks like progress, but it is not all that we need. So we must continue our efforts, until such time as we can search all content we license, under the discovery system of our choice.

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.