The Miles Conrad Memorial Lecture

by Don Hawkins, Freelance Writer and Conference Blogger

The Miles Conrad Memorial Lecture is traditionally a highlight of NFAIS annual meetings.  Established to honor the memory of G. Miles Conrad, one of the founders of NFAIS, it is given to a leader and pioneer in the industry.  This year’s lecture was presented by Tim Collins, President and CEO of EBSCO Industries, Inc.  Collins founded an abstracting and indexing company in 1983 that was subsequently purchased by EBSCO and which has become a major online research service, leading e-book aggregator, and discovery service provider.

Tim Collins

Tim Collins

 

Collins focused on industry trends in the academic library market and traced the evolution of library searching. From 1982 to about 1995, OPACs worked, then searching became fragmented as full-text platforms, secondary databases, repositories, e-books, and e-journals appeared. Google use proliferated, but in the library world, users were forced to learn several interfaces running on slow (but viable) platforms, and access was dysfunctional. Now, with the appearance of discovery service platforms having all online data sources and the OPAC in one place, search works again.

There are four types of academic library users:

  • General researchers (undergraduates) who are meeting expectations that Google set by using discovery services that include images, video, etc. and provide improved relevancy ranking,
  • Sophisticated users (graduate students and researchers) who continue to use subject-specific databases (although discovery services play a role for them),
  • Browsers who use features within discovery services that integrate with their workflows, and
  • Known-item searchers, who can acquire desired content through discovery.

The future will see better relevancy ranking and a critical role for abstracting and indexing services that provide high quality metadata for discovery systems.  If content cannot be discovered, libraries might as well not have it.  Services must have good metadata around their content and make it available.  EBSCO is now working on normalizing multiple thesauri for use on different services.

EBSCO has followed these industry principles in taking advantage of and influencing trends:

  • Identifying and eliminating compromises that users have been accepting, such as poor linking between secondary and full-text databases,
  • Applying the “Economics Rule” which says that it is better to offer a significantly improved service at a constant price rather than an only slightly better one at a lower price. Long-term partnerships are better than short-term gains, and all parties must have an economic incentive to participate,
  • Improving rather than changing user behavior by eliminating steps in existing processes and combining separate processes into one, and
  • Expanding revenue growth potential by expanding product lines and adding products that enable access to budgets where the original buyer has an influence.

Usage is a key success driver in future purchasing decisions.  It is critical for publishers to get their content into discovery systems. Social media will drive purchase decisions over time. EBSCO works to support librarians’ information life-cycles: selection, ordering, resource management, discovery, access, and analysis.  Its recently announced purchase of YBP is an example: YBP is strong in areas that complement existing EBSCO products.

The information market has consolidated over the past 30 years, and this will continue.  It is driven by merging of technologies in the value chain, economies of scale, venture capital, and private equity. EBSCO has remained private and strives to maintain an entrepreneurial spirit while growing. These are the principles it has followed over the years; they are all obvious, but living up to them can be a challenge.

  1. Commmit to sustained profit growth,
  2. Have a defined vision and operate with a bias for action,
  3. Be customer focused and sales driven,
  4. Understand that change is necessary,
  5. Recognize that you can’t manage what you can’t measure,
  6. Foster creativity and continuous improvement,
  7. Insist on quality,
  8. Do what you say you will do,
  9. Cultivate passion,
  10. Realize that business is a long-run game,
  11. Improve the foundation, and
  12. Be humble.
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