by Tom Gilson (Associate Editor, Against the Grain)
and Katina Strauch (Editor, Against the Grain)
ATG: Jane, over the years you have held a number of leadership positions in the information solutions industry, most recently with ProQuest. And now you’ve joined Ex Libris, a ProQuest Company. What prompted this recent change?
JB: I really have had a lovely career — I am so lucky. When ProQuest acquired Ex Libris in 2015, Matti Shem Tov, then president of Ex Libris, asked me to join the Ex Libris team. I was thrilled to be asked. Since I have spent lots of time with library automation systems, including Voyager (now owned by Ex Libris), it felt like coming home.
ATG: Currently you are Ex Libris’ VP for Strategic Initiatives. What are your responsibilities in this position?
JB: I take on a variety of strategic projects, especially related to our current customers. I am very involved in what we call Customer Success, which is about helping customers get the most value possible from our solutions. Plus, I work with early customers for new services, such as our new resource sharing service, Rapido. I am also very involved in our discovery strategies. And I am a member of Ex Libris’ senior management team.
ATG: Recently Ex Libris made some major news with the acquisition of Innovative Interfaces, a key vendor in the library systems space. Can you tell us who initiated the deal? How did it evolve and then come to fruition?
JB: It was really a mutual set of discussions. There were discussions over several months. In the end, it made sense to come together and combine our complementary capabilities. Innovative has deep expertise in several areas, such as resource sharing. They are also well-positioned in public libraries, where Ex Libris does not compete. Ex Libris understands cloud-based library services platforms, and through the acquisition we plan to deliver this innovation to public libraries. I should mention that Innovative has struggled under private equity ownership. This transaction provides Innovative’s customers a long-term owner dedicated to the industry that will ensure continuity of their products.
ATG: With the Innovative deal in place and ready to close, who do you see as your competitors in the library systems space? Where does EBSCO’s open source alternative FOLIO fit into the competitive mix?
JB: The Innovative deal actually closed on January 15.
The library automation space is evolving. With requirements for such things as cloud, knowledgebases, and interoperability, companies need to do more to deliver real solutions to customers. 25 years ago, we built Voyager for less than $3 million. Today the needs are broader and there are definitely multiple strong competitors seeking to meet those evolving needs.
OCLC WorldShare, Sirsi, Koha, and EBSCO’s FOLIO, among others are all viable choices. Each is different in certain ways. All of us need to foster choice because it helps the overall market. We benefit from competition — it keeps us creative and focused.
But… there is another perspective on the competitive space. I don’t think libraries are about their collections — and certainly not their print collections — anymore. Today, it’s about services to their communities. It’s about how libraries use those collections and content expertise to serve their communities, either academic or public.
With that broader perspective, there is even broader competition. For example, in the research data management space, where Ex Libris has a service called Esploro, there are literally hundreds of competitors — most of whom don’t showcase the library. And in the public library space, I am fascinated with the new patron engagement platforms.
ATG: In the research data management space that you just referenced, how is Esploro different from other competitors providing similar services? In what ways does it showcase the library that are unique from your competitors?
JB: Research dollars are critical to institutions. There are many competitors in the research data management space. Nearly all of them are STEM oriented, and very few of them directly involve the library. At Ex Libris, we believe that the library can be a huge contributor to research data management. Our Esploro solution is built as a joint solution for research administration and the library, allowing the library to visibly add value to research across the institution. Esploro has unique functions to programmatically enrich metadata about research assets. Also, Esploro provides for research data from all types of disciplines, not just STEM.
ATG: We are also curious as to which new patron engagement platforms in the public library space have caught your eye? Why do you find them fascinating? Do they have applications in the academic space?
JB: Great question. Public libraries have taken on new roles in their communities, and they understand that they need to “market” themselves to their constituents. Patron engagement platforms are increasingly popular in public libraries as a method of doing that — showcasing various library programs and new services. There are several good partron engagement platforms being offered to public libraries.
I believe academic libraries are a bit slower in adopting such marketing platforms. But they are increasingly being encouraged to think more about their communities, rather than their collections. For example, I really like the new study that OhioLINK and Ithaka S+R released, entitled “It’s Not What Libraries Hold; It’s Who Libraries Serve: Seeking a User-Centered Future for Academic Libraries.” It shows how academic library thinking is evolving.
ATG: Why target Innovative Interfaces? What unique advantages does Innovative bring to the table?
JB: Innovative brings several unique advantages to Ex Libris. First, experience with public libraries, which we lack. Second, many years of resource sharing experience. And of course, deep customer relationships in the market.
ATG: As you’ve noted, this deal enables Ex Libris to expand into the public library market. What impact, if any, will it have on Ex Libris’ primary customers, academic libraries? What can we look forward to as a result of this deal?
JB: One of the many things I appreciate about Ex Libris is its ability to focus. The company is organized to allow us to execute on multiple initiatives. We are completely committed to our academic customers and to our commitments to them, both individually and as a market.
At the same time, there is a need for a cloud-based public library solution. With Innovative we will have a public library business unit so we can focus on the needs of public libraries without losing our focus on the academic community.
ATG: How are the cloud-based needs of the public and academic library different? Is there a Ex Libris game plan for meeting both? Can you share it?
JB: The resource management needs of public and academic libraries are really quite different today — more than ever before. (Of course, this is something that we have debated in library automation for a very long time.) While public libraries focus more on community activities and programming, academic libraries increasingly invest in electronic content for the benefit of teaching, learning and research. The structural and functional needs of systems for each type of library is quite different. The common theme is that both types need true SaaS based systems.
We have a plan to build a SaaS solution for public libraries. We have a very strong cloud platform, and we will utilize that for a solution for public libraries, one that is different than Alma, our academic solution.
ATG: According to Roger C. Schonfeld of Ithaka S+R, this acquisition will raise concerns about Ex Libris’s increasingly dominant position in the library systems market. Your response?
JB: Such concerns are natural, I suppose. But they are not warranted. Ex Libris does not take our customers for granted, and this market is and will remain intensely competitive. We know that we have to offer increasing value realization to our customer. Since the company has now transitioned almost completely to a subscription-based model, we need to continually earn our customers’ loyalty. We face competition from a number of providers including OCLC, Sirsi, and Koha, as well as from EBSCO’s FOLIO which has significant backing from leading academic libraries and is already seeing wins in the marketplace. There are over 4,000 academic libraries in the U.S. and we compete every day to try to win their business.
ATG: Schonfeld also points out that the deal enables Ex Libris to add Innovative’s SkyRiver bibliographic utility. This coupled with the recent acquisition of RapidILL, the resources sharing service, puts Ex Libris in direct competition with OCLC. How does this fit into Ex Libris’ overall strategy?
JB: OCLC has a special place in the hearts of libraries, especially in the United States. But today’s cloud technology is making it possible to deliver both metadata and resources in new ways. We are still thinking about how to integrate SkyRiver — we already offer our Alma customers bibliographic records through our Community Zone. SkyRiver offers some additional benefits.
Alma, our resource management solution, is based on providing efficiency and productivity through its cloud platform. We can do more of that by bringing resource sharing and interlibrary loan into the Alma workflows through Rapido, our new resource sharing service, which incorporates RapidILL. We are doing the same thing for selection with Rialto, which embeds the selection marketplace into Alma.
ATG: We were under the impression that Sky River was primarily a bibliographic utility intended for public libraries. What benefits might it offer to your academic customers?
JB: We are not sure yet. But we know that all of our libraries want the best records for eBooks. So we are looking at what Sky River might be able to offer the Alma Community Zone and our other services.
ATG: What other strategic initiatives do you see in the offing for Ex Libris? What will the company look like in two years? In five years?
JB: Both Ex Libris and ProQuest are evolving quickly into educational technology providers. At Ex Libris, the cloud platform that we originally built for Alma is now truly a higher education platform, supporting multiple solutions. In two years, Ex Libris will be offering a variety of robust solutions to serve higher education and public library needs. We will have brought our new resource sharing solution into production, filled out our vision for research data management and have continued to innovate in resource management and discovery. Mobile will finally come into daily library operations.
In five years, Ex Libris will see more demand for solutions that provide real collaboration. Resource sharing will lead to true shared collections, so we will need to provide solutions for that. The library will be a recognized partner in campus research administration and in providing affordable curriculum support.
ATG: This is obviously an exciting but hectic time for both you and Ex Libris. How do you recharge your batteries so you are ready to take on the next challenge? Are there any activities that you particularly enjoy in what little downtime you have?
JB: You’re kind. I admit that I have a fondness for flea markets. I am a collector of Harker pottery and Bessie Gutmann prints. I live in the town where I grew up, and I am involved with historic preservation in the community.