Library Technology Forecast for 2015 and Beyond

By Breeding, Marshall | Computers in Libraries, December 2014 | Go to article overview

Library Technology Forecast for 2015 and Beyond


Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries


With another year winding down, we're pausing to review some of the accomplishments with technology in libraries and consider what might be in store. Each year seems to bring an accelerating pace of change. While libraries tend to operate at a safe distance from the cutting edge of technology, it is important to look forward in order to be aware of the movement underway. Given the pace of change, interesting opportunities may slip by unless libraries move more aggressively in the development of new applications based on current technology advancements. This month's column gives a speculative glimpse of what might happen in the next year or so among the companies comprising the library-technology industry based on recent patterns. We also look at some specific technologies that are gaining momentum and warrant the library community's close attention.

Relentless Consolidation

In 2014, the library-technology industry saw another phase of consolidation. Innovative expanded through its acquisitions of Polaris Library Systems and VTLS. SirsiDynix extended its reach further into the special libraries realm by purchasing EOS. As long as I have been following the industry, there has been a steady march of mergers and acquisitions that have reshaped the industry.

One component of the change relates to the increased involvement of private equity firms as they gain ownership of companies from the individuals or families that originally founded them. Some companies, such as Ex Libris Group, have changed hands multiple times. Private equity ownership seems like a good fit for the library industry since these firms tend to look more for long-term growth and building value of their portfolio companies over time. Most hold on to their investments for 5 to 10 years, expect to make reasonable profits along the way, and to build companies with higher value at the end of the investment. In contrast, venture capital seeks shorter-term opportunities, usually focusing on companies early in their business cycle.

Through these previous rounds of consolidation, the strategic products and technologies used by libraries remain under the control of fewer companies of larger size and capacity. This stands in contrast to a decade or so ago when there was a much larger number of companies competing with overlapping products within a finite economic universe. The development capacity of each company at that time was limited. This resulted in a slower pace of innovation, which left libraries with underpowered automation systems that did not keep up with the transitions already underway for collections comprising increasing proportions of electronic and digital content.

Looking into the next year or two, I anticipate that the consolidation of the industry will continue. I am not aware of any particular deals underway, but I expect some of the small-to-midsize companies in the global industry to attract the interest of larger organizations looking for interesting technologies or expansion into other niche market segments. It is not necessarily possible to predict the level of consolidation that might eventually be realized.

However, it is inevitable that the industry will be dominated by a shrinking tier of very large corporations. That top tier may contract, but I think that there will continue to be significant competition among those providing strategic technology products in each of the major library sectors: academic, public, school, and special. Consolidation to the point of monopoly for any of these sectors would face regulatory challenges and not be well-received in the respective library communities. In such cases, additional competitors would be supported either through new commercial entrants or via open source alternatives.

It is also likely that at least one major library-technology company will see a new ownership arrangement in 2015. The likeliest scenario is a transition to new private equity investors. …

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