I got a very exciting email today–probably one of the best I have gotten in a long time. It was a statement from Sallie Mae announcing that my last student loan payment would be posted next month. “It’s like you’re a real librarian now,” said Sharon, my loving wife. Actually, that was a good one. I felt like I owned something new.
It got me thinking about ownership, sort of a hot topic in libraries for the last several years. I don’t want to belabor content ownership here because others have done that better. My concern lately is just who owns whom these days in the library automation space.
There was a time when personal names and company names went hand in hand, but those days seem to be fading. Elton Bryson Stephens (EBSCO) and Fred Kilgour (OCLC) died this year; many company founders have retired in the last decade, often leaving their companies to nameless and faceless investors and boards of directors. Market consolidation, new executives from outside the industry, and the constantly revolving door between companies make keeping up with industry leadership both fun and difficult.
I’m not suggesting that these changes are bad (or necessarily completely new), but what I will suggest (and you might read this again in next month’s Technically Speaking column) is that knowing who owns what is still important. The library automation space is now largely held together with partnerships, distribution agreements, mergers, and acquisitions. It’s rare to pick up the phone or go to a conference and truly get the ear of the man or woman in charge. Even if you can, the person in charge might not always be holding the purse strings.
I’ve been beating the drum of commoditized automation services for some time now. I still think that looking at a company’s leadership, expertise, stability, and vision should mean more to libraries than which vendor has more intuitive graphics in the staff circulation module.
Who a business does business with is much less secretive than it used to be, too. For instance, recall vendors practically falling over themselves about 6-12 months ago to get “Google” in as many press releases as possible. But these partnerships aren’t always just PR. They’re often strategically important and worth our attention, right down to the last payment.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]