LYRASIS, the nation's largest regional (multi-state) library membership network, has announced two new partnership arrangements designed to serve the needs of its library members. LYRASIS began operations in April 2009 with the merger of two previous regional networks-PALINET and SOLINET-soon joined by NELINET. All three had longstanding relationships with OCLC. Changes in OCLC policies and corresponding declines in revenue reportedly drove the merger, at least in part. LYRASIS has continued much of its traditional support for OCLC products and services. Now it has announced a marketing and educational push supporting the new OCLC Web-scale Management Services initiative, an integrated library system (ILS) done "in the cloud." LYRASIS has also announced a new partnership with SkyRiver Technology Solutions, a cataloging utility offering price savings over traditional services. Ironically, a storm arose last year when Michigan State University switched from OCLC to SkyRiver for significant savings and then found those savings at risk as OCLC raised the price of outside (non-OCLC) cataloging contributions to WorldCat.
It may seem odd to issue announcements of partnerships with two seemingly bitter rivals within only a couple of weeks, but Kate Nevins, CEO of LYRASIS, explains how it fits into the overall service strategy for LYRASIS. The first goal of the new strategic plan approved in December 2009 focuses on "library members' information access and management. How to acquire, create, and manage electronic and print content. This includes our growing digitization program, which we expect to see expand in the upcoming year. Management using the OCLC Web-scale Management Services will help. Our second goal is to support the effectiveness of library operations in a time of transformation. In this area we will continue our longstanding professional development and training programs, a growing consulting service. And in this goal area we have reached out to SkyRiver to help our very diverse membership, particularly the smaller libraries." Nevins also assured me that, as an "honest broker," LYRASIS had made it clear to all parties that it was dealing with both vendors throughout the negotiation process.
LYRASIS has two categories of members: Group members, e.g., other networks, consortia, delivering specific LYRASIS products and services to their own members, and institutional members, i.e., single institutions, e.g., public, academic, government, law, medical, and special libraries and cultural heritage organizations, with potential access to any or all LYRASIS products and services. Nevins indicated that LYRASIS has around 2,000 institutional members and more than 5,000 reached through group memberships.
Though available now in 29 states, the primary service area for LYRASIS has been the Mid-Atlantic, Southeastern, and New England regions in the U.S. However, LYRASIS is in the process of taking over the oldest (1935) regional network, BCR (Bibliographical Center for Research), based in Colorado and serving adjacent states. Institutional LYRASIS members come from across the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and three other countries. Though some observers have seen LYRASIS as embarking on a "national reach" expansion program, Nevins told me that BCR would probably be the last of the major additions. Further expansion would come from individual libraries and institutional memberships. In fact, earlier this year LYRASIS announced cutbacks and the closure of some regional offices, some ("around 24% of staff") resulting from integration of services and elimination of duplication and some ("17 more staff positions in June") due to other factors.
Working With OCLC
Under the expanded OCLC partnership, LYRASIS will supply consulting, education, and engagement programs. It will help libraries deploy the new services, probably starting with members who sign up as early adopters. According to Nevins, the training and consulting areas for WMS will continue ongoing services in support of OCLC that LYRASIS and its predecessor organizations have always supplied. But she is "pleased to work with OCLC in this direction. Libraries are increasingly seeing web services as useful. Our role is to focus on building librarian knowledge and understanding for what ‘working in the cloud' means, how it will change management, the pros and cons. We will also supply a dialog through social networking tools in the community. At present we are planning a central series of 12 or more institutes conducted in 28 or more state regions on what constitutes cloud-based computing. OCLC will be the focus, but only part of what it is. We are looking to combine face-to-face summits with some web-based ones or even combinations." Nevins indicated that they also planned to offer their educational tools outside their membership, e.g., partnering with state libraries or librarian professional associations.
However, OCLC is not allowing regional networks to sell the services, nor to affect pricing. Nevins said there was "no differential [in pricing] for our members." She says that LYRASIS will receive some revenue from OCLC for this new program and "we will not charge members for the service." Catherine de Rosa, OCLC vice president of global marketing, confirmed that although ordering and billing and marketing would not change, there would be no distribution partnerships. She also indicated that OCLC had definite plans to work with other partners, however, she had no specific names. "LYRASIS is the first," said de Rosa, "but we have different strategies with different skills and areas of emphasis. In working with partners, we may not want them all to look the same." She also expected the Web-scale Management Services initiative to enable libraries "to redo workflow and restructure," potentially saving libraries money.
When it comes to saving money, the SkyRiver cataloging utility has been giving OCLC a run for its money lately. Founded by Jerry Kline, the same person who set up Innovative Interfaces, Inc. (III) and still chairman and CEO of III, SkyRiver provides a cataloging bibliographic utility of more than 28 million unique titles, including full MARC, CONSER, and BNB files, at a flat-rate annual subscription with no access or itemization fees nor any claims on ownership of the bibliographic metadata. Any integrated library system that can import MARC records (and they probably all can) can use SkyRiver input. The system also allows original cataloging.
Under the new agreement, SkyRiver will become one of the numerous vendor packages offered to members by LYRASIS, however, unlike many of those packages, it will not offer a discount. According to Leslie Straus, president of SkyRiver, "the prices will be the same, but LYRASIS members will have the additional benefit of simplifying purchases under their separate agreements with LYRASIS. Since SkyRiver services fit easily into libraries of all sizes and types, the synergy resulting from this partnership will allow LYRASIS members to quickly and easily reap the benefit of SkyRiver's low-cost services. We're excited about this partnership."
Those interested in the experience of transition from OCLC to SkyRiver might want to read "SkyRiver at Michigan State University Libraries: A Brief Overview" by Joshua Barton and Lucas Mak. One of the major omissions mentioned by the authors involved the lack of an interlibrary loan module. Straus says, "I definitely see that in the company's future." She also hinted at other developments that could respond to the authors' few reservations about SkyRiver.