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PTFS Acquires LibLime, Expands Its Open Source Capabilities
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Posted On January 21, 2010


Just prior to the American Library Association's Midwinter meeting, an acquisition announcement stirred up the library open source community. Progressive Technology Federal Systems, Inc. (PTFS; www.ptfs.com) announced it intended to acquire LibLime (www.liblime.com), a Koha-based provider of open source solutions for libraries and a division of MetaVore, Inc. (www.metavore.com). Librarians in Boston for the ALA meeting had many questions for the PTFS management, only some of which could be answered since the deal is still in the due diligence stage. John Yokley, PTFS president and CEO, doesn't anticipate any problems, however, and thinks the deal will close at the end of January 2010.

Legally, PTFS will acquire the domain name, website, and U.S. trademark for Koha (www.koha.org); the copyrights for much of the Koha documentation and for its source code; and the trademark, domain name, website, and source code for biblios (www.biblios.net), which is LibLime's cataloging module. LLEK, LibLime Enterprise Koha, is also part of the deal, and Yokley says that PTFS would adopt Amazon's EC2 cloud platform for existing PTFS products as well as LLEK, which currently uses the Amazon technology. Additionally, PTFS acquires Koha Express, a self-service version for small libraries, and GetIT, an acquisitions module.

Stability of PTFS

Yokley stressed to me that PTFS has an established track record, both with Koha open source and in digitization using its ArchivalWare technology. Founded in 1995, it was involved in several early library projects, such as the digital version of the Chicago Tribune and the TORPEDO content management system for the digital resources of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's Ruth H. Hooker Research Library, but rarely was its name associated with its work. However, the PTFS name has become more visible in recent years.

The financial stability of PTFS, according to Yokley, is not an issue. It's an owner-managed company dedicated to providing open source library automation products, as well as library staffing services, particularly for some U.S. government libraries. According to Yokley, PTFS has enjoyed 20% annual growth and clean audits from the U.S. government. The emphasis on PTFS's sound financials addresses the rumblings among several ALA attendees that LibLime was in a dire financial condition. Certainly LibLime has lost staff, reducing its headcount significantly. PTFS will invest in LibLime, as it has the resources available to do that.

A Fork in the Road

More important was Yokley's repeated insistence that PTFS wants to "keep the concept of user driven development. The community should be libraries and librarians." He didn't use the word "fork," although many others I spoke with at ALA did, the hope being that the acquisition would mean the end of LibLime's "forking" into a free version and an enterprise one, which it announced in September 2009. As Roy Tennant said at the time, in his Digital Libraries blog post ("LibLime To the Koha Community: Fork You!" www.libraryjournal.com/blog/1090000309/post/1050048905.html), "That they now privatize a fork of Koha is apparently legal, but disappointing and seemingly hypocritical."

Yokley made no commitments about forking, stating that he intended to study open source models, including JBoss and Redhat. "Our goal is make this initiative successful. We need a business model that works, that gives users an open source alternative."

He noted that the combined company will have 640 Koha libraries under 123 contracts and will support close to 2,000 libraries worldwide, including U.S. government depository libraries.

Planning for the Future

PTFS intends to step up its Digital Library System (DLS) initiative, which integrates the Koha ILS and ArchivalWare, with LibLime capabilities. This "will provide libraries and information centers with a single toolset to manage all of their collections, both print and digital." PTFS will keep the LibLime name, making it a division of the company. On the personnel side, LibLime co-founder Joshua Ferraro will stay with PTFS for at most 18 months to "lead current development projects to conclusion." The other co-founders remain with MetaVore, pursuing non-library related projects.

Short term, says Yokley, the goal for PTFS is to integrate the organization, enhance support capabilities, complete ongoing development projects, communicate well internally and externally, formulate and publish 12- and 24-month plans, and formulate and revise the business plan. Yokley acknowledged the very different corporate cultures of PTFS and LibLime, particularly the working environment. PTFS maintains a corporate headquarters where its employees are physically present, while LibLime employees are spread throughout North America. Communication, he thinks, is a particularly critical component for the future.

Reactions From Librarians

What do librarians think of this? Most that I spoke with in Boston were cautiously optimistic. They want to see PTFS as an active member of the Koha community and acknowledge that, in the past year or so since PTFS began to actively engage in Koha activities, the company has been constructively involved with the Koha community. On the other hand, a few library directors are apprehensive about what happens to their contracts, despite assurances from PTFS that it will not only honor LibLime contracts but enhance service.

Open source is a vital, international movement (Koha began in New Zealand). With stakeholders spread out around the world, the opinions of those attending a U.S. library conference might not be representative. But in this instance, they probably are, particularly those in self-hosted libraries want to see as open a Koha as possible.

Librarians want the PTFS acquisition of LibLime to succeed. They want PTFS to continue the open spirit of Koha. Interestingly, even other open source companies have weighed in on the acquisition. Writing in the ByWater Solutions blog (http://bywatersolutions.com/?p=320), Nicole Engard congratulates PTFS on the acquisition and "hopes that this means that code previously promised to the community will finally be released for inclusion in the one and only truly open source Koha ILS." That's quite a pointed statement and continues to raise the issue that PTFS will have to solve if it is to truly meet customer expectations.

For an additional analysis of the acquisition, see librarian Marshall Breeding's article in Library Journal, www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6714841.html.


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search Summit.

Email Marydee Ojala
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Comments Add A Comment
Posted By MARYDEE OJALA4/1/2010 2:41:04 PM

Wheee, the acquisition is back on. I waited to post this comment--the original announcement (http://www.liblime.com/news/ptfs-acquires-liblime) was made mid-March--because I wanted to make sure it was really, truly happening. Once burned, twice shy, as the saying goes. January there's an acquisition; February there's no acquisition; March there's an acquisition.
Posted By MARYDEE OJALA2/12/2010 10:42:31 AM

On February 11, 2010, LibLime and PTFS announced that the acquisition would not occur because the two companies "could not agree upon financial terms." John Yokley warned us at ALA Midwinter that they were still in due diligence, but the attitudes of the people in both the LibLime and PTFS booths certainly conveyed the impression that the due diligence was only a formality and that the acquisition would proceed without a hitch. Apparently, there was a big hitch in there and it revolved around money.
Posted By Chris Nighswonger1/22/2010 10:04:15 AM

As one of the top contributors to the current Koha code base, I'd like
to dispute the implication in your article that either LibLime or PTFS
"own" the copyright to Koha code. Perhaps it was true at the point of
sale from Katipo to LibLime that LibLime owned the copyright to the
source, but that has changed dramatically since that point. Just take a
look at this page: http://stats.workbuffer.org/3.2.0.html Down the page
a way you will find a ranking of "Top changeset contributors by
employer." In that list you will see that LibLime is second to BibLibre
who is second to an Unknown category. There are others in this list.
Each of these represents at minimum a single different copyright holder
in the code base, and in reality the categories of "Unknown" and
"Volunteer" probably include many.

It would be good for you to clarify the language of your article to
reflect accurately the facts as they stand at this junction and
transition point. PTFS is *only* purchasing the copyrights owned by
LibLime: *not* the copyright to the entire Koha code base.

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