LYRASIS As Platform Powerhouse in Eleven Links

LYRASIS, characterizing itself as an organization partnering “with member libraries, archives, and museums to create, access, preserve and manage information, with an emphasis on digital content,” released a wave of newsworthy announcements in June. A series of collaborative partnerships in recent years has allowed LYRASIS to emerge as a powerful player—one with a significant organizational commitment to the creation of community-owned platforms for the discovery and delivery of e-books. 

LYRASIS was formally established in April 2009, the result of a merger between two regional cooperatives, SOLINET and PALINET. The merger brought together a significant membership of academic libraries from the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions and almost immediately extended to a third regional group in New England, NELINET.  

Over the past decade, LYRASIS membership has expanded to more than a thousand institutional members, including public library systems as well as academic libraries. While the organization continues to negotiate with publishers for favorable licensing agreements on behalf of their members, it also provides training opportunities and consulting services. More importantly (and most visibly), LYRASIS provides platform hosting services through ArchiveSpace, CollectionSpace, DSpace, DuraCloud, Islandora, and the newly announced Palace Project. 

In a 2019 Scholarly Kitchen blog post about the successful merger of the LYRASIS and Duraspace communities, Roger Schonfeld of Ithaka noted “intensifying competition for platform services with integrated workflows.… I will be following with interest whether this newly combined enterprise can offer coherent competition to the leading commercial providers of institutional repositories, library systems, and similar platforms for collecting organizations. And also whether it will seek yet greater scale in its efforts to do so.” 

Within weeks of Schonfeld’s post, the Digital Public Library of America, the New York Public Library, and LYRASIS announced a collaborative intent to develop a national digital e-books platform for managing ebook and audiobook services. 

That development has moved quickly. Fast forward to the early months of 2021, when LYRASIS and Columbia University Libraries partnered to “increase access to materials available from Columbia University Libraries with an improved and more consistent reading experience”—one fostering use of their collection of 20,000 e-books in a mobile environment. LYRASIS’s work focused on the “enhancement of the SimplyE platform with Shibboleth/SAML authentication and secure access controlled content delivery for self-hosted collections.” The press release noted as well that Lyrasis participation in the InCommon Federation was key to the successful implementation of that authentication process. 

In May, the DPLA announced a ground-breaking agreement with Amazon Publishing. Amazon Publishing would make approximately 10,000 Amazon Publishing e-books and audiobooks available to libraries and their patrons through the DPLA Exchange, their library-centered content marketplace. The agreement represented a capitulation by Amazon, which had never before permitted its e-books to be made available to libraries.

Then in June came a joint announcement from the New York Public Library and LYRASIS, indicating they would be ending one collaborative effort in order to allow each organization to expand work on a library-driven, library-empowered e-book platform by pursuing “two different opportunities.” NYPL would continue to improve, enhance, and perfect its e-book reader, SimplyE, but would not seek to expand adoption beyond the 250 systems that had already adopted it. LYRASIS, having partnered with the NYPL for two years in providing cloud-based hosting of the SimpleE system, would now move to develop “its own e-reader, utilizing SimplyE’s open-source code and offering broad tech support and cloud hosting of the entire platform.”

Others expressed a more cynical view of the separation:

So, reading in-between the lines, Lyrasis wants to combine Biblioboard with SimplyE, and NYPL wasn't interested in going that way. Integration with Biblioboard competitors might have been the fork.

— Eric Hellman (@gluejar) June 17, 2021

LYRASIS had announced their acquisition of BiblioLabs on June 15. An associated FAQ explained the acquisition as allowing LYRASIS “to offer a seamless e-book management experience that highlights the local nature of library communities while harnessing the benefit of large scale, community-driven technologies.” The same document noted that the merger differed from for-profit mergers because it was less about maximization of profits and more about the enhancement of community-focused technologies. In merging with LYRASIS, BiblioLabs would become a nonprofit entity. 

Especially in light of recent news of Overdrive buying Kanopy, this is a big step forward for open, community driven ebook solutions.

Big congrats to the @lyrasis and @biblioboard teams. Excited to see where this work goes!

— Kaitlin Thaney 💁🏻‍♀️ (she/her) (@kaythaney) June 15, 2021

Publishers Weekly, in its coverage, explained the value-add of the acquisition in the context of LYRASIS' efforts with New York Public Library’s e-book platform. LYRASIS “has worked to support the development and adoption of the New York Public Library’s SimplyE/Library Simplified e-book platform. BiblioLabs launched the BiblioBoard platform in 2011 to provide community engagement and content distribution services to public, academic, and K-12 libraries, and in recent years has leveraged its BiblioBoard discovery platform and initiatives like the popular Indie Author Project and its community publishing tool, Creator, to power digital content initiatives for a range of cultural institutions and their communities.”

Then just as the ALA Annual Conference ended and a record-breaking summer heat wave was settling over the country, the Palace Project was announced, with a $5 million investment by the Knight Foundation. LYRASIS, in partnership with the Digital Public Library of America, would be “developing and scaling a robust suite of content, services, and tools for the delivery of ebooks, audiobooks, and other digital media.” 

Two key paragraphs appear in that announcement:

  • The Palace Project will support the mission of public libraries by providing equitable access to digital knowledge, bolstering the direct relationship between libraries and patrons, and protecting patron privacy by enabling libraries to serve content to patrons from all the major e-content providers.
  • The Palace Project builds on a collaboration between DPLA and LYRASIS over the last several years and uses the Library Simplified platform, an open-source code base originally designed and developed by the New York Public Library.

Last month, Todd Carpenter, NISO’s Executive Director, wrote “There is a fundamental chicken-and-egg problem where some libraries would like to advance but can’t because the systems don’t support the new services, while the vendors are hesitant to invest in new software development until there is an obvious demand from the market...the lack of demand is inhibiting innovation while driving consolidation among vendors. Fundamentally, this logjam will have to break up in order for libraries to progress in these new directions.” 

It would appear that LYRASIS in particular is intent on breaking apart this particular logjam for its members. LYRASIS has acquired or developed the strategically important community-owned software and platforms needed to enable their membership to deliver digital content swiftly and reliably. In just a little over a decade, they have indeed become a powerhouse.