February 16, 2018

LYRASIS, DuraSpace Leaders Discuss Dissolved Merger

LYRASIS and DuraSpace logosOn May 16, the boards of LYRASIS and DuraSpace dissolved a planned merger that had been announced on January 27. But executives from the not-for-profit library software and service providers told LJ that four months of formal due diligence and analysis had helped members and leadership from both organizations become more familiar with one another, setting the stage for future collaboration.

“I don’t look at this as a setback for either organization,” said LYRASIS CEO Robert Miller. “I think it was a chance…to get to know each other better and find opportunities for alignment.”

“We had always talked about this as a genuine assessment of opportunities,” said DuraSpace CEO Debra Hanken Kurtz. But during a process that the two organizations worked to make public and transparent for members, they discovered differences in mission and governance that would be difficult to reconcile.

“Both organizations have different approaches to these things,” Kurtz said. “And they’re valid positions. Working independently but looking for ways to collaborate is a great way to go forward and continue to serve the community while preserving the diversity in the [library organization] ecosystem, and preserving what’s great about each of our organizations independently.”

Miller and Kurtz were both appointed to their leadership positions at LYRASIS and DuraSpace in early 2015, and consideration of a merger began last summer when the two discussed ways that the organizations could work together. Following a months-long analysis by an exploratory committee, the boards of the two groups unanimously approved an intent to merge in January, contending that a “new unified organization could provide significant economies of scale, synergies in developing open technologies and services, and a strong position for long-term sustainability,” according to the announcement.

In part, the goal of the merger was to pool the resources of the organizations’ respective technical teams, leveraging DuraSpace’s DSpace institutional repository solution, Fedora digital repository framework, VIVO semantic web platform, and DuraCloud, DSpaceDirect, and ArchivesDirect hosted repository and archiving solutions along with the LYRASIS Digitization Collaborative and Islandora, ArchivesSpace, and CollectionSpace hosting services to deliver a “full suite of services that could serve as the foundational platform for digital scholarship for a broad range of institutions managing scientific and cultural heritage materials,” the groups explained in a joint F.A.Q. about the merger.

In addition, DuraSpace “aspires to be more in the global market,” Kurtz told LJ in January. “Our technologies are downloaded and used around the world. What we want to do is build out a community that better reflects that adoption rate.” The broad, global membership base of LYRASIS would help achieve that goal, she said.

Although many LYRASIS members use open source software from DuraSpace, membership overlap was minimal between the two organizations. LYRASIS serves over 4,000 libraries and cultural heritage organizations globally, according to GuideStar, and Miller estimated that there are about 50 institutions that belong to both organizations. In January, Miller and Kurtz described the organizations’ funding and project infrastructures as complementary, emphasizing that they did not anticipate that the merger would  lead to a cannibalization of funding resources or a discontinuation of any projects.

But during the public phase of the due diligence process these past several weeks, many members expressed concerns.

“There was consistent—throughout the process—concern that DuraSpace remain true to our mission and our values around open source software,” Kurtz said.

Miller added that he wouldn’t describe member feedback as negative during this process, but that each core community wanted to be sure that they “felt represented and felt that there was not going to be any disruption to what they had.”

Following the decision to dissolve the merger, both organizations discontinued the due diligence and public comment process, as well as monthly online update sessions. Both Kurtz and Miller said that this had been a positive process, presenting both organizations with an opportunity for internal assessment while introducing their respective communities to the possibility of partnerships.

“I think we’re both looking at this aspirationally,” Miller said. “It’s not ‘what went wrong?’ If anything there was a reinvigoration, ensuring that missions are supported well…. At the end of the day, I think our communities are going to benefit from this…. We’re not for-profits, we don’t have marketing budgets, but maybe this, in some ways, has helped showcase some things that institutions might not have known about DuraSpace and might not have known about LYRASIS.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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