February 17, 2018

Open to Change | Library Systems Landscape 2017

Equinox software, a support and service provider for the Evergreen integrated library system (ILS) founded by two of the original Evergreen creators Mike Rylander and Jason Etheridge, in January announced that the company had become the Equinox Open Library Initiative, a nonprofit corporation serving libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions. All existing contracts are being honored under current terms, and the company’s hosting, support, migration, consulting, project management, training, and software development projects will continue without interruption.

All income made on services and development provided to Equinox’s partners will be “completely reinvested in the company,” Rylander says, later adding that Equinox has no plans to solicit tax-exempt donations. In addition, Equinox will not be a membership-based organization, and no membership fees will be required.

ljx170401webSystemsEquinoxNonprofit status “matches more closely with what we do as an open source service provider,” Rylander says. “In order to expand our business and grow into new areas in the library market, we need to grow our employee base…. [T]raditional ways of doing that—things that we’ve seen over the past decade and a half or so in the library world with proprietary vendors and for-profit companies—[are] to merge, or be bought out, or [seek] venture capital funding.”

However, those ways don’t necessarily match well with Equinox’s goals. The profit motive behind venture capital investments tends to cause companies to focus on near-term gains, Rylander says, but “we want to see what’s going to be needed for the next ten or 15 or 20 years.” While there are other for-profit companies offering support for open source software, these companies tend to be at least somewhat specialized, and Equinox was already the largest company focused on Evergreen. “There’s not a lot of synergies there for us,” in potential mergers, he says.

One of the challenges inherent in Equinox’s former business model is that new development was concentrating on features and functions that customers were paying them to create. Becoming a nonprofit will enable the company to seek other sources of funding—such as grants—to support infrastructural development projects that will benefit all Evergreen libraries, in cases in which individual libraries or consortia can’t be found to pay for these upgrades or enhancements.

“The grant options that we’re looking at are to pursue development of the open source products that we support, in areas where it’s hard for library boards to, perhaps, justify [an] investment” that doesn’t result in a new feature that can be demonstrated to stakeholders, he says. “It’s a lot easier to talk to a grant-funding agency or government organizations that offer grants about infrastructure improvements or foundational issues with software.”

In the weeks following the announcement, Rylander says that he has already begun to notice the change impacting the way that other nonprofits and government agencies are able to work with Equinox.

“It puts us on a different footing,” he says. “It helps explain the purpose we want to serve in the library market, and it’s making it easier for folks to do business with us. There’s a reduction in red tape, there’s a sense of partnership, rather than a traditional vendor/client relationship, and we’re already seeing those benefits.”

This article was published in Library Journal's April 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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