Following a months-long analysis by an exploratory committee, the boards of not-for-profit, open-source digitization and repository software and service providers LYRASIS and DuraSpace on January 27 unanimously approved an “Intent to Merge” agreement. The two organizations have begun seeking input from their respective members as well as the wider research, library, archives, and museum communities, as part of a due diligence process that will “determine the feasibility of a combined organization…. [and] include a deeper assessment of the individual organizations and how they might partner effectively,” according to a joint announcement. Under the current proposed merger plan, LYRASIS CEO Robert Miller would become CEO of the combined organization, and DuraSpace CEO Debra Hanken Kurtz would become Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Although this public phase of merger discussions is expected to last a few months, Miller and Kurtz both told LJ that early feedback from members of both organizations has been positive.
“The new unified organization could provide significant economies of scale, synergies in developing open technologies and services, and a strong position for long-term sustainability,” the announcement states.
COMPLEMENT, NOT OVERLAP
Although both organizations rely on a combination of member dues, fee-based services, and grants to operate, Miller told LJ that the funding and project infrastructures of the two organizations are complementary, and the boards do not anticipate a merger leading to a cannibalization of funding resources. Grants from organizations currently involved with LYRASIS projects, such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, or the National Endowment from the Humanities, for example, could help launch new projects, while DuraSpace—which relies in part on funding and open-source development participation from member institutions that direct funds toward ongoing community supported software projects—would then foster sustainable development.
“Foundation money [could] now have a chance of kickstarting a project or service that can have institutional funding—which is really DuraSpace’s sweet spot—and then can be pushed out and supported across the broader membership base that LYRASIS enjoys,” broadening the reach of the DuraSpace community as well, he explained.
DuraSpace “aspires to be more in the global market,” Kurtz said. “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. We’ve made some strides this past year, and Robert brings a lot of expertise in the global [library] markets…. So we’ve been eager to partner with LYRASIS and benefit from that expertise.”
BUSINESS AS USUAL—PLUS
If the merger succeeds, there “would be no change in the membership model of either organization for a minimum of one fiscal year. And there are no plans to change any of the directed funding model that DuraSpace employs or that ArchivesSpace or CollectionSpace presently uses,” according to a FAQ posted by the organizations. LYRASIS will continue to support and grow its other services, including strategic e-resource licensing for members.
Kurtz also emphasized that the new organization would continue to support and develop the open-source platforms and hosted services provided by both organizations, including Fedora, DSpace, VIVO, ArchivesSpace, CollectionSpace, Islandora, DuraCloud, DSpaceDirect, and ArchivesDirect.
“Our main thing is to keep current operations in service with no interruptions. Everything is continuing as planned,” Kurtz said. “We have a regular members summit for DuraSpace, and I’m in the midst of [preparing for] that. We have a membership drive in the spring—all of that is going forward. We don’t want to interrupt what we are already doing.”
Rather than consolidating services, the combined organization hopes to benefit from pooling the resources and expertise of what are currently two separate technical teams. Ultimately, the goal is to deliver an end-to-end suite of community supported software services that could serve as a foundational digital scholarship platform for institutions that manage scientific and cultural heritage materials.
“Both Debra and I want to assure members that services will not take a step back,” Miller said. “What we’d like to move toward is saying ‘here’s where we’re going to add things that you might not have been able to get from either of us individually.’”
Kurtz added “we’ll have greater bandwidth to not just honor our existing commitments, but be of even greater value to our members and the greater community.”
Miller and Kurtz were both appointed to their leadership positions at LYRASIS and DuraSpace in early 2015, and discussions last summer about how the two organizations could work more closely together were the genesis of the current merger plans. Prior to being named CEO of DuraSpace, Kurtz was previously executive director of the Texas Digital Library, and had served as head of digital experience services at Duke University, and as web development coordinator at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill libraries.
For the past decade, Miller had been general manager of digital libraries for the Internet Archive (IA), and in the announcement of Miller’s departure last spring, IA founder Brewster Kahle singled out his ability to forge beneficial partnerships, crediting him with creating “a mass movement of libraries bringing themselves digital by scanning books, microfilm, and other media…. [and] building organizational and partnership structures that will continue bring more collections online, long into the future. His endless energy and ability to forge long-term relationships to create processes that are both efficient and library-careful have been miraculous to behold.”
As the public phase of the due diligence process continues, Miller and Kurtz will be hosting monthly online update sessions. Interested parties and members of either organization are invited to send comments, suggestions, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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