The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for more innovative and consistent distance learning methods in schools and universities. As education facilities across the world shuttered due to the global crisis, teachers and staff were forced to scramble together online learning resources and figure out ways to teach differently.
These changes were deeply felt in higher education as a new “hybrid” era of traditional teaching, online learning, and knowledge-sharing methods was conceived. While the idea of virtual education isn’t new — the first university to launch fully online degrees did so in 1989 — this mixture of in-person and remote education also demanded a “digital transformation.”
One organization that understood the need to embrace technologies to operate better long before the pandemic is Ex Libris, an Israeli company whose cloud-based solutions help institutions around the world improve their library management systems, research outcomes, and student engagement.
“We support higher education through its digital transformation processes and help institutes to integrate technologies in a way that helps those facilities improve their education and research performances,” Bar Veinstein, President of Ex Libris, tells NoCamels.
Ex Libris, meaning “The library of…” in Latin, began as an internal project at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1980 to develop a new library management system, as no system was able to handle Hebrew and Latin character sets at the time. The software was called ALEPH (Automated Library Expandable Program.) Yissum, Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, founded Aleph-Yissum, a new company to commercialize the software, in 1983. Between 1983 and 1988, all eight universities in Israel bought the program and became part of a network. Aleph-Yissum started to sell the product abroad in 1989, mostly in Europe. By 1995, 200 libraries in 27 countries bought it.
Since then, the company was acquired four different times by American capital funds and companies, including the latest acquisition in 2015 by US firm ProQuest for more than $500 million, a purchase that was marked as the second-largest exit in the Israeli market that year.
Today, Ex Libris is an Israel-based edtech company working with more than 7,500 academic institutes such as Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, in more than 90 countries
The company shifted to a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model back in 2010, as such solutions became increasingly more common due to their benefits for both software providers and customers.
Veinstein tells NoCamels that 100 percent of the company’s new sales are cloud-SaaS subscription.
“The thing that’s unique about how we moved to cloud is that the shift was done ‘organically.’ We didn’t acquire or merge with another cloud-based company in order to turn into one ourselves,” he says. “Our SaaS business model helped us to develop more efficient systems.”
Ex Libris products and services
Ex Libris offers SaaS solutions for the management and discovery of the full spectrum of library and scholarly materials, as well as mobile campus solutions that drive student engagement. The company’s products and services include four library management platforms, three discovery products, two resource sharing programs, a mobile campus solution, course resource lists, and a plethora of research, cloud, content, professional and support services.
Alma, one of the company’s “best-known products” is a cloud-based library services platform that manages various tasks in a single platform.
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“We usually refer to Alma as the ‘ERP’ (enterprise resource planning) system of libraries as it tracks down orders and bills, it manages print, electronic and digital materials and provides a cost-effective solution for libraries,” Veinstein says.
Alma is currently used in 39 countries, among more than 45,000 librarians in 1,800 universities, the company says. During the COVID-19 pandemic, library staff were able to continue working remotely to support students’ online learning, even amidst social distancing or lockdown restrictions.
Another notable library-management product offered by Ex Libris is Primo, a system that gives access to the collections found in the library and helps better discover academic resources and scholarly materials. Ex Libris also provides resource sharing solutions that simplify the process of lending library resources between libraries, Veinstein says.
Veinstein highlights Pivot-RP, one of the company’s newest platforms, a global database of funding opportunities that facilitates access to funding for researchers. The company also recently launched CampusM, a mobile campus app and portal for students.
“The way I see it, these two products serve as a great example of how we, as a company, expand into new fields and lead innovation within the higher education – even outside of the library management context,” Veinstein says.
COVID-19 revs up distance learning
While Ex Libris is a longtime player in the burgeoning field of education technologies, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown even the most enduring companies for a loop.
“Like most tech companies, the sudden shift to remote work caught us by surprise. We had to close the doors of our several global offices and manage the work of over 1,000 employees from afar. I’m proud of how we [managed] to quickly adjust ourselves and move our customer engagement activity (sales, support etc.) to a virtual format,” Veinstein explains. “We recruited dozens of new employees that had never been to our offices, which is certainly strange. We still navigate our way through the new reality and try to figure out how to preserve our work culture and address the needs of our workforce within this bizarre situation.”
Veinstein says Ex Libris did have to make some changes to address the shift to remote mode, and these improved the company overall.
“The universities’ libraries were physically closed and many institutions searched for new ways to maintain student engagement. The CampusM platform, for example, was customized to face the new campus reality – we added quick polls for health check declarations and contact tracing to make sure that students comply with the coronavirus restrictions and minimize the COVID-19 risk on campus,” he says.
“Our systems serve students, instructors, librarians, and researchers and help them to carry on their day-to-day work from afar,” he adds. “With products like Legant, a resource list management system that streamlines course materials directly to the students, we help instructors to enhance the relations with their students in a hybrid learning environment. In the midst of an economic crisis that significantly affects many students, the fact that our products help to reduce the costs of resources and materials is more important than ever.”
The global pandemic was certainly “a push in the right direction,” Veinstein says.