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Ex Libris Acquires RapidILL

Smart Libraries Newsletter [August 2019]


In a move that expands its exiting involvement in resource sharing for academic libraries, Ex Libris has acquired RapidILL from Colorado State University. This acquisition expands the company's existing strategy to develop resource sharing products based on its Alma library services platform. RapidILL will continue as a service available to all libraries regardless of the automation systems used. Ex Libris and Colorado State University position this acquisition as an opportunity for RapidILL to see faster software development and to expand its presence globally.

Overview of the RapidILL Service

The RapidILL service supports expedited interlibrary lending of journal articles and other materials among peer institutions. Institutions subscribing to RapidILL pay an annual subscription fee and make commitments to fulfill requests made to them within a specified number of hours. Participation in RapidILL enables libraries to provide a service to their users where articles not within their direct collections can be provided the same or next business day. In addition to the subscription fees, these libraries must also dedicate sufficient staff resources in their own Interlibrary Loan offices to fulfill their service commitment to provide materials to their peer institutions. The RapidILL business model does not include transaction- based costs. Since the load leveling algorithm distributes the workload evenly, costs are managed entirely through annual subscription fees.

The current RapidILL system is based on the basic concepts established from the earliest phase of the project. The routing of requests is based on a database of holdings, so that the systems knows that the item is owned by the library and likely to be on the shelf before the request is sent. This approach avoids the need to take additional time to verify citations. Libraries participating in RapidILL are assigned to “pods” defining the peer groups for requests and fulfillment. Pod membership informs the routing algorithm. Requests can be funneled into Rapid directly or through workflow management applications such as Relais, ILLiad, or Tipasa.

A database of ejournal titles and articles and holdings data powers the service. This database, harvested from the systems of the participating institutions, currently includes over 35 million article records with detailed data regarding which libraries own each title. This data supports a highly efficient routing and request process that transmits a request to a library only when the database indicates it should be available. This routing algorithm eliminates the need to verify requests or to waste time looking for items not held by the lending institution. Load balancing is built into the routing to evenly distribute requests among libraries. The organization of participating libraries into pods and the load balancing ensures that no single library receives a disproportionate level of requests, even if it has deeper collections.

To fill a request for a print article, the lending library pulls the journal, scans the article, and uploads it into RapidILL system. Articles from electronic subscriptions can be directly uploaded if allowed by the terms of the owing library's license agreement. If license agreement terms do not allow electronic lending, the item will be fulfilled from a print copy.

The RapidILL software provides extensive reports and analytics regarding the performance of the service. These reports validate that each library has met its service commitments and documents the overall number of requests made and fulfilled by each library, across pods, and for the entire system. In 2018 RapidILL processed 1.4 million transactions, with a 95 percent fulfillment rate. Requests for journal articles were fulfilled on average in 11.2 hours.

At the time of the acquisition, about 320 libraries were participating in RapidILL. Most participating institutions are in the United States or Canada, though the service also includes some libraries in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. RapidILL was initially designed for articles and has since expanded to other materials. The service now includes book chapters, with 193 libraries involved in this service. The more recently established RapidR for returnable items is used by 77 libraries.

RapidILL Project History

The Morgan Library of Colorado State University developed RapidILL as an expedited article delivery service in response to the almost complete loss of its print journal collection in a flood. In July 1997 Fort Collins, Colorado, including the CSU campus, experienced a massive flash flood. The print journal collection and other materials in the lower floor of the Morgan Library were damaged beyond repair, leaving the library in the need to take extraordinary measures to meet the research needs of the university. At the time of this event, scholarly articles were accessed primarily through print journals; the transition to e-journals was in its infancy.

In response to the loss of the journal collection just prior to the beginning of the academic year, the interlibrary loan department of the CSU libraries began a service for expedited provision of articles to its patrons. The library identified four peer institutions—University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Washington State University, and University of Massachusetts Amherst—with similar collection profiles that were interested in helping with their collection recovery project. Colorado State University purchased computing equipment and provided funding for additional staff in each of these libraries dedicated to responding to article requests. Software was developed for this project that created a database based on extracts from the catalogs of the partner institutions, enabling requests to be directed to the libraries known to have the item. The database was comprised of detailed holdings data, including journal titles, shelving location, call numbers, and years of coverage.

The success of this project in fulfilling the needs of the CSU libraries sparked interest among the partner libraries to expand the service into a two-way interlibrary loan system. The original partner group was expanded to include the University of Michigan to create the collection diversity anticipated for high fulfillment rates. This group of libraries formed the initial pod for the Rapid (Rapid Access, Processing and Information Delivery) service launched in 2001.

Since that date, the Rapid service has continually expanded to include additional institutions, the formation of new pods, and extensive software development. In 2004 a major software development project was completed to enhance functionality and to reengineer its architecture to enable the system to support a greatly expanded community of participating libraries. The new technology platform was put into production in early 2005 and is the basis of the RapidILL service in use today. Enhancements were made to the service to support the request and fulfillment of book chapters (2013) and later for books and other returnable materials through a pilot started 2014.

Acquisition Details

During the initial period following the acquisition, Ex Libris will continue to operate the service in its current form. As part of a global company, ongoing development will be accelerated, and the service will be marketed to libraries outside North America.

Following the acquisition of RapidILL, the operation of the service and the personnel involved have become part of Ex Libris. Out of the five individuals at Colorado State University involved with the service, four have become Ex Libris employees and will continue to work from Fort Collins. The company acquired the software behind the RapidILL service and related intellectual property, which was transferred from Colorado State University.

Within Ex Libris, the RapidILL project will report through Sharona Sagi, Vice President for Resource Sharing Solutions. Mike Richins, who was the Coordinator of Rapid Technology Support and System Development for Rapid at Colorado State University, joined Ex Libris as Director of Product Management for RapidILL.

Within Colorado State University, RapidILL fell under the responsibility of Pat Burns, Vice President for Information Technology and Dean of Libraries. Burns initially joined the university in 1978 as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and became director of Advanced Computing and Networking Services in 1998. In 2008, his portfolio expanded to include Dean of Libraries. Burns retired from the university in May 2019.

Under Ex Libris, RapidILL will continue as a service that can be used by libraries and consortia regardless of the resource management systems, discovery services, or ILL brokering systems used. Libraries using Alma and Primo will benefit from the enhanced integration that Ex Libris will implement within its own product suite.

The financial details of the acquisition were not publicly disclosed. This transaction involves the transfer of the RapidILL and related intellectual property, selected personnel involved in the service, and the service contracts and related revenue from current participating institutions.

The transfer of a project from a public non-profit university to a commercial company is not unusual. Most universities operate a technology transfer or business development unit to facilitate these arrangements. Within the library technology industry, previous examples include the commercialization of the VTLS software out of Virginia Tech University and the acquisition of the SFX context-sensitive linking application from Ghent University.

Anticipated Expansion under Ex Libris

Under Ex Libris, the development of RapidILL will continue according to the roadmap established by Colorado State University, accelerated through the deeper resources available. The development agenda and user expansion will more scalable under Ex Libris than was possible previously at Colorado State University.

Prior to the acquisition by Ex Libris, the RapidILL group at Colorado State University had already developed integrations and efficiencies for Alma. Colorado State University selected Alma in 2016 to replace the Millennium ILS in place for two decades. About half of the RapidILL participants have implemented Alma, so it was previously established as one of the major systems for which integrations were established. Alma libraries can configure a profile to publish their holdings for RapidILL using OAI-PMH (Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting).

While RapidILL has seen a constant influx of new participants, it has the potential to see significant expansion under Ex Libris. The company's global sales force will be able to market the service in all global regions.

Ex Libris Resource Sharing Strategy

Over 1,500 Libraries have selected Alma as the library services platform supporting the management of its print and electronic resources. Many of these libraries continue to rely on other bibliographic service as sources for cataloging records and participate in multiple resource sharing services or partnerships. As the resources in the Alma Community Zone reach a critical mass, possibilities emerge for diminished reliance on external services and their associated costs. Much overlap exists, for example, between libraries using Alma and those using OCLC's WorldShare ILL and Cataloging services. This scenario presents an opportunity for Ex Libris to expand its reach into the realm of resource sharing, both through new product development and business acquisitions.

This acquisition can also be seen within the context of the emerging Ex Libris strategy to develop resource sharing products and services. At the recent ELUNA (Ex Libris Users in North America) the company discussed its strategy and demonstrated early prototypes for a new resource sharing capability delivered through Alma through a new interlibrary loan and document delivery brokering application, including patron request and fulfillment management. While Alma has native resource sharing functionality among members of a consortium, this new capability would have a broader reach. The resource sharing service includes functionality in a patron-facing interface, which can be integrated into Primo, for placing requests for items not held in the user's local library or consortium. The interface presents options to the patron, including delivery methods, estimated time to fulfill, and anticipated loan periods for returnable items.

The system would then have routing and fulfillment components that enable the request to be satisfied by other Alma libraries participating in the service. Ex Libris intends for this product to provide workflows for both returnable and nonreturnable items. Ex Libris estimates that based on the current resources within its Alma customer base, it would have the ability to fulfill 80 percent of requests.

Now with in the Ex Libris fold, the company plans to strengthen the direct integration of RapidILL service within Alma's existing resource sharing features. This integration would be accomplished without compromising its ability to integrate with other integrated library systems or library services platforms. Ex Libris will also benefit from the expertise of the RapidILL team as it develops other aspects of its resource sharing strategy. This team has well demonstrated its capabilities to develop a vision for efficient and effective interlibrary loan services.

In 2018, Colorado State University began the development of a new system to support the lending of returnable materials. Project Bedrock. Managing workflows for lending and borrowing. Similar functionality to products such as ILLiad, Relais D2D, and Tipasa. Initial development completed, but not yet to the stage for beta testing or production implementation. Rather than advancing this project, Ex Libris will continue its existing development effort to create an interlibrary loan management service based on Alma, including many of its features and concepts.

The development of a new resource sharing service fits within Ex Libris broader strategy of creating multiple services supported by its Higher Education Cloud Platform. Alma provides the foundation of this platform, enabling the development of other products such as Leganto, Esploro, and Rialto taking advantage of common functional and content components.

Resource sharing would be one of the next offerings of Ex Libris Higher Education Cloud Platform. Ex Libris continues to incrementally extend its reach into additional activities within the sphere of academic libraries and broader higher educational institutions, leveraging its expertise of this domain and its previous investments in product development.

RapidILL Timeline

  • July 28, 1997: Spring Creek flood in Fort Collins, CO. The lower floor of the Morgan Library of Colorado State University is flooded, destroying much of its print serials collection.
  • 1997-2001: Service established in four peer libraries to deliver articles to Colorado State University with next-day fulfillment.
  • 2001: System expanded to two-way borrowing and requesting service called Rapid.
  • Colorado State University funds $750,000 project to redevelop and enhance Rapid software for additional functionality and scalability to support expanded participation.
  • 2005: Current RapidILL service launched.
  • 2013: Rapid expands service to include book chapters.
  • 2014: Rapid launches pilot for lending returnable items (RapidR).
  • 2018: Development begins for Project Bedrock to manage ILL lending and borrowing workflows.
  • June 20, 2019: Acquisition of RapidILL by Ex Libris from Colorado State University announced.

Related Resources


Breeding, Marshall. “Resource Sharing in Libraries: Concepts, Products, Technologies, and Trends.” Library Technology Reports 49, no. 1 (January 2013). This issue describes the products and services for resource sharing. The status of some of the products has changed since the date of this report.

Delaney, T. and Richins, M. “RapidILL: An Enhanced, Low Cost and Low Impact Solution to Interlending.” Interlending & Document Supply 40, no. 1 (2012): 12-18.

MacWater, Cristi. “Having It All: Using RapidILL for Book Chapter Interlending.” Interlending & Document Supply 41, no. 3 (2013): 87–89.

View Citation
Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 08
Issue:August 2019
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Company: Ex Libris
Subject: Mergers and Acquisitions
Record Number:24547
Last Update:2024-06-22 11:33:38
Date Created:2019-08-26 05:43:58