October 1, 2009, Updated September 14, 2012

The Israeli-American company Ex Libris has become the heart of many a library system, streamlining the location, management and distribution of print and digital content.


Remember when hitting the books meant hunting through dusty card catalogues? And then entering dank campus basements in pursuit of a book that often wasn’t where it was supposed to be?

That kind of search and frustration is a thing of the past, thanks to an Israeli-American company called Ex Libris. Students, bookworms and researchers at universities like Harvard and centers like the Library of Congress already know the secret.

With two major search engine products, the Aleph 500, and Voyager, “it’s the heart of the library system,” Michael Kaplan, director of pre-sales North America for Ex Libris, tells ISRAEL21c. “We literally have millions of users.”

Ex Libris’ presence in North American institutions like Harvard, Notre Dame College, Boston College and government-owned libraries goes back to the early 1990s when the company first penetrated the American market.

So librarians can let down their hair

In a nutshell, the company makes it easier for libraries to locate, manage and distribute print, electronic and digital content while providing one interface to the user.

Based on keywords and other intuitive online search functions, librarians everywhere can now shake out their buns and burn card catalogue systems forever. Ex Libris streamlines various existing search systems so students can spend more time studying, and less on searching for resource material.

Another attractive feature that Ex Libris was the first to offer is the ability to locate non-Roman characters in the library system so that “invisible” books written in Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew or Korean are finally searchable. “This is one of the reasons why Harvard and other sites are into Aleph 500. It was one of the first and few library systems to support non-Roman characters,” Kaplan asserts.

The company was also one of the first to help libraries catalogue printed books and serials, “prior to that there wasn’t much in the way [of solutions],” says Kaplan. And consider sound recordings, video, and musical scores. “There wasn’t a solution for anything electronic,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

By 2000, the company had already “integrated library systems based on physical tangibles, and when we broke into the market in North America around 1998, we concentrated on high-end libraries – places like Notre Dame and McGill University in Canada, Boston College and the University of Iowa,” says Kaplan.

Out of 120 of the largest libraries in the US and Canada, Kaplan points out, more than 50 percent use an Ex Libris system. Founded in 1986, today Ex Libris runs 10 offices around the world, and impacts millions of users via its 4,600 customers, 2,000 of which are based in the US. Its largest office is in Jerusalem and its two US offices are located in Boston and Chicago.

Keeping America’s top universities on top

According to the Times Higher Education (2008), which ranks universities, and data supplied by Ex Libris, all of the top 10 universities worldwide use one of the company’s systems, as do 45 of the top 50 North American universities.

Using the Aleph 500 system, the only product of its kind available in 2000, “we quickly had a lot of acceptance in North America,” Kaplan recalls. Today, universities like the University of Maryland, the University of Minnesota and the University of Tennessee rely on Ex Libris to keep their books and resources in order.

“It allows them to manage all the back-office operations of the library system pertaining to acquisition and control of content, and a catalogue, which makes it available to the public,” explains Kaplan.

If you are studying at a library that has purchased an Ex Libris solution, one way or another, Kaplan states, “you have no option but to use it.”

The most popular link resolver in world

The company provides a second major product, Voyager, implemented by the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, the National Library of Agriculture, UCLA and others.

One of its most crucial pieces of software is SFX, a tool which helps connect citations and URLs from one database to another. It is the most widely used “link resolver” in the world and can be found operating on about 1,800 websites.

Ex Libris is currently working on expanding and releasing new product lines beyond its 13 products. One is Primo, a new discovery layer designed for the public that makes finding books and content even easier. “We’ve gone beyond physical materials that we’d look at 10 years ago to include electronic, digital and digitised content to make it discoverable,” Kaplan explains.

Ex Libris was once owned by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where the technology was first developed. Today it is owned by the New York-based capital firm, Leeds Equity Partners, which specializes in knowledge-based companies. Ex Libris is privately held.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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