Ex Libris Staff (1980-2005) Questionnaire – Michael Kaplan
1. When did you start working for Ex Libris? How did this come about?
MK: I was Associate Dean of Libraries at Indiana University (Bloomington) in 1998-1999. Toward the end of 1999 I was on a visit to the National Library of the Czech Republic and they had some questions about their Aleph system. Unable to answer them directly, I emailed a former Harvard colleague, Yitzhak Teutsch, for whom I had written a letter of recommendation when he joined EL. One thing lead to another. He asked how I was enjoying Indiana—I replied, “not at all”. He got me in touch with Carl Grant and Oren Beit-Arie, whom I met just before Christmas 1999. They extended me an offer contingent upon approval from Udi. I remember FedExing Udi a copy of my book on Technical Service Workstations. The offer was extended. I gave notice at Indiana right after New Year’s 2000 and joined Ex Libris in February 2000.
2. What was your job title, or, more generally, what did you do? Were there particular projects you were involved in?
MK: My title (I think) was “Director of Product Management” or some such thing. It was invented to give me some visibility, particularly to the ARL libraries in the US with whom I had close ties—especially since I was Head of the “Big Heads” at the time I resigned. My first projects really were to woo MIT and Harvard, and to serve (at least titularly) as the Project Manager for their implementations. Noam Kaminer was the actual project manager.
Thinking of the 1980-2005 time period….
3. Why was Ex Libris as successful as it was? Why did customers go with Aleph rather than other systems? Some possibilities:
a. Superior system and program design? (-- primarily Yohanan’s doing? Others?)
b. Superior functional design? (-- primarily Judy Levi’s doing? Others?)
c. Superior strategy (Oren Beit-Arie -- and others?)
d. Superior marketing (Barbara Radel, et al.)
e. Superior organization (Azriel and Udi and ???)
MK: Harvard and others were coming off rocky experiences with DRA. Harvard had interviewed EL in the mid-late 1990s in their initial round of investigations. I was part of the team and I remember meeting Barbara Rad-El. But EL was too new and too untested and too unknown at the time.
Once DRA imploded, that opened the way for a reinvestigation. Superior system design was probably the key. It certainly was not the organization or the marketing. The strategy, other than Unicode and Unix/Oracle, was still a bit unknown. The EL players were also a bit unknown. I do remember endless meetings with the Harvard staff in both Cambridge and Chicago until this was signed and sealed.
4. Who were Ex Libris’ main competitors?
MK: There were only a few in the US for the big libraries: DRA (which was folding), Sirsi (minimally represented), Innovative (important) and Endeavor. Other than DRA, the latter 2 were the key players the first go-around at Harvard. The second go-around, the playing field had been whittled down considerably. The earlier wins at Notre Dame, McGill, and Iowa (if I remember correctly) were crucial. Once MIT signed on, Harvard started to feel more comfortable. Of course, with Harvard it was always a feeling that there was nowhere else comparable except LC…
5. I think that two decisions – perhaps just coincidence or luck – were very important:
a. the use of the MARC standard – absolutely critical to success in North America (and the UK?), perhaps less so in Europe?
b. the early use of Unicode, the ability to handle multiple languages and scripts – Hebrew and English from the first and, very early, Danish/German/Italian – laying the groundwork for making Aleph a system which could be implemented in virtually any language
MK: a-b were absolutely essential. And at the time Unix/Oracle.
6. Comments on the role of user groups (ICAU, NAAUG, SMUG, etc.)?
MK: important to provide a feeling of being in it all together…
7. Were there particularly interesting/valuable customers that you remember?
MK: MIT, Harvard, Iowa, BC, McGill, Notre Dame
8. Were there modules which you felt were particularly good, distinguishing Aleph from other vendors’ versions of the same module?
MK: It seems that the particularly troublesome module was Serials, with prediction patterns.
9. It seems that, with ALEPH 500, the choice of a Linux / Oracle environment was important -- but maybe most of the competitors’ products also operated in this environment?
10. Are there particular interesting, fun, or odd things that you remember?
MK: the early NAAUG meetings were very enjoyable when the audience was still small.
11. When and why did you leave?
MK: after Udi left, the US president changed every year or two. Finally the day came when a new president (Triest) wanted his own team and I was shown the door.