CEO and Board Member of LYRASIS
Two words have driven the professional career of Robert D. Miller, CEO and Board Member of LYRASIS—innovation and impact. From seeing how innovation can galvanize and inspire a team, expand how people think, and discover how much they are truly capable of achieving, Robert Miller has drawn on the inspiration of his grandfather. Through him, Robert knows that positive impact can transform an institution, a community, a country, and even the world. “My grandfather was not crushed, but rather motivated by the depression of the 1930s. He envisioned and built a high quality, fast turnaround printing company before the era of electronic printing. His curiosity, his test-and-try approach, and his love of people inspired me,” says Robert. “I was soon starting small businesses and applying lessons from him even before I went to college. Those experiences —where failures taught me more than successes—gave me the confidence to push harder and move faster.”
Today, after success at five Silicon Valley startups and two Fortune 500s, Robert has taken that experience and applied it in the non-profit arena. LYRASIS, where he is now CEO, has successfully turned itself around and is leveraging innovation in technologies, open source software, and services helping academic and public libraries and research communities connect knowledge and learning globally.
When Robert joined LYRASIS in 2015, he found a talented team who had a proud legacy but had lost the connection with its community. Fiscally it was on very thin ice, so there was not much time to make a pivot. “I focused on three things. First, we had to find and demonstrate our value to our community. Second, we restructured our finances and capital, introduced brand management techniques, and sharpened our focus. Finally, but very importantly, we began to act and believe we were the world class team I saw when I arrived. Our community stuck with us. We rewarded them with savings and cost avoidance, new programs and better value.”
Through the crisis that LYRASIS faced, they became better, stronger, and more valued by their community. Today they are building a new type of non-profit, powered by a mission-driven team, where thought leadership and services are valued. “We deliver sustainable programs that match the quality of for-profits but have lower prices and better value alignment with our community,” says Robert. “Since 2015, we have delivered more than $400M of programs and services to more than 1,800 global institutions and have provided rewarding careers for the 70 world-class staff who comprise LYRASIS. This puts LYRASIS in a sweet spot – able to deliver high value, high quality services and technologies that are on par with for-profit business models, but with a focus on impact, service and community which is the backbone of our mission-driven organization.”
LYRASIS members have been hit hard by the pandemic. The majority were forced to close facilities and shift to fully virtual service models. In the early days of the shutdown, LYRASIS created virtual workspaces for libraries, archives, and museums to convene, often as “open office hours” where participants set the agenda. “We saw firsthand how valuable it was for our community to engage around new issues and new urgencies, and most essentially, to express themselves in the face of something never before encountered,” adds Robert. “In addition, through our professional development program, LYRASIS Learning, we provided all services free to our community by opening classes to members and non-members alike for nearly three months.” Open access to LYRASIS Learning was an opportunity to lend a hand during a time of need. As a result, 365 institutions registered for free access; nearly 2,000 individuals attended free live, online classes; almost 17,000 viewed recordings in the Learning Library; and four new classes were presented on COVID-19 topics, all still available. LYRASIS also worked hand-in-hand with libraries, archives, and museums – members or not – on grant applications to obtain funding for COVID-19-related needs. LYRASIS reviewed proposals and provided input on how to convey and position requests to best serve the libraries’ or museums’ own communities. This type of support is particularly valued in times of duress, when most organizations are quite possibly inadequately staffed to properly respond to grant opportunities.
LYRASIS is rolling out new methods of bringing an idea to market while also planning for its future sustainability. This is called “It Takes a Village”, a framework they created for operationalizing ideas into sustainable programs within the non-profit and for-profit worlds. “Although designed to support open source technology, we now apply the framework to all programs, existing as well as new,” adds Robert. “We are also deploying a novel mobile app that combines disparate digital books and audiobooks from open and proprietary sources. Already in use at more than 200 public libraries in the U.S., we are investing in development to increase adoption and expand value with academic and K-12 settings.”