1. George D.

    IMHO, anyone in the library community who isn’t open to alternatives just doesn’t understand how serious the problem is (with our current ILS systems).

    While it is entirely fair to say that open source alternatives have yet to mature, require significant risk taking in many settings, and come with their own problems, there is a certain foundational building block that is crucially missing with OSS; namely, VENDOR LOCKDOWN.

    I don’t know how widespread this is, but I’ve also detected a bit of “I want a Innovative or SirsiDynix, etc. on my resume [b/c that’s what “everyone is using”] not an OSS solution that nobody heard of…”

    Critics of OSS could argue that the vendors have indeed pulled through on their customers wishes (witness the “IUG enhancement request” process for example they might say), but this again misses a critical marketplace fact. Suppose the aggregate of customer demands is indeed for tweaks to the existing system (not true IMO), then arguably the vendors are “doing a great job.”

    But what supporters of this view miss is the overly restrictive and out-of-date architecture issues surronding how new features and functionality are engineered and packaged for their customers and how seriously these restrictions are hampering our current and future roles in the communities in which we work.

    You want data integration and interconnectivity — sure you can have it! Just buy yet another overpriced, clunky product from your vendor since they’ve done their best to make sure you can’t work with anyone else’s technology!!

  2. bcarson

    Ouch. That’s the first time I’ve ever been called “mean” with respect to open source projects. (I’ve printed this off and I’ll show it to my supervisor the next time she calls me “wide-eyed.”)

    My characterization of the “homegrown system” was intended to be a characterization of the “homegrown system” and not a characterization of open source in general — especially considering that the “homegrown system” was not even open source.

    Likewise, when I characterized the report’s authors as careless with respect to terminology, I intended only to characterize the report’s authors as careless with respect to terminology.

    I agree absolutely with your first point:
    1a. “If you don’t have a programmer in-house that cares about libraries and what the librarians want and need – you’re going to get a substandard application.”

    This was exactly the problem with the “homegrown system.” This catalog was used in a hospital library. The catalog was built by programmers who didn’t care much about the library, barely talked to the library director, never followed up, and responded to complaints by saying, “We’ve finished that project.” We were never allowed access to the code; in fact when I was asked, I was told to stick to my job description.

    1b. “Our library has applications built by outside programmers and applications written by me – and if I do say so myself, the time I spend researching our librarians needs far outweighs the time the outsiders spent.”

    Same here. When we chose a new vendor for my current library, we chose a vendor because no open-source options existed for what we needed, and we didn’t have the staff to bring something up to speed. Now I spend a good deal of my time writing, borrowing, and sharing scripts that do things the vendor’s system won’t do.

    1c. “This is why you want a librarian or library supporter to write your code – not a computer programmer who thinks he/she knows what’s best despite the cries of the staff.”

    Exactly my point. And the paragraph that Eric posted indicated that the report’s authors were neither librarians nor library supporters. Having read the report now, I haven’t changed my mind.

    If you perceive some meanness when open-source projects are mentioned, maybe this the cause: librarians are constantly inundated with advice from outsiders, some who have not set foot in a library since their undergraduate days; others who never even had undergraduate days; and still others who believe that being able to locate a book on the shelf or place a hold online makes them masters of all things library.

    And some of these people hold administrative positions at the Library of Congress. But that’s another cause for meanness on another day.

  3. Thank you so much for clarifying! Considering the context I assumed that you were considering your “homegrown” solution the same as open source – which I know it is not.

    I admit I didn’t find time to read the report – but I will do so this week.

    I was just a little annoyed at the negative sounding comments on both blogs – glad you’re a supporter of open source & not one of the negative people!!

  4. Roger Hiles

    Sometimes when I think of the library-vendor relationship, I’m reminded of what the TV detective Monk says when he asks people to do things for him; “If you do it, I won’t have to.” When we sign with an ILS vendor, a whole flock of issues can be quickly reduced to a line on a budget. I’ve worked with top decision-makers (“above” the library in the budget hierarchy) who positively ache to have someone make the problem of all this technology simply go away.

    As I see it, the most important short-term effect of having viable open source ILS software across the whole range of the library market (small libraries to large consortiums) is not that everyone will choose them and vendors will “go away”– it’s that it will drastically change the economics of the business. How much does it really cost to make the problem go away? Now we’ll be able to tell.

    It can help us as librarians gain at least a little more leverage over this process. If we’re lucky, we can promote innovation and customer service to help libraries stay in the game as the information market changes around us.

  5. Roger, I can’t tell if you’re for or against open source – but I do agree with your point that the purpose of supporting open source isn’t so that the vendors “go away” – I think it’s so that the vendors sit up and pay attention – if we have another viable option then the vendors will have to look at their practices & make a change in order to stay in the game.

    Vendors are always going to be a necessary evil because having an open source ILS (or any application for that matter) is not feasible for some libraries – particularly libraries without someone in-house to help with support.

  6. Roger Hiles

    I’m very much in favor of open source software. My point was that even if you think you’d never trust your library to software created outside a corporation, just having OS competition in a market changes it, and changes it in a way that should be good for us all.

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