A Response

A friend, and customer at LibLime, brought my attention to a post that seeks to bash my character. I have been advised by some to stay quiet and by others to respond immediately. I have decided to respond purely by setting the facts straight.

Nicole Engard recently prevented the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Illinois Chapter from receiving sponsorship funds when she threatened to withdraw from a speaking engagement unless the Chapter removed the event’s only sponsor. Just days before the Chapter’s monthly Webinar presentation, Ms. Engard contacted the leadership of the Chapter and left them with no choice but to censor out the only sponsor.

A few months ago I was asked by the Illinois chapter of the SLA to speak on open source for them, as a SLA member and a contract library trainer I agreed. A few days before the talk was to take place I saw a reminder email for the event that mentioned the sponsor. I contacted the sponsors and notified them of a potential conflict of interest. I mentioned that while I was giving this talk as an independent contractor I would not be able to keep my talk company agnostic if a company was speaking before me. If the talk would no longer be given in the independent contractor role then I would waive my fees as my company ByWater Solutions would be paying me to talk about our Koha services.

When Dianna Wiggins, president of the SLA-IL chapter read the post by LibLime, she submitted the following comment (which hasn’t been approved yet):

Hello John,

These are fairly strong words that are not necessarily an accurate representation of what occurred. Ms. Engard never said that she would not speak to our chapter, she merely indicated that there was a conflict of interest in her mind, and since we had made the arrangements and had not been aware of the situation, and in the interest of time, we chose to eliminate the conflict. As you know, we have also offered you the opportunity to partner with our chapter in the future, so I hope that you will once again accept our apologies for the confusion and continue to stay in touch.

Kind Regards,
Dianna Wiggins
SLA Illinois Chapter President

As Dianna states, I never threatened to withdraw, I merely mentioned the possible conflict.

Ms. Engard is an employee of ByWater, a for-profit company that provides services around Koha. ByWater is in direct competition with the sponsoring company that Ms. Engard sought to silence.

I do work for ByWater Solutions, but as stated earlier I was working as an independent contractor in this role originally.

This behavior represents a pattern. This behavior is eerily reminiscent of Spring 2009, when Ms. Engard teamed up with Josh Ferraro to force out competing vendors from speaking engagements and sponsorship opportunities at KohaCon 2009.

Ms. Engard was an employee of LibLime in 2009, preventing PTFS from sponsoring the KohaCon conference. In 2010, Ms. Engard is an employee of ByWater preventing Liblime/PTFS from sponsoring the Illinois Webinar.

This is kind of funny actually, as anyone who knows me knows that I didn’t side with my previous employer much at all during that last six months of employment (in fact, it was the month after that conference that I started talks with my current employer because of the behavior of my previous company). That said I had no say in the matters discussed above – what maybe is being referred to here was me passing on comments from my then employer to the committee, in an attempt to keep the pay check coming for a few more months. I did however say that PTFS should sponsor a conference lunch when asked by a librarian at the conference if it was okay for them to do so (although I doubt my opinion solely is why that sponsorship was approved).

Do Ms. Engard’s actions align with the material in her presentation – “Open Source in Libraries: Freedom and Community“?

My actions align with everything I’ve been saying for the last few months. Open source is about community and I have yet to see community members in PTFS, only a scared group of individuals hoping to silence one of the louder voices in the community by using un-cited statements to distort the truth.

[update] A trusted colleague and friend told me that many of my readers may not know a lot about Koha and may be confused by the above. For more info on Koha visit the official site. For more info on my writing about Koha you can browse my Koha category here on this site. And of course you’re always welcome to comment here or contact me via email, Twitter, Facebook, wherever. [/update]


  1. Wow,

    I can’t think of anyone that more epitomizes the idea of ‘open source’ than Nicole. Whenever I have needed help and posted a questions to the Koha community, a lot of times the answer comes right from Nicole. Now I will be even more in awe of your abilities, Nicole. The fact that all by yourself you can cause organizational change, Wow.

  2. Nicole,
    I was at KohaCon 9 and remember the Events that transpired regarding “lunch” as you do. Sorry for this personal attack,but, Strong,competent people draw the most fire. Hang in there.

  3. Thank you for writing this response Nicole. Of course you know the Koha community is behind you 100%. PTFS keeps trying to look like they’re coming to the table, and again and again they show that all they want is to win.

  4. And while we’re waiting for my comment to be approved by the moderator on the post in question, I’ll quote it here:

    Using this venue to mount a personal attack on a well-regarded member of the Koha, open-source, and library community is inappropriate, especially considering the fact that the only time this blog was worth reading was when Nicole was writing it. PTFS, please drop the martyr complex. Either join the open source world and play by the rules like the rest of us or stop calling yourselves OSS supporters.

  5. Nicole,

    This is a nasty and very personal attack which says more about the author than it does you. Please be strong and keep doing all that you do for Koha.

    At some point I can only hope that Liblime PTFS start investing all their energies in developing their software, LEK and Harley. The Koha community need to continue focussing our energies on the productive and fulfilling task of making Koha great software.

    Cheers Jo.

  6. I work for the first Koha cooperative and as you may know, I criticise the antics of the for-profit vendors when they merit it, but I find these accusations against Nicole rather incredible. I would’ve been happy to welcome her into the co-op when she left liblime. She seems that true.

    Don’t let them grind you down!

  7. This is a very disgusting and base attack. As Jo said, it speaks volumes about the author, the company he/she works for, and any other employee of that company who would further such an attack. It shows a startling lack of character in a world where almost nothing is startling any more. I personally will have nothing more to do with PTFS or its employees until a thorough, clear recantation and apology have been offered in a public forum.

    Keep up the good work Nicole. There are a lot of folks out here who appreciate your hard work.

  8. Disappointing post, to be sure. I left a note saying as much, also awaiting moderation. Keep fighting the good fight, Nicole.

  9. Nicole, you of course know you have my full support.

    What puzzles me in those whole thing, is what PTFS seek to gain by attacking you, especially with false information. A functioning free software community works due to mutual respect and a desire to work together.

    Attacking the documentation manager, who spends hours of her own time as well as most of her working life trying to make Koha better and more usable for the benefit of all … it doesn’t seem like a particularly smart idea.

  10. You need a good editor. After slogging through this tortuous attempt at logic, two things are apparent:

    a) you participated in both company efforts to stifle open competition

    b) you accept no responsibility for your actions on either occasion

    How convenient this must be for you.

    Are you saying you left one employer because you didn’t like their practices, only to go to another employer that used the same practices? Or did you bring those practices with you to the second employer?

    Don’t bother posting this comment — the truth has no place on your blog site.

  11. It seems a bit of cowardice to post anonymously M(r)(s) PhilliesFan. More witness to the total lack of character on the part of not only PTFS, but those who support them as well. They say the nut does not fall far from the tree you know.

    BTW: If you were able to wrap your mind around the very simple logic of Nicole’s post, you would notice that she clearly said she agreed to make the presentation as an independent contractor… in other words “support company agnostic.” When she discovered a competing company was sponsoring the event, she felt (and rightly so) obligated to represent her own employer and thus could no longer do the presentation in an “independent,” non-promotional fashion.

  12. Interesting observation that Koha folk who have commented all used their real names while the person who posted the pro-PTFS comment remains anonymous.

  13. Wow, so, even if you pretended it was true — it’s freaking bizarre that a company would post a personal attack like that. And not sign it.

    I guess I’m glad I can’t make any sense of that.

  14. Nicole, was shocked to read the nasty vitriolic attack on you. Goes to show that you must be doing the right thing and that its hitting home (truths), where it hurts (PTFS/LibLime).

    Keep doing the good work! Stuff like this should only strengthen our resolve.

  15. You have failed to mention what started this: the reference in another blog to the employees (or entity if you prefer) of PTFS/LL as “ratbags”, which you endorsed. You also fail to mention that you unfriended individuals (one of them being me) on Facebook who challenged you that this sort of “dialogue” was not classy nor helpful. This didn’t just “come out of the blue” as you present it here.

  16. Thank you all for your kind words – well most of you for your kind words.

    PhilliesFan, Chris Nighswonger has done an excellent job of summing up my very confusing post for you, so not much else to say there.

    Joanna, the post you talk about did not start all of this, my mentioning a conflict of interest started this particular post. As for Facebook, a social site, I think I have a right to keep company with those who have similar ideals and opinions as I do. As for Jo’s playful use of a local term “ratbag” I have explained myself as much as I can on that front and stand by my good friend and her awesome post.

  17. Oh, the power that you have!! (Insert evil laugh here) But you must use it only for good.

  18. While I agree that anyone on FB has the right to keep company with those they choose, it hasn’t ever been my policy to only choose people w/ whom I totally agree. I’ve chosen them because they’re people first and they bring value to my life. Sometimes it’s because their opinions are not the same as mine. So yes, our standards are apparently different. I just don’t see that as a reason to exclude someone from my circle.

  19. Joanna,

    I don’t know you so you might be a lovely person. But, your post only increases my bewilderment about this whole conflict. Are you seriously inpugning Nicole’s character based on who she Facebook friends?

    Is this a new, new low?

  20. @Joanna Hause – I’m confused. Are you suggesting that Nicole is somehow worse than you because of unfriending non-friends?

    The other thing that I’d just like to boggle at is Liblime’s blog criticising Liblime’s actions. OK, different management in 2009 and 2010 makes the split personality understandable, but it still looks odd for a company blog to criticise its own company like that.

    There’s a vast difference between accusing someone of “unethical behavior” and calling companies ratbags (contemptible or objectionable, for the non-commonwealth). We know those companies objectionable – just look at the objections! But Nicole unethical? Get real!

  21. @Joanna: So what you’re saying is that, if you were friends on Facebook with someone whom you were not friends with in real life, rarely agreed with on an ideological level, and did not enjoy interacting with, you’d stay friends with them on Facebook because it was the right thing to do? Seriously? It’s Facebook, for Pete’s sake! People go there to play FarmVille and talk about Lost. Are we really supposed to use it as some sort of barometer for morality?

    P.S.: Full disclosure, Nicole is my wife. That’s not why I agree with her side of things, but there you go.

    P.P.S.: Please don’t take this comment as me bashing Lost. Lost is awesome. I am a fan of Lost on Facebook.

  22. Wow… all kinds of words put in my mouth! And personal attacks to boot.

    I expressed an opinion and suddenly I’m a pariah; I am sorry that I have offended all of you.

    Y’all have a nice day.

  23. @Joanna I expect that people saw your comment as attempted justification of the actions of PTFS/Liblime and therefore a continuation of the personal attack on Nicole. Hence the responses.

    I don’t find it suprising that Brian commented, if a company had launched a personal attack on my wife, and then individuals had sought to provide excuses for it, I would be angry with them too.

    Expressing an opinion is fine, people may find that opinion distasteful and express that, that’s also fine.

    You haven’t offended me, But I don’t find the reasons particularly compelling, IE because someone liked a link on facebook a company should attack them in public. I also don’t think unfriending somone on facebook has any bearing on what happened. I hope that you can see I am trying to play the ball and not the woman.

  24. If you work for ByWater, then you can’t be an “Independent Contractor.” It is that simple, you can’t have it both ways. You don’t get to decide that “in this case, I’m an independent.”

    I work for PTFS, take that for what it’s worth, but you work for ByWater–the rest of your tortured tale is spin–end of story.

  25. @Joanna Hause – I said I’m confused, not offended. No-one wrote that they were offended. And you write about us putting words in your mouth? Crikey.

    @Jeff Kostoff – I worked for both software.coop and co-operative.coop from March to September, which overlapped in some aims, even though I only did one job at a time. In the past, I’ve even worked contemporaneously for organisations that sometimes conflicted. Why shouldn’t Nicole work for herself as well as ByWater, as long as she makes it clear which is when?

    What is simple: PTFS workers appear to be slinging more mud.

  26. Dear Nicole,

    I’m a library student just learning about Koha and other open source initiatives for libraries. Since I’ve been following your blog, I have found you to be a competent and knowledgeable professional that I can look up to.

    The attacks on you by PTFS and some commentaries here have shown me that despite the “adult” professional world, underhanded, nasty smear tactics are still prevalent. I’m glad that this is happening on the internet where people can support you instead of only a group with money getting their vile opinion out there.

    Also, I’d like to thank you for addressing the issue. That’s brave to stand up and declare an injustice against you. Bravo.

  27. MJ Ray

    It is disingenuous to represent oneself as an independent arbiter of opinion on Open Source in various presentations and then make frequent negative comments about PTFS. This is what Nicole has done often. I have heard it from people logged in to her events. This is especially suspect when she draws a paycheck from ByWater. Full disclosure is all we are asking for, and stating as such is not a smear.

    You and MANY others are conflating accurate criticisms of Nicole’s public positioning with some kind of smear attack.

    There are people out there in the Library community that know PTFS and think we are pretty good at what we do. I disclosed with my first comment that I work for PTFS.

    What is mudslinging about my comments?

    I am perfectly willing to have a discussion based on the merits of a position or argument, but it seems that any comment that indicates that Nicole’s public position might not be entirely fair is determined by her defenders as mud.

    I guess this is what you all expect from a PTFS “ratbag.” If Nicole wants to be clean she can stop endorsing the comments and tactics of the provider of the PTFS ratbag smear. One standard will do just fine for me.

  28. @Jeff Kostoff – What is mudslinging is the original attack on one person by an anonymous post on a taken-over blog. Don’t try to make it about your comment, which is odd, but not mud. Equally, please don’t insult the intelligence of readers by suggesting that this has anything to do with full disclosure: it’s not like anyone can’t see Nicole works for ByWater as well (Hint: Click the “About Me” link at the top of every page on this site).

    It seems very odd to appear to assume that an independent observer wouldn’t criticise any of PTFS’s cunning stunts on the Koha Community project over the last two or so years. There may be some people who think PTFS are pretty good, but I’d love to know if they know about the stunts. I’ve seen at least two independently-authored articles criticising PTFS’s Koha Community activities, so clearly other independent observers aren’t uniformly praising it.

    Are you really going to go after Joann for saying PTFS is objectionable? Even if you disagree, that was about the companies, not an attack on one individual like this one from PTFS was.

  29. It is far from automatic to assume that people attending online presentations from somewhat neutral organizations or attending events put on by SLA will know where Nicole comes from or who she represents. That’s what disclosure means.

    If Nicole wants to make vendor neutral presentations on Koha, then she can have at it. However, when she wants to use these various forums to slam PTFS, she can expect to get some push back–especially when she postures as some “holier than thou” advocate who claims to be neutral. PTFS was approached to sponsor her event, not the other way around. I guess she did not feel comfortable with her usual schtick if we were a sponsor.

    As far as Joann is concerned, what she has posted is little more than an ad hominem attack–the last resort of those without a valid argument. Yes, her jock/nerd analogy was so accurate. Please. Play the victim much? No one is stopping her or anyone else from developing whatever they want. That post was filled with so many distortions it would take me the next hour or more to address them all.

    I never said PTFS was “uniformly praised.” I know that there are people out there who choose not to obtain services from us. That’s fine, but don’t go calling smear on everything you don’t like–try addressing the substance.

  30. While it definitely doesn’t look good for an official business blog to engage in bashing like this, I’m still scratching my head over what actually happened. Here’s what I understand occurred:

    * Nicole was being paid as in independent contractor to speak at the event – with the assumption that she would give a vendor-neutral talk
    * Later, liblime became a sponsor for the event.
    * Nicole felt that having to be vendor-neutral at an event sponsored by a competitor was a conflict of interest, and notified the organizer. She offered to waive her contractor fees and give a non-vendor-neutral presentation as a representative of her company.
    * The organizer turned down the money from liblime to remove the conflict of interest

    Now, what I don’t understand is why would the organizer react that way? Wouldn’t it be easier (and in their own interest) to simply allow Nicole to waive her fees and speak as a representative of ByWater, and keep the sponsorship? Why would they take the drastic step of refusing the sponsorship if there was such an easier option on the table?

    I suspect that some of the accusations of some underhanded dealing going on (probably unfounded IMO) are based on similar confusion – if indeed there was an easy way to remove the conflict, why did the organizer go for the more troublesome (and, coincidentally, favorable for ByWater) solution?

  31. @Jeff Kostoff – so the position is that if anyone criticises PTFS then pseudonymous workers for that corporation may “push back” on them personally?

    And what Joann posted was definitely not an ad hominem attack. Firstly, an ad hominem attack means an attack on the person, whereas Joann didn’t attack any person. Secondly, Joann presents valid arguments: Liblime’s ejection of the community from koha.org, attempt to use that to confuse people between Harley and Koha and the private K logo. She could equally well have mentioned the domain name squatting or other contemptible actions. Why don’t you try addressing that substance?

  32. Name calling is ad hominem, and it has nothing to do with actual substance. We’re jocks/ratbags, and don’t take the dodge that she said Liblime or PTFS ratbags–that’s a cheap out and you know it.

    Is is ironic that many so willing to call us “nasty” are perfectly tolerant of nastiness from others. As I said before–one standard will do just fine for me.

    AND THE MAIN POINT–How is a description of Nicole’s actual behavior a personal attack? It’s a description, not some stupid playground analogy filled with an imagined siege/victim mentality and finished off with direct insults. Insults which Ms. Engard glowingly supports on Joann’s web site. There is a word for such positioning: Hypocrisy.

  33. I feel that we’re getting off the point a bit here and resorting to more negativity.

    I just want to say that I am an author of two books (both written in my personal time) and I promote those books as an independent contractor. I have two jobs – as many of us do in this economy – one is as an employee of ByWater Solutions and one is as an employee of me. I do this because many groups do not want sales pitches, they want to actually learn. When working for myself I present completely company agnostic facts about open source software (as you can see with all of my presentations).

    I get two different pay checks for these jobs and report these as two jobs when I do my taxes. In short, I am (and can be) both an employee of a company and an independent contractor.

    I ask that we stop fighting amongst ourselves, the point of this post was simply to set the facts straight and make clear what my actual words and intentions were.

    @Thomas K the way I understood it from Dianna they didn’t want my talk to turn into a sales pitch. When I offered to waive my fee it came with a disclaimer that I would have to mention the services of my company. Also, it should be stated that we’re talking about a few hundred dollars here, not thousands and if this group’s accounts are anything like the other chapters and division I belong to – sponsorship is nice, but not necessary to stay in the black. So it wasn’t really a drastic step on their part.

  34. Yes, that’s probably right. PTFS fans will probably never accept that psuedonymous blog post was a personal attack, “ratbags” as fair non-personal comment on the company’s actions, or that Joann’s specific complaints were legitimate, so I’ll leave it here. People can look at the comments above and Nicole’s actual presentations and see for themselves about the original points.

  35. @Jeff Kostoff – I never said PTFS was “uniformly praised.” I know that there are people out there who choose not to obtain services from us. That’s fine, but don’t go calling smear on everything you don’t like–try addressing the substance.

    There are people who obtain services from PTFS who aren’t happy. Some of us just don’t feel it’s productive to criticize a vendor when we’re stuck in a long-term contract with them.

    Don’t assume that silence = approval.

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