Bib records as perpetual betas

Christine Schwartz pointed me to a post Dodie Gaudet titled Perpetual Beta & Bibliographic Records. Dodie makes some interesting points about how we should think of our bibliographic records, but I think she’s missing one step. First, let’s look at what Dodie says:

So rather than thinking in terms of one person completing the perfect bib record, perhaps we begin with CIP or publishers data or something else and build on that. The first person with the book in hand adds details like paging. Someone who has studied a specific field can add more precise subject headings. The responsibility doesn’t have to fall to just one person. This doesn’t excuse anyone for doing a sloppy job, but sometimes the information one has to work with is limited. I’ve created bib records from “surrogates” (i.e. photocopies of titles pages) and for books in totally foreign (to me) languages like Hungarian. I expect I missed more than a few things in those cases, but I did the best I could with what I had.

We could think of bib records like a wiki. They evolve; people keep adding to them. Even though a published book is a static object and doesn’t change, the information we have about the book, the author, publisher, etc. would and given the Semantic Web, that information could be incorporated into or linked to the bib record.

This is awesome!! And I agree that we as catalogers can only do so much with the information we have and the background knowledge we have. The problem here – is a wiki is open to the public or at least to all in a specific field and with bib records we save them to our system and maybe send them to a cooperative of some sort – but then that’s our record, we don’t get to benefit from the others that edit the record after us because it’s in their system – not accessible to us.

So I’d add to this idea that we need an open access shared record database – ‡ was a step in that direction, but it seems to have been abandoned … and it never had the kind of user base you’d need to really benefit from a collaborative cataloging model.

I don’t have the answer here – but if we’re really going to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of our colleagues worldwide, we need to have access to each other’s data and we need to be able to share that information freely.

Quiet in Libraries

Feel free to disagree with me – I know many of you will – but I miss the days that libraries were quiet places :(

I spent the entire day in the library yesterday because I kept getting interrupted by running children and talking adults and the various combinations in between. A patron asked the librarian if they could have a quiet room for a meeting so as not to disturb others and the librarian said we don’t have a shushing policy, you can use any table – or wait until a room is available. So the man then sat down with his group at my table! I know I could have requested a quiet room, but as I just said the room(s) was being used and I wanted to be out in the library surrounded by books filled with knowledge … not locked in a room – I can do that at home. I think it should be the other way around – there should be rooms for the gaming and rooms for the noisy people – the library is a sacred and quiet place!!

Okay, rant over – I eventually got a lot done, but I could have gotten everything done if it was quiet – as I think libraries should be – or at least as I think a part of the library should be.

[update] There is an interesting piece on The New York Times site on this very topic. [/update]

The Open Source Mindset

Over my years of working with Koha and libraries using Koha I have learned a lot. One of those things is that libraries need to understand that switching to an open source ILS is a game changing experience. You no longer follow the same rules you followed when with a proprietary vendor – in so very many ways. Owen Leonard (who’s library has recently switched support vendors – but not their ILS software) has a post at the Koha Blog that talks about how libraries need to take ownership of their ILS when using open source.

One of the promises of using Koha or any other Open Source ILS is that you’re not tied any one support company. “No vendor lock-in.” But it’s important to understand that this isn’t a promise that libraries can take for granted–in particular, libraries who contract with a support company for hosting of their Koha system. We need to be aware of what that means in practical terms and be prepared to put that promise to the test when the time comes. There are steps that we can take to make sure we’re protecting our own interests.

Owen goes on to list the ways librarians can take ownership of their ILS:

  • Insist on access to your database
  • Know what’s going on in the background
  • Insist that any development you sponsor be released to the Koha community

Read the entire post for some awesome pointers on how to be in control of your system – after all you chose open source for a change – and that means much more than a software change.

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2009 Library Automation Perceptions

Marshall has published the results of his annual library automation perceptions report. The top findings are as follows:

  • Products and companies focusing on smaller libraries and narrower niches generally receive higher perception scores than those involved with larger, more complex organizations that and that serve multiple types of libraries.
  • Apollo, a system adopted exclusively by small public libraries topped the charts in ILS, company, support perceived satisfaction and in company loyalty, following the formula for success mentioned above. Most libraries adopting Apollo have migrated from abandoned products such as Winnebago Spectrum and Athena.
  • Libraries operating AGent Verso from Auto-Graphics and Polaris from Polaris Library Systems continue to receive extremely high scores, consistent with previous editions of this survey.
  • Companies and products serving large and complex library organizations and diverse library types receive a broader range of responses, and fall into a middle tier of rankings. Yet where they fall within this middle ground represents important differences. Millennium from Innovative Interfaces, Library.Solution from The Library Corporation, and Evergreen as supported by Equinox Software came out as very strong performers at the top of this middle tier.
  • Companies supporting proprietary ILS products receive generally higher satisfaction scores than companies involved with open source ILS. Evergreen, primarily supported by Equinox Software fell into the middle tier of satisfaction ratings. LibLime received especially poor marks in customer satisfaction; libraries implementing Koha independently gave themselves high ratings.
  • Except for the libraries already using an open source ILS, the survey reflected low levels of interest, even when the company rates their satisfaction with their current proprietary ILS and its company as poor. Other than libraries already running an open source ILS, and for Winnebago Spectrum and Athena, the mode score from libraries using proprietary ILS products was 0. These results fail to confirm the trend of broad-based interest in open source ILS; rather we observe a minority of early adopters voicing strong support.

Check out the entire list of results.

Patron’s Book Browsing Habits

I got this email from a cousin of mine and I really wanted to share it with you all and see what you’ve experienced.

Just got back from the library choosing a couple of “relaxing” books. As I browsed, I had these thoughts and then decided I’d send them to the family librarian :).

Has anyone ever done a study about how people choose a book to check out? If one goes to the library with no particular book or author in mind, is she influenced by the appearance of the book—pictures on the spine, looks new/old, likes the pictures on the cover? And what about those books that have part of the title or the author’s name covered by the shelving sticker? (Don’t know what you really call that sticker, but you know the one–author, call number where applicable, etc.)

Do people pull the book off the shelf to see the rest of the words on the cover? Then there are the books on the top shelf above your head and on the bottom shelf down by the floor. Are they checked out as much as the ones on the middle shelves that can be viewed easily? Would you rather have a book that has something about the story on the back cover or one that doesn’t give you a hint?

I know I have a tendency to choose newer-looking books with pleasant covers. I’d only pull the book off the shelf if the words I could see on the spine sounded interesting. I’d rarely choose a book on the top shelf because I’d have to go hunt up a step stool. Sometimes I get one off the bottom shelf if I can see the title without having to get down on the floor. (At my age, I might have to just STAY on the floor!) And I like that info on the back–just in case it’s about something I don’t want to read about. I

know–I have too much time on my hands! I should use it to think about world problems or something. Ha! If I wrote a book, I’d want it to have a pretty cover and be on a middle shelf–preferably in the Large Print section so I could see the words! :)

I thought this was great. I didn’t go looking for any particular research on the topic because I was out of town and just got home, but I love starting with my fellow librarians anyway! What do you all think? What have you seen patrons doing? What do you do?

I personally will get on the floor (and sit down there for as long as it takes) if the shelve of books on the topic I want is down there. I don’t pay any attention to spine labels – except to find the location of a specific book. When it comes to fiction I too look for pretty or new covers – but if the book doesn’t have a summary – as so many new books seem to be missing – I won’t borrow or buy the book … I need to know what the darn thing is about – not what some other author thought of the book.

Open Source ILS Maps

David Friggens, Systems Librarian at University of Waikato in New Zealand, has been releasing a series of mashups that are close to my heart. They are a series of maps of libraries that are using an Open Source ILS.

The maps pull data from libwebcats (another project I love very much) and plot the libraries on a Google Map. Since libwebcats depends on libraries to enter their automation information, and open source is easy to implement without telling anyone, there are surely libraries missing from these maps. So here I repeat what I tell everyone on the Koha Mailing Lists – if you’re using an open source ILS – or any ILS for that matter – head over to libwebcats and enter your library information so that we can get a better picture of the spread of the open source ILS.

Open Source & the Letter of the Law

I’ve stayed mostly quiet on the issues that have been rearing their head regarding the newest LibLime software offering because of my connection to the company in the past. That said, I had to comment on Josh Hadro’s most recent post about the community uproar over LibLime’s Enterprise Koha. Josh starts his article by saying

Typically, a revamped vendor product line doesn’t result in a flurry of open letters to the community and lengthy message threads on mailing lists and blogs. But LibLime’s recent announcement of Enterprise Koha has generated just such a response, prompting many to reexamine the sometimes fluid roles that vendors, customers, and code contributors play in the open source software community.

He goes on to mention several of the more popular threads/posts/emails that are floating around on the issue. But what I think Josh is missing in his article is the real heart of what open source is – and that’s the community around it. Now, don’t get me wrong as an active member in the Koha community (both because ByWater wants me to be and because I love it!) – I sometimes want to reach through my computer screen and wring someone’s neck – but that’s just because everyone loves Koha so much and wants to see what’s best for the software and the community.

So, as I said, I had to reply to the article and my reply can be read on that article itself or right here:

To follow up on Owen’s comment I had a friend explain it in a great way – I hope he doesn’t mind me stealing his words :)

“The easiest way to explain this is, you know in word processing there is a feature you can see the changes someone made? Well if I can see the changes I made, and the changes you made, then combining the two is much easier. Imagine now you and I take a half finished novel, that we have been working collaboratively on, I keep publishing my changes incrementally, but you instead go away and work for a year and then hand back a book, with 300 new pages, and edits to almost all the other pages.”

As an author myself this was a great way to explain the situation to me – like Owen said there is no if about it – eventually the two versions of Koha will be so out of sync that it will be too much work for anyone to merge them back together.

That is why a call was made on the Koha mailing list for LibLime to share their code in a public Git repository – allowing developers who have time to make the merges incrementally instead of trying to do it a month or two or twelve down the road.

All that aside – open source is not just about software or licensing or code – it’s about community and an open source application developed in isolation isn’t really an open source application. It’s the community that drives open source, it’s the community that keeps open source alive, and it’s the community that took Koha to where it is 10 years after a small library trust in NZ decided to share their ILS with the world.

This last note is very important to repeat – it’s one I say over and over when I teach open source to librarians. Open source isn’t just about the software – it isn’t just about getting things for free – it’s about being part of a community of software users and developers and fans who all pour their heart and soul into the project to make it its very best. And that is why there is so much uproar and that is why there is so much being written about this topic – because people love Koha and want to see what’s best of it.

Just my 2 cents – take it or leave it.

[update] The official company opinion from ByWater Solutions was added after I posted my comment on my own. I want to add that here:

Since the release of Enterprise Koha, ByWater Solutions has done its best to stay neutral with the hopes that a quickly deteriorating situation would eventually turn around for the better. We held this hope not for the sake of the Koha community, for its stability is not under question, but for a fellow support vendor that seemed to be going through somewhat of an identity crisis. Unfortunately for all involved, this vendor chose a path that has stirred up much controversy, mainly surrounding the fact that their version of our community software is no longer open source. Some say it is; most say it is not. The very simple question we pose is this: Can one obtain Enterprise Koha without paying a vendor to install and support it. If the answer is no, then the software is very clearly and undeniably proprietary; and those who use it are a victims of vendor lock in. Unfortunately many of these customers chose Koha to avoid exactly that.

Regardless of the fundamental wrongs surrounding this idea, ByWater Solutions has seen it as inevitable growing pains for a developing software community and has continued with business as usual. However, there is one trend we are beginning to see that has inspired the writing of this post, and that is the growing vilification of the community and the martyrdom of the vendor who has left it. We have been recently compared to religious extremists, hell bent on banishing anyone who is less than pure from our rigid society. This is an unjust picture to be painting because in actuality, we are comprised of very passionate people, some of whom have poured their heart and soul into this project in many cases without compensation.

We think it is important when reporting on a topic such as this that elicits such strong emotions to research all areas surrounding it. An important fact not yet discussed is that the developers of Koha are not the only ones having issues with Koha being forked. Customers of the company that has forked the code are also feeling the pain. Many customers are furious that they are not getting what they signed on for and are having a hard time getting the patches they want implemented in their systems. In one instance, a customer was taken off of the company’s user list for voicing their concerns about the numerous “process changes” even though they were still under contract with the company.

The recent change in policies and participation from this vendor has prompted us to make it clear to librarians that ByWater Solutions is in complete alignment with the true ideas and values of open source. Open source is about so much more than the source code and the license; it is about the community around it. It is for this reason that the community is in an uproar. It is a real shame this major contributor has pulled away from all community participation, communication and general niceties, but thanks to the community model we will only grow stronger from these growing pains. That being said, ByWater Solutions will continue to contribute 100% of their development, continue to participate in as many community activities, meetings, and day to day chats, and continue to deliver the best service to those seeking support from a company that has built its business model around our customer’s and the community’s needs.


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Stop Arguing and Do Something

A quote from a friend who will remain nameless: “i swear to god, if the library world invested half as much time in doing things, as talking/arguing about things .. the world would be a better place”

I have to agree with this quote – especially after reading the comments on the recent article about Blacklight in The Chronicle of Higher Education and then the comment summary post on The Wired Campus (also from The Chronicle).

First off – this is supposed to be an article about the success of a library system in creating an amazing system to improve services to their patrons. After reading the chapter in Library Mashups that covered the Blacklight project I fell in love! What an amazing OPAC with amazing functionality. And it’s a chapter about librarians doing something instead of complaining about how it’s the fault of patrons and educators – not the broken system.

I don’t understand how it is that library professionals can’t see the simple fact that Google is not the enemy! And expecting patrons to know how to search systems the way we’re trained is just crazy! If they all knew how to do what we do then we wouldn’t have jobs! That said we want library patrons to at least be able to find resources in our libraries – and our OPACs are broken – so much so that in some libraries they’re useless.

I had a friend who was searching her local library for a copy of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan and couldn’t find it – she did a title search, she did an author search, and she did a keyword search – but the system in question (and many more that she tried) had most of those words listed as stop words. What if you have a patron searching for It by Stephen King? Or the O magazine? These are searches I do when demoing Koha because Koha can find these titles when many other systems can’t.

I’ve gone into a rant now – but my point is – stop blaming others – stop accepting the status quo and go out there and support the libraries who are working to fix things for our patrons – support and use open source and you’ll be shocked at how everything you thought about library automation changes.

WordPress is for more than blogging

When people approach me about content management systems such as Drupal and Joomla I ask if they have considered WordPress – I almost always get a blank stare. This is because WordPress has a reputation of being for blogging – and just for blogging.

I use WordPress for my book sites and for any other sites I’m asked to work on. I love using WordPress as a CMS, it’s so much less clunky than some of the other options – and doesn’t take a lot to learn (even when they upgrade and move things around). This fall I’ll be teaching a few classes on how to use WordPress for your entire library website – but for now I found this awesome list that can help you get started if you want to go it alone. The post entitled 300+ Resources to Help You Become a WordPress Expert has so many awesome resources – including a section on using WordPress as your CMS.

If you’re using WordPress for your library site already, let me know and I’ll be sure to feature you in my class :)

Library Association Memberships

This is potentially a controversial issue – but it has to be said.

I just renewed my SLA membership, the only library association I belong to. Why is it the only one? I love the people at SLA, the courses they offer and how they keep up with the times and technologies. Even with all of that, I wouldn’t be a member if they treated members the same way some of the other associations do.

I was recently asked to participate in an interest group for an association. I said, ‘heck yeah, but I’m not a member do I have to be?’ Apparently I can participate for a period of time without being a member – but why not join the association?? It’s simple. I do a lot of speaking and I have only one rule when it comes to speaking – I will not pay to speak for an association (local libraries – sure – but big associations – fat chance). I will accept a reimbursement of my expenses (without honorarium) in most cases, but I will not pay out of pocket to speak for an association when I can educate librarians at no cost to me via several other venues.

Today I filled out forms to speak at 3 conferences. Two of them require that members speak without any compensation and I just can’t live with that – so I don’t join. I spoke at a state conference last year and had to fight to get my mileage reimbursed because they insisted that association members and librarians who work in the state don’t get paid to speak. Why?

I want to belong to more associations, I want to help the library profession and share my knowledge, but I do not want to – and will not – go bankrupt doing so.

So there you go, that’s the reason I am not a member of many library associations that I would love to join (and pay for membership in). That’s the reason you’ll be seeing me at so many conferences next year – because I’m not a member and that means I can actually afford to come speak to you.