23:3 (2008:09) 23rd Conference (2008): Vision Session: Next Generation Library Automation

August 19, 2008 at 1:42 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Vision Sessions | 2 Comments
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VISION SESSION

Next Generation Library Automation – Its Impact on the Serials Community
Marshall Breeding, Vanderbilt University
Reported by Donna Packer

Marshall Breeding is the Director for Innovative Technologies and Research at Vanderbilt. His position, he gratefully acknowledged, gives him time to follow trends and think about the implications of the many changes in the serials environment and where he thinks the library world should be going.

He noted the many upheavals in the automation industry, not the least of which is the continuing consolidation of companies through mergers and acquisitions.  There are simply fewer products to choose from in all areas of library automation.  Another and perhaps more worrisome trend is the increased industry control by external financial investors, particularly private equity funds and venture capitalists.  Yet librarians must understand that only large companies with significant capital resources can fund the kind of product development that libraries are demanding.  For the smaller companies to grow, a source of capital is essential.  This means that libraries must pay much more attention to company ownership when making their purchasing decisions.

Marshall Breeding

Marshall Breeding

Technical innovation is far below and behind what libraries expect; and the landscape of information providers is complicated.  The conventional library information system is becoming steadily less able to respond to current needs. The result is a proliferation of products, for example link resolvers; federated search, and electronic resource management systems, ERMs; around the traditional ILS.  As libraries have come to understand the importance of Web 2.0 and the social networking of the younger generation, they have developed blogs, wikis, and Facebook pages.  Yet these efforts are not well integrated with library services; there is no interoperability with the library’s larger web presence.  We are building “2.0 silos.”

Open source is becoming a viable alternative to traditionally licensed software. Open source implies that each library ought to be making changes and improvements, and put these changes back into the open source product for others to use. We should understand that the “open source” software and “open access” journal publication movements do not really represent cost savings.  They represent cost and expenditure shifting.  Libraries considering an open source ILS need to be keenly aware of the “total cost of ownership,” TCO, which will likely prove roughly equal to the cost of using a proprietary commercial model.  At this time it is still a risky strategy, requiring plenty of local talent to make it work. Librarians should try to look 10-15 years down the road, as hard as that may be. The big question: Is the system you choose going to be a survivor?

It seems clear that traditional ILS vendors and open source products will continue to co-exist for some time to come, and librarians should all have an interest in the success of both options. There are three major open source ILS systems in limited use today: Koha, written for libraries in New Zealand; Evergreen, created for the PINES consortium; and OPALS, built for the K-12 market and used in school districts in New York.  A company has grown up around each one to help libraries successfully implement their “free” software.

Librarians interested in open source must build a business case for their decision.  A philosophical case, “open source just feels better,“ will not get the job done.  Vaporware is just vaporware – whether open source or commercial.

It is important to remember that commercial vendors have built what librarians have asked for in their RFPs, and an RFP is usually a backward looking document.  It is not surprising that open source modules look remarkably like what they are supposed to replace.  Librarians need to have built into their next generation software deep searching capabilities and the ability to search across all content.  A fundamental assumption is that libraries are all now “hybrid” libraries with holdings in physical and digital formats; but their traditional ILS systems, whether open source or commercial do not adequately reflect this.

Librarians are seeing the disintegration of library automation functionalities: e.g. separate software for link resolvers, federated search, and ERM.    Libraries need a new architecture that gets away from the “module” approach; they need to explore “service-oriented architecture,” SOA.  People are thinking about “comprehensive/universal resource management” but it will be two or three years before there is anything tangible to see, and probably seven years before there is a usable product. Librarians must look ahead, and demand more forward looking answers from their vendors, whether open source or commercial.

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2 Comments »

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  1. This sounds as if it were a very interesting session, and Marshall always has a lot to contribute. I do have a couple of small tweaks and then larger observations.

    First, I think you mean TCO, not TOC (though from serials work I can see how those letters were switched!). Also, SOA means *service-oriented architecture* (not search-oriented architecture). Per Wikipedia, SOA is “a methodology for systems development and integration where functionality is grouped around business processes and packaged as interoperable services.” SOA is in fact part and parcel of some of the more current OSS being developed in libraries, including Evergreen.

    Marshall talks about risk and OSS. I don’t know of any software decisions that are risk-free, and it’s not clear from his discussion why he considers OSS risky to begin with, or why it might be equally or more risky than the proprietary products that have taken us on carpet rides for decades. OSS is far less subject to problems such as vendor abandonment — with open code, you aren’t held hostage by the whims of vendors.

    Marshall also states that OSS requires “plenty of local talent to make it work.” In fact, all three OSS library vendors offer hosted options, and there are hundreds of Evergreen libraries that have never seen a line of code, and who participate in the community primarily as informed users.

    Finally, while I agree that all software — including OSS — incurs cost, and that OSS involves cost-shifting, it’s unclear how Marshall concludes that the total cost of OSS will always equal the total cost of proprietary systems. I am not quarreling with his conclusion, I just haven’t seen any figures that support it.

    All that said, I agree with Marshall’s observations that OSS has become a viable option for libraries, and that choice is a good thing!

    Karen G. Schneider
    Community Librarian
    Equinox Software, Inc.

  2. Karen, thanks for catching the errors and for the thoughtful comments.


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