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It’s About a Respectful Discussion

The discussion about open source and integrated library systems has become more relevant and animated in the past year. Much has happened to fuel the discussion, especially recently with changes with the open source (and quasi-open source) vendors. Open source technology in general has become part of the technology discussion of in many industries including libraries.
SirsiDynix customers and prospects, as well as our library colleagues and peers, have asked us for our reaction to open source technology development as it grows and changes in the market. In response, I wrote a position paper that provides our perspective of open source technology as it exists today as an option for library automation. I am a librarian who has worked for libraries and several vendors, and I feel that the paper brings some very real challenges to light for any library considering open source solutions for their library automation.
The paper has been posted and exchanged in the past day, rumoured to be a secretive lobbying effort that SirsiDynix has been hiding. This is simply not true. There has been nothing secretive about the position paper, we have been offering and sharing it with many customers as we meet with them, and I am offering it to anyone interested at the link below.
SirsiDynix views open source technology as healthy competition in the marketplace. We believe that competition is good for libraries and for our industry, and OSS is no exception. My colleague Talin Bingham, CTO for SirsiDynix, reinforced this position in a recent NISO forum, stating that OSS, with all competition, means better products for libraries. We have worked with open source vendors in standards definition in the past and will continue to do so. We even use open source technology in our own products (Apache/Tomcat) and development environment (CUnit, JUnit, Linux, Suse, Redhat, EMMA).
As the leader in library automation solutions, we have a responsibility in ensuring technological advancement for all libraries. One role we play is to provide a viewpoint on the challenges and concerns of ILS open source development as companies in any competitive position will do, my position paper offers our perspective to anyone interested or considering adopting the solution.
I am not against open source software. SirsiDynix is not opposed to open source software. I admire a lot of open source projects, especially those that seek to improve the user experience. I have said that if libraries have money to invest right now in these difficult economic times, they should improve the end-user library experience rather than reinvent their own backrooms. Why spend time and money reinventing what already works? Many of those open source solutions improving the user experience have been integrated with SirsiDynix systems using our API, sometimes in consulting efforts with SirsiDynix.
However, I do not think that open source ILS solutions are ready for most libraries, and I think the solutions should stand up to the same scrutiny as anything else you adopt in your library, including the procurement process from which these solutions are selected. We have spoken with a number of libraries who purchased or adopted open source, that now face a loss of features and functions and have discovered the real cost and complexity of open source software, partially due to the early stage of development.
We are not the first to state this position, and I do not believe we will be the last. There have been a number of events and articles recently that rebalance the discussion and provide information and realistic perspective to the debate. Polaris, another ILS vendor, hosted a webcast on this topic and Talis, a UK ILS vendor, hosted a Library 2.0 Gang podcast discussion about growth and development of open source solutions.
I plan to continue participating in the conversation. I am giving a plenary keynote on Open Systems at the Online International conference in London in December, and an advance podcast for Online with Richard Wallis from Talis was released today (http://blogs.talis.com/panlibus/archives/2009/10/steven-abram-open-in-libraries-technology-education.php ). I have also just agreed to participate in June at the ALA Conference open source debate for LITA involving myself, Marshall Breeding, Karen Schneider, and Roy Tennant. I look forward to a thoughtful, professional sharing of all of our perspectives.
I am a librarian, and 42 percent of our staff has library degrees and training. In this industry, we work hard to promote the exchange of information, and so a well-informed debate on this topic is healthy. It is fundamental to my belief system that everyone is obligated to look at all sides and engage in the discussion with information, evidence, and facts, not driven merely by emotion, philosophies and personal agendas.
Some have expressed surprise about the position paper. Some call it FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. I call it critical thinking and constructive debate – something that everyone in libraries should embrace and engage in.
Lastly, a personal request. I encourage and look forward to the discussion that will no doubt add to the online conversation we have seen in the last day. However, I sincerely ask that my colleagues keep a professional tone when speaking to their positions. I have been dismayed in the past few weeks when seeing ad hominem attacks being propagated online, especially when it is hurled at me and my family. I think you all agree, it cheapens the discussion at hand and hides the critical points that others are trying to express.
My position paper is available for download, and I encourage you to read it. Agree with me or not, I look forward to the discussion.
Download file
Stephen

Posted on: October 30, 2009, 1:10 pm Category: Uncategorized