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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

35 Responses

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  1. One suggestion: it might help advance the cause of respectful discussion if you would release a version of the position paper which includes citations for the evidence supporting the claims made therein. I look forward to it. Thanks!
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    Thanks for the feedback.
    SA

  2. Michael B. Klein said

    It’s difficult to accept a willingness to engage in respectful discussion when your report goes out of its way to refer to one of the largest and most visible OSS library projects to date “one of the stupidest strategies ever undertaken.” I realize you were quoting Cliff Lynch, but your choice to use that quote does set a particularly unfriendly tone. That said, I hope that the discussion proves to be a fruitful one, and that you use it to improve both your paper and your position.
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    Thanks for the feedback.
    Everyone needs to decide where to invest their dollars, energy and resources strategically. I will state that I believe that should be in improving the end user experience (through both propriteary and open source options) and not re-writing the back room of the library. Signiificant savings can be had quickly with SaaS solutions freeing up systems resources for this effort.
    SA

  3. I appreciate your response, Stephen, and yet I wonder how an unattributed quotation that ‘the development of the open source ILS by OLE, Pines, etc. [is] one of the “stupidest strategies ever undertaken.”’ fits into a constructive, respectful discussion.
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    Mike:
    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll avoid quotes of a non-constructive nature but it was not unattributed. I was quoting a speech by Cliff Lynch and he has expanded on his ideas on Marshall Breeding’s site.
    SA

  4. David F. Skoll said

    Paper looks like FUD to me. Sorry.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Thanks for the feedback. The only solution to FUD is to do the work of making sure that you make your decisions based on full information and not just believing the hype.
    Good luck.
    SA

  5. David F. Skoll said

    Oh, another thing… my library (Ottawa Public Library) uses your software. I’ve written a tool (using WWW::Mechanize) to fetch my list of books due and email be about upcoming return dates.
    I had to use an undocumented GET parameter to get XML, and parse through the XML to get the info I needed. I’m sure that if your software were open-source, it would be far easier to integrate. Open-source software tends to have superior protocols and APIs, because it’s far easier for professional programmers to ridicule silliness in open-source software than when it’s hidden away in closed-source software.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    That’s great. That was the whole point in allowing API’s written by our clients to access the databases and protocols in our systems for the past two decades (unlike nearly everyone else). I am glad you found it useful and were able to solve a your issue. I hope you wrote it up and contributed it to the API commnuities in SirsiDynix to benefit all.
    SA

  6. richard said

    glug glug glug- what’s that sound? That’s the sound of your credibility swirling around the drainpipe…
    Your next few conferences and presentations are going to suck…
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Richard:
    Thanks for the feedback.
    Stephen

  7. David F. Skoll said

    SA writes: “That was the whole point in allowing API’s written by our clients to access the databases and protocols…”
    And that, my friends, is the difference between proprietary and Open Source.
    In proprietary software, the vendor has to “allow” you to do things. You can’t to things that aren’t “allowed”, so my library is “not allowed” to make a sensible web-services API for my emailing program. Instead, I have to make a bunch of silly POST requests with WWW::Mechanize, remember cookies, and jump through hoops for what should be a simple request/reply transaction.
    With Open Source, you can do what *you* want, not just what your vendor “allows”.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    David:
    That’s true. Tell me, what’s the difference between an open source ILS that alows you to write and share API’s and a proprietary ILS that let’s you write and share API’s? You might want to reserve your criticsm for the ILS’s that restrict API use. All ILS companies aren’t the same – including those that make a profit from open source.
    SA

  8. The academic library where I work asked ####### to submit a proposal for their integrated library system in 2006. They did so, and we liked their product, and felt the price was a good one. While lobbying the college administration for the funding to purchase their product, I received a phone call from the sales rep who basically said that the offer was being canceled by the end of the following month because they were charging us too little. They were raising the price by $20,000 (they offered it for $30k and were raising the price to $50k) because everyone else charged more. We felt pretty used and betrayed.
    Of course, these library vendors are responsible for making money for the shareholders or the owners, but they sure make it difficult for the thousands of non-profit libraries out there to afford their products. Libraries in this economy will just have to train their own in-house people (who may be willing and capable) to learn the open-source because that’s all they can afford.
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    Lisa:
    There is a balance in the vendor/client relationship. I regret that your experience was pressured by time deadlines that were a mistmatch with your process. (Note I redacted the non-SirsiDynix vendor name since I cannot independently verify the facts) and I am trying to be fair in publishing all comments.
    As for going open source for cost savings, I do recommend that the business case me made carefully. It may or may not be less expensive and new models such as SaaS deliver lower TCO without adding additional staff or resources like hardware and maintenance and upgrade efforts. Even learning curves cost staff time and expense and for small libraries risk having little back up for staff changes or illness.
    SA

  9. Stephen,
    Are you sure about your response to David Skoll’s 4:32 comment? To me it makes the case for open source. I’m not trying to answer for David but I suspect he might be wondering WHY his solution has to depend on API and distributed through the API community. If the ILS was open source then anyone could write the API, not those whose institutions can afford API training.
    Mack
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    Mack:
    That’s true. We do encourage people to have API training since it pays for itself in the time saved in learning the system and reduces errors and testing so that clients don’t damage their systems. It has been known to happen. Then again, it’s not unheard of that we give advice and permission to clients to move forward with partners like consultants and third party software – os or not. I think that the hybrid model delivers better results but some disagree and think they can proceed better n their own. Both have been known to work. SaaS environments are even better for testing new code safely, Most libraries aren’t set up or funded for high levels of self-sufficiency or the ability to sustain layered changes with all contributors to their workflow and end-user experiences. Simple changes in book supplier metadata, ISBN lengths, bar codes, etc. can cause a ripple effect throughout the code that create urgent programming changes. It can be done but silo or deeply customized API’s can result in good and bad ripples.
    As I noted in the paper, these are key parts of the decision that libraries must make in their decisions for their ILS.
    Stephen

  10. Stephen If you read back, you will notice that David says he is using your software. So he is reserving his criticism for a proprietary ILS that restricts his freedoms. Your company’s proprietary ILS.
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    Chris:
    I understand. He would need to show us where he hasn’t been able to do something with an API where we totally restricted his ability to write and use an API. His original example was how he was able to do something special he needed with our system using our API ability – something not available in some proprietary ILS vendors – and it demonstrated that he was able to achieve his goals.
    I have little patience for concerns about theoretical restrictions when requests have not been made for training or access (and I think that just going at it without discussion misses the opprtunity to get advice and support is just unwise). I have also worked with several non-clients and third parties where they were able to write APIs against our code for their products. It is not surprising that we maintain an interest in the health of our clients’ systems and want to ensure that the whole experience is good for everyone. We even certify third parties so that our clients can know we will commit to provide support for their additional code.
    As an ILS vendor with a longer history of some openness in our system (for example our API approach is almost 20 years old), I have some tinge of regret that SirsiDynix gets little praise and lumped in with all ‘vendors’ as if there was no differentiation among us.
    I hope the discussion eventually moves on to a discussion of the real strengths and weaknesses of everyone and not just this simplistic open source vs proprietary, B&W approach.
    SA

  11. Stephen,
    Looking at the paper, it appears arguable, if nebulous, up until the “Opportunity Costs” section. This section is an example of Microsoft-style FUD. You’re not, in fact, saying that OSS ILSes are less interoperable, but rather that you can’t use Word 2007 on your ILS server. Besides that not necessarily being true, it still comes off weak. Sure, there are libraries with only one computer, but are they really your target customers anyway? For any library with any transactional ILS volume, it is negligible to have a dedicated ILS machine. Likewise, virtualization of many flavors makes this argument ridiculous.
    The viability of SaaS is entirely dependent on pricing model. For instance, the archetypal “cloud” suite, Google Apps, charges per-user at the enterprise level. Google App Engine charges large volume users for bandwidth and storage. Heck, even Worldcat local has a free version. Since “the cloud” is supposed to be infinitely-scalable architecture, development of the software is a sunk, fixed cost in the eyes of the user. They should only be willing to pay a marginal premium for bandwidth and storage over services like App Engine or Amazon.
    Please provide evidence that small datacenters provide greater risk for data loss or downtime than large centers.
    It’s disingenuous to claim that software is 30 years behind based on an arbitrary appraisal of features. If Evergreen has 50% of your feature set and was started in 2005, then the Evergreen project must develop their product 3.75 times faster than sirsidynix, and should overtake you sooner than 2013. Or is my math disingenuous?
    The “Customization” section makes it sound like project maintainers are an exception and not the rule. Most every open source project I’ve seen has maintainers to commit to a version-control system (which allows rollback if necessary). Generally the project also puts their stance on backwards-compatibility is a readily-available place, as different projects take differing stances. The notion of “Rogue Programmers” maliciously submitting core commits to a FOSS ILS is patently ridiculous.
    The security section extends the free-for-all misunderstanding of how OSS is maintained. If a project were reckless in committing patches, etc., it COULD be open to malicious core exploits. Otherwise, such a system would be exactly as vulnerable to bugs, dependent architecture, and external exploits and any other ILS on the market.
    The networking section lays no claim to Open-source ILSes being LESS performant; merely that SD has references available on request.
    The “open formats” section was the first time I laughed at the document. If a library does not have the in-house skill to migrate a large set of data from one system to another, they will have to call a vendor. Whether that vendor deals with FOSS or Proprietary software is negligible. It’s especially funny because you bragged about how FOSS vendors stole your employees. Too good!
    “Necessary Expertise” is another section that’s less-than-honest about pricing model. Of course non-technically-inclined users will need technical help to some degree. Whether that’s a vendor or the techie librarian from two towns over doesn’t really matter. The direction this position paper is going is a lose-lose for any argument you hope to make. Even if you enumerate every single cost of owning and operating an FOSS ILS to make it sound costly, it will by necessity cost less than a proprietary system, ceteris paribus, because they’re not paying for the software (core, the biggest investment) itself.
    “Testing” rehashes the same faulty reasoning as before. One major contradiction exposed is that your company has to test on all manner of OS and server software to ensure compatibility. You earlier had criticized the two major open-source ILS projects for being primarily linux-derived. Yet, this would most assuredly make it faster, easier, and more reliable to test their product, no? Your ticket-tracking anecdote is the same flawed development-timeframe fallacy as before. Your choice of the word “buddies” is interesting; are you trying to conjure up an image of three guys with a pizza watching some debugging stack? These projects are growing in scope, already with multiple consortial partners each. I think “buddies” isn’t the right term there.
    “Scalability” starts by asking an interesting question without the FUD of the rest of the paper. Why are consortia working on diverging standards? If an ILS supports one way to skin a cat, then implementing that ILS sort of commits you to that cat-skinning method. Wouldn’t supporting multiple methods at such a large scale indicate bloatware on the part of a proprietary vendor?
    Criticizing PINES is obvious cherry-picking. If a potential customer went and asked a member of PINES about keeping current with updates, or about the age of the hardware a particular client/server was running on, would that change your anecdotal evidence at all?
    In “reliability,” you criticize the size of the development communities as a potential issue to fixing bugs. This is true in a general sense, though I’d be interested to see any evidence that the projects are slow to fix bugs. Likewise, I’d like to know how proprietary vendors have more incentive to fix bugs, from a SirsiDynix-agnostic perspective. You’ve levied a criticism, but left it totally lopsided.
    Perhaps the most disturbing part of the position paper is that it merely tiptoes around the old FOSS vs. Propriety UI standby. IMNSHO, the current PAC interfaces for both Evergreen and Koha suck royally. As with all other criticisms of the movement, though, this too shall pass (and sooner rather than later!). My concern over your position is that when the tipping point occurs and rational organizations decide the time is right to pick a comparable and more cost-effective ILS with the open source model, that you and other vendors will somehow be shocked, still telling clients not to “jump headlong into an open source platform.”
    Respectfully submitted,
    Brad Czerniak
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    Thanks for the feedback Brad.
    As you note so well, FOSS vendors are just that, vendors who charge you for their work and many operate maintenance agreements. It’s also very easy to see the development priorities of the various open source ILS’s. Anyone can go look and make their own judgments.
    Your comments are of necessity just as brief as mine in the position paper. There are several sides to the discussion and some are more important to some ILS decisions than others. We clearly agree on one thing though – people need to look into this stuff more deeply and decide for themselves which options are right for them right now and to make a clear eyed choice with full knowledge of the cost. For those libraries and states that go open source without benefit of the RFP or tendering process and don’t ask for quotes from all of the potential vendors, well, they can’t really say that they’re doing their due diligence on behlf of their tax paying supporters, can they? I believe that they’re just making a de facto long term commitment without full information.
    We’re always ready to give a quote and discuss less expensive and more flexible ILS options (including scalable SaaS) to anyone with an open mind and who wishes to discuss their options openly. We have many libraries with few computers and some open only hours a week but still with the benefit of a solid, shared ILS for their users.
    SA

  12. Stephen Abram said

    Hi folks:
    Just so no one thinks I am avoiding you. It’s just about midnight on Friday and tomorrow, Halloween, is my wife’s birthday. We’re heading off to Stratford for the weekend and to see West Side Story.
    I get about 300-500 blog spam a day so I have to permission blog comments or everyone would be overwhlemed with some nasty stuff. I should be able to get back to your comments on Monday.
    Stephen

  13. David F. Skoll said

    Hi,
    When I say I’m “using” your product, I don’t mean I work for the library. I’m just a person who uses the library, and would like email reminders when books are due.
    So I have no special training in APIs or your software. I just hacked together my code after reverse-engineering my Web browser requests.
    While it does work, I have no guarantee that it will keep working in the future (a software upgrade broke an earlier version of my tool.)
    If your software were open-source, I wouldn’t have had to reverse-engineer the Web interaction. It probably would have had a well-defined, public, open API that anyone (not just library employees) could use.
    I am a software developer. I wrote both open-source software and proprietary software (however, we give the source code even to our proprietary software) and I have to disagree with your paper. Open-source software can be every bit as scalable, friendly, etc. as closed-source software. It’s true that 95%+ of open-source software is junk… but believe me, 98%+ of proprietary software is junk. Having worked in both worlds, my experience is that software development practices are far grubbier in the closed-source world, where no-one will see your evil hacks.
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    Thanks. As I said, there are many good open source projects. I agree that libraries must subject all software to the same due diligence in their decision making.
    As for e-mail alerts, our software supports this as well as RSS when the library implements it.
    You should check out the latest at Ottawa PL where they are launching the awesome BilblioCommons interface for the public which has many features you will enjoy.
    SA

  14. Enjoy Stratford! It’s one of my favorite Shakespeare festivals.
    I attempted to provide my comments here, but they turned out to be rather lengthy, so I’ve incorporated into a post of my own. Please feel free to comment and correct me if I’ve gotten any facts wrong.
    Regarding your spam problem, I think there are several open source solutions that may help you out.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Scot:
    Thanks. Stratford was great. I love West Side Story (we didn’t do any Shakespeare this year but will next year)
    I read your post and would love to chat if you want to. Obviously it’s not as simple as all-will-be-sweetness-and-light with open source once we go off proprietary and I know you’re not being naive. That was of course the point of my position paper. The grass may or may not be greener in either direction. I don’t know if you’ve done the full evaluation of migration from Horizon to one that has the features you need but I’m happy to help. I encourage you to do the full evaluation and compare issues for the your decisions.
    Stephen

  15. Working for a very small library system, I can say that my library took a long hard look at Open Source vs. proprietary solutions and we decided to go with SirsiDynix for just the reasons that Stephen discusses in his paper. While I am personally very comfortable with open source (which is greatly used by a company that I co-own), I understood that my library, along with many libraries out there, is not ready for a switch to open source. More accurately, open source is not ready for implementation within institutions with greatly limited resources of finances, expertise, etc. Open Source is a great tool and its time will likely come for most ILS solutions, but that time is not now.
    Additionally, Stephen flat out calls his paper a position paper, which by its nature is a paper that will present his opinion of the options out there. Do you really believe that someone in charge of strategy and innovation for SirsiDynix would hold an opinion that a proprietary solution does not have benefits? Many of you seem to be upset that Stephen’s paper has an opinion instead of being a journalistic review of ILS options. What do you suppose a position paper from one of the strategists and innovators for LibLime would look like?
    This paper is not an attack, it is an assertion of opinion that opens the door for discussion of difference of opinions and I would hope some of you out there (on both sides) can take this as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of divergent points of views. If we better listen to where ideas are coming from, we can work together to create solutions that better address the needs of all libraries.
    Instead of nitpicking the things in his paper that you don’t like, how about looking at his valid concerns with open source and figure out how open source can better address those issues. On the other side of that argument, of course, is the idea that SirsiDynix and other vendors look at the successes of open source to create better solutions for their customers as well (which I do believe SirsiDynix strives to do).
    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::;;
    Jamie:
    Thanks. I especially appreciate your understanding that this is a position paper and, of course, there are penty of places for a librarian to find the other points of view. I’d bet that there have been many more articles in the past few years touting the benefits of open source over proprietary software. I see no problem in presenting the other positions.
    Stephen

  16. Customer X said

    Respectfully…
    We want access to source code to fix, improve, and better work with our data. If you won’t give it to us – fine – we’ll go where we can get it.
    We want a licensing model that makes sense for libraries. We want sharing and collaboration with whatever, whoever, whenever. Not company silos or self-serving “partnerships.” You want to lock things down for IP exploitation and control. Our interests are the opposite, and the gig is now up.
    We want a competitive marketplace, not a sole source sham. Proprietary Development=sole source; support and maintenance=sole source; product ecosystem=sole source or “company only approved”
    Yes indeed, I will acknowledge that things are changing with SD & the III’s of the marketplace. True enough, but too little and too late for many of us IMHO.
    Most everybody understands the above except a still too large number of library directors, most within a few years of retirement. Once they are gone, it’s over. Open source will be a done deal and if you’re not on board, goodbye…
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    Thanks for the feedback Customer X (Anonymous)! I agree that a more flexible approach is needed and conversations between equal partners goes a long way to that. With respect to ILS software, I support a hybrid solution for many reasons not the least of which is that a dogmatic viewpoint and threats to leave rarely gets everyone (or anyone really) to where they want and need to be. You can usually get where you need to be faster when you talk and debate in person. We need to actually work on what the goals are together. You know how to contact me if you’re willing to say who you are.
    Stephen

  17. Mr. Abram,
    It seems that Sirsi’s attitude toward problems, inadequacies, flaws, lack of usability, criticism, competition or anything else is: Why won’t you spend your time and money to help us make our product better?
    Because you don’t pay me. In fact it’s, literally, the opposite.
    I don’t want a discussion, I don’t want a roundtable or a conference or a partnership or conversation or a dialogue or anything.
    I want a product that works easily and properly. I want a product that makes my job easier, not harder.
    And I don’t want to hear how that’s my fault or a real bummer for your company.
    My beef isn’t that open source is perfect. It’s that Sirsi’s products are bad, in my opinion, and not getting any better. And that has nothing to do with open source. It has to do with you.
    Innovator, heal thyself.
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    James:
    Thanks for the feedback.
    If you’re a customer you know how to provide input to SirsiDynix and make requests and suggestions for changes. Many changes can be made on the fly by clients with Java and API skills. We have conferences, user groups, forums and enhancement discussions. Most customers gladly participate in conferences, user groups, meetings, shared API’s and the like. As you must know, this is no different than open source communities.
    Just like when I am sick I cannot heal myself (and I have too much experience with illness). I seek professional help and I have discussions with people who care and know things, more things than me. I never feel that I have all the answers. I believe (I know) that our customers know more than we do. They’re the ones out there all the time in all types of libraries. I truly cherish their involvement in our development work.
    I regret that we cannot pay you for your feedback or suggestions. We will need to (and do) rely on those customers and professionals who share willingly to make the products they use better. We value those customers a lot. They are truly essential to making our products better and, indeed, we have more of these wonderful folks than just about anyone else in the library software world. The respectful discussions with them are the best.
    Stephen

  18. Stephen Abram said

    I might have left the impression that I am not using a spam filter on this blog. I am. I think it’s open source too. Unfortunately, given the volume I have it set at ‘high’, so if you include a URL or use certain words (you can guess) it goes to spam. So, just to be safe I dig through the spam file to make sure I don’t miss any comments.
    It’s interesting that this thread is generating the most spam ever (about 90% of the comments). Anyone know why? Do the bad folks know when a post is ‘hot’ by tracking links from Twitter, Friendfeed Facebook, etc.?
    SA

  19. Stephen
    Unfortunately I must take strong exception to your previous response to James (“They are truly essential to making our products better”).
    In 2007, the UK Enhancement Forum was formed, at the request of your company, to provide a mechanism by which customers could provide enhancement requests for Symphony.
    The members of the forum, comprised of your customers, then spent a considerable amount of time and effort (at both their own and their employers expense) sorting through the myriad of enhancement requests, seeking out further details from the customers who posted them, holding regular face-to-face meetings, and finally thrashing out a prioritised list of enhancement requests that was then passed to your company.
    As those customers who attended the annual User Group Conference in Manchester this year will know, the members of the Enhancement Forum recently voted unanimously to disband. There was a strong feeling that they had been wasting their time and that the company had little to no interest in taking the prioritised list of requests seriously.
    Whilst you personally may “truly cherish their involvement in our development work”, I do not believe that others in your company feel as strongly as you do.
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    Dave:
    Thanks for the feedback. We do value feedback and our response is never as fast as either I or all of us would like. It is surely no excuse that the overall environment changed mightily in 2007.
    Many of your personal innovations have been among the most interesting I’ve seen.
    Stephen

  20. Hi, Stephen.
    Thanks for putting your position out there for public viewing, and more impressively, thanks for taking the time to answer so many reader comments!
    I have a question about something you mentioned: “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.”
    Could you tell us some specifics about which open source solutions SirsiDynix adopted? Specifically, which ILSes and which parts?
    Thanks again!
    — Ben
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Thanks Ben:
    It’s easy enough to find many of these applications for alternative user experiences and they’ve been written up in most of the blogs and literature. Just look at the list of libraries that have adopted VuFind, SOPAC, LibraryThing, LibraryElf, etc. on their sites. These are excellent efforts to try to discover the future library, research, and reader experiences. There seem to be thousands of add-ons used by libraries in their ILS (some public facing and some in library workflows) so I’ll leave it up to someone else to build an inventory if that’s helpful at all. You’ll find these apps added to SirsiDynix systems all over the place. There’s nothing limiting libraries from using these tools (other than their own staffing, training and imagination) – open source or not (like BiblioCommons, Aquabrowser, Endeca, Grokker, etc.) as ways to enhance their catalogue and user experiences. In fact, we encourage the experiments and the adoptions – we definitely learn from watching these innovative libraries and their work.
    Any client can just ask a question about any app or type of app on the SirsiDynix community lists and get advice and comments from fellow clients. I point to some interesting ones from this blog when I hear about them. Often they are more specific in their questions since they want to know who as tried these add-ons in their sector, language, country, etc. or with their underlying hardware or ability with Drupal, API’s, Java, XML, etc.
    Some that I’ve enjoyed are the many clients who have integrated their websites and OPACs into Facebook, MySpace and Second Life. I also like those that have added Meebo to the OPAC search, LibraryElf alerts, Google Book API’s, Wordclouds, iPhone apps, etc.
    Our clients are a pretty neat group of innovators and we encourage it. I personally feel that there is no one right OPAC experience that works for all situations and that many libraries have unique needs and user bases which makes customization and flexibility for their users essential.
    They need to integrate library services into the places where their users are (like Blackboard, Angel, Facebook or their intranet) varies from client to client environment and we need to support that with flexibilty and stability. The current environment is evolving and we are seeing a Renaissance in the understanding of differing user modes and personas. It’s a quite exciting time to be involved.
    Stephen

  21. David F. Skoll said

    Stephen,
    I checked out BiblioCommons at the Ottawa Public Library. It’s just a fancier interface to the existing catalogue. And unfortunately, if the old interface is dropped, it means my script will *again* be broken and I’ll have to rework it.
    There’s no useful documentation on the BiblioCommons site on how to obtain checkout data in XML or any other format, so it’ll be back to ugly HTML screen-scraping. This is really a step backwards.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Thanks for the feedback. I’ll pass it on to BiblioCommons.
    Of course, changes to underlying data and code are common in both open source and proprietary systems, so broken scripts are common enough and sustaining responsibility for code is a community effort on both sides of the equation.
    Stephen

  22. It’s concerning that from this position paper SirsiDynix (SD) is not seeing the institutional priorities that are driving some projects, like OLE. Some of the key components of OLE are things that academic libraries have been officially requesting from SD for more than 4 years, such as managing electronic resources (SD stopped its own ERM development, and why are holdings records still not linkable to 856 entries?), integration with identity management (SD dropped the ball on LDAP integration), and overall more holistic management of divserse collections (I was really looking forward to Corinthian…). There are other priorities, too, like integration with financial systems (instead of doing the same work in two places) or integration with course management. I’ve seen the Blackboard demo a few times – it’s not enough.
    The problem with focusing so much on end-user developments is that usability studies show over and over that if users can’t get to the data they want, it doesn’t matter how great the interface is: their experience is bad. Right now, academic libraries can only manage a small portion of their resources in Symphony. A portion that is getting smaller and smaller in their institutional priorities. Somewhat fortunately for SD, no one else has managed to develop a successful ERM either, but that’s no excuse for not considering how to create a next-generation management system, similar to Ex Libris and their URM plans or OLE.
    Yes, it is an institutional priority for a re-design of the backend. But since it’s only for about a quarter of your customer base, it doesn’t really fit the 80/20 rule, and so we “understand” why our requests so make it into development. That SD has given up on innovative development that had already been started is not so easy to understand.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Tim:
    I know we supported integration with third party products to accomplish some of these requests and some have been put in Symphony. I’ll ask our development folks to repsond in detail.
    Thanks for the feedback. As usual, detail takes longer. Sorry.
    Stephen

  23. Please add these factors to your opportunity costs:
    1. Libraries lose customers because the web interfaces for their proprietary Catalog are not intuitive, the search results poor, and the Catalog lacks integration with Library websites and databases. Web 2.0 features are tough to implement.
    Our customers want us to be more like Amazon.com, and we are not. With proprietary systems, I feel powerless to make these kinds of changes.
    With Open Source, if my interface usability is poor, I have a chance of fixing it in a reasonable amount of time and responding to my customers.
    I can’t market mediocre information services. Libraries are losing relevancy in current times because our technologies are antiquated, especially to younger customers. Our systems look broken even when they work as designed, because they don’t work as the customer expects.
    2. I am sorry if this comment sounds blunt (truly), but I’ve been in various IT fields for about 12 years, and the customer service of vendors for Library technologies is abysmal. I am not singling out Sirsi. I have never seen another industry that treats its paying clients so poorly.
    I’ve watched librarians spend hours of staff time evaluating software that was nowhere close to prime time. My thought has been: why are we paying to be testers for this vendor? Why don’t they do their own due diligence?
    I’ve been told that I am not allowed to call a vendor and ask questions because I am not on a special list.
    I have been told–by the vendor–not to use the latest upgrade because even they think it’s too unstable.
    I’ve been told that no documentation is available–too bad. I shouldn’t expect such luxuries.
    I’ve been told about fabulous upgrades that are minor enhancements.
    We are investigating Open Source to get our dignity back, to serve our customers, and create a vehicle that showcases the products, services, and expertise that libraries can offer.
    Even if Open Source is not ready, is not 100% viable, it’s getting there fast.
    With all due respect, this discussion is about much more than technology. If you reduce the argument to that piece, you are missing the point.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    KB:
    I don’t miss your point. I do say that:
    1. We provide several options for an Amazon style interface. We sell some on our own and many customers hav purchased third party options and some have implemented open source options I don’t believe that there is anyhting we do that limits your organzation’s ability to do this.
    2. We not only provide documentation but re-pre-release our documentation for new releases well before the release so that everyone can read and understand what is in the releases and evelaute which parts are omst important to them.
    3. We allow any OPAC interface to be developed on top of our ILS using APIs, etc., unlike some other vendors, and there is no reason that it shold take longer with SirsiDYnix than open source to develop, code, implement, test, and launch. It does require similar skills, oversight, processes and training.
    4. I regret your organization does not allow you to use our customer care website, contact SirsiDynix, or be involved in understanding the changes we have announced and strived to make. We try not to encourage that since we need to hear from all aspects of library internal and external experiences and not just from consortia or sysadmins, (valuable as that is).
    5. We have released over 20 new releases in the past two years on time with full documentation and have not pulled a release or recommended non-adoption if it met server/OS spec.
    6. Since so many of our customers have succesfully implemented new user experiences and web 2.0 features from SirsiDynix or others, it’s just not true that no one can do that. I regret that your innovative ideas are being blocked.
    7. I agree that libraries risk losing users through inneffective interfaces. Many libraries have reversed this potential trend while maintaining a SirsiDynix infrastructure. On the whole, though, library use is growing throughout North America. I can state emphatically that libraries are not powerless to implement new 2.0 features in SD systems and hundreds have.
    8. We have made an enormous number of investments in our customer service operations lately to address some of your concerns. I regret that you haven’t been allowed to call and see improvements but our regular customer surveys do show a marked improvement in our ‘marks’.
    I also regret your experience with other vendors, and possibly with us, but every vendor is not identically bad or good and it is counter-productive to assume all proprietary is bad and open source is evenly good. This position just isn’t true.
    I agree that you should investigate open source and compare the differences clearly and honestly. That is what my position paper encouraged – due diligence and evidence. I believe that if you investigate open source without a full and honest discussion with other vendors you are doing your organization a disservice.
    I agree that it is about more than technology – especially as your comments illustrate. (Some) Libraries need to involve more people in their decision making as they develop their user experiences. I encourage that.
    Stephen

  24. David F. Skoll said

    Stephen,
    It’s true that even open-source projects change APIs and internal data representations. However, all of these are generally documented in publicly-accessible documentation.
    That is, I can go to an open-source project Web site and read the documentation even if I’m not officially a “customer” of that project. Most likely, I can even read developer-oriented changelogs, and quite probably I can even access the git/SVN/CVS history online.
    Does your company make its API documentation available to random strangers who aren’t even customers? (I’m not going to ask about source code or revision-control history because I realize that’s unreasonable.)
    The nice thing about open-source is that “random strangers” can make useful tools without needing permission from either the ILS vendor or the library. The folks at my public library are kind and helpful, but simply don’t have the time to handle requests to do various integration tasks I want. And the software vendor has no reason to speak to me directly; I’m not a customer.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    David:
    I agree that documentation is a good thing and many open source projects are good at that. That strength of some just doesn’t apply to all and making an assumption that documentation is better because it is open without checking and testing is poor decisionmaking. I am only concerned about the open source ILS and their user groups (not me) have listed documentation as one of the current top weaknesses of some of the open source ILS’s. I know they are trying to make progress and are trying to address this. They even hired a person at one open source vendor to work on this. Like I say, caveat emptor and worry about people suggest that one mode is better without having experience with the software.
    The easy way to deal wth FUD is to just check it out. We will allow any client to see documentation. I regret that for now we are not set up for every interested user although many, like yourself, have still made programming inroads.
    Stephen

  25. Rodney Foley said

    Hi Stephen,
    There are a lot of relevant points in your paper. For some people open source has become an evangelical topic, with some regarding open-sources as a panacea to all the problems with current ILS vendors Your paper does expose some of the concerns that people need to consider when looking at alternatives to the traditional ILS.
    It is debatable as to wether systems like KOHA and Evergreen offer any functional benefit over traditional systems and issues like governance and future development have yet to be fully tested. The one system that could offer additional functionality is OLE, with its potential to offer better integration with other corporate systems. It is far too early to comment of the likelihood of this occurring, particularly as it is relying on funding from the Mellon Foundation, but the OLE project has promoted a debate on what academic institution believe would be beneficial in a library system.
    One question I would hope you can answer is that in the final report for the OLE project there is a list of vendors who have shown interest in the project. This includes ExLibris, Innovative, Liblime and Equinox. A notable absence from the list is SirsiDynix. Does this mean SirsiDynix has no interest in involvement in the OLE project?
    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Rodney:
    Thanks for your comments. I think that there is a significant difference in the ILS needs of public library versus academic library systems. It makes for interesting discussions, especially since the vendors of content and associated institutions and software providers are often quite different too. There are key international differences too.
    Frankly, I just don’t personally know about participation in OLE. We certainly watch these projects with interest and participate in the standards setting work that accompanies all of us on this journey. Like all companies in these times there is only so much staff time and bandwidth. I don’t know if we were asked or, if we were, what the answer was. I’ll try to find out.
    Stephen

  26. David F. Skoll said

    Stephen,
    Documentation is traditionally a weak point in open-source projects. The point is, I can see the documentation of the project. Anyone can. And once an open-source project attracts a community of a certain size, the documentation tends to be very good because the community demands it (and contributes to it.) Check out the PostgreSQL project as an example; its documentation IMO sets the gold standard.
    I have no idea how good your documentation is because I can’t see it.
    I believe you’re fighting a losing battle. It only takes *one* open-source project in a niche to be “good enough” to marginalize the proprietary solutions. That will inevitably happen in more and more niches, including yours.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::;
    Davd:
    Thanks for the feedback.
    There is nothing stopping anyone seriously doing a proper evaluation from getting access to what they need with respect to documentation or any other question.
    Anyone who relies totally on open information is choosing to not review the whole picture and that’s their choice based on a their philosophy.
    As everyone can note, and having been a librarian for over 30 years, I do my research based on as much information as I can get whether I have to ask for it or not. It’s just not that big a barrier when the decision is important. Others may disagree but I just have this value system that guides me to seek the full information regardless of my personal preferences and beliefs.
    When I have the full information, only then I can make my recommendations and decisions. Anyone can point to a single best practice and claim affinity and assume that the trend pre-destines all copies. It doesn’t. The real evaluation comes from looking under the hood when the buyer is serious.
    Stephen

  27. Hi Stephen
    You say “The real evaluation comes from looking under the hood when the buyer is serious.”
    And that is precisely what Open-source allows people to do.
    You also say
    “As everyone can note, and having been a librarian for over 30 years, I do my research based on as much information as I can get whether I have to ask for it or not. It’s just not that big a barrier when the decision is important. Others may disagree but I just have this value system that guides me to seek the full information regardless of my personal preferences and beliefs.”
    If I ask for the source code of Symphony, will I be given it? If so, consider this asking for it.
    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Chris:
    I am not denying that SirsiDynix is a proprietary software company. I am also not denying that clients have different rights than non-clients. My position is in the paper and that is that there are questions that must be asked when making ILS decisions and that there are benefits and problems in both proprietary and open source models.
    Stephen

  28. David F. Skoll said

    Stephen,
    I think you are missing the point of open-source software. As I wrote, once a piece of open-source software becomes “good enough” and reaches a critical mass in its niche, proprietary competitors are marginalized.
    Example: The Web browser business. Apart from IE’s unnatural monopoly, the commercial Web browser business is tiny. It simply makes no sense for a proprietary company to enter that market.
    Example: The Web server business. Again, apart from IIS’s unnatural monopoly, why on earth would anyone choose a proprietary Web server? They do exist, but they have a tiny percentage of the market.
    Example: The office suite business. OpenOffice is good enough and has killed any chance of a proprietary competitor entering the market. Microsoft will continue to have a commanding monopoly in that space, but OpenOffice will take more and more of its business, and it would certainly be ridiculous for a proprietary company to try to sell an office suite.
    Example: The CRM business. We used to use Salesforce, but switched to SugarCRM and saved tens of thousands of dollars per year. SugarCRM is not as good as Salesforce, but it’s Good Enough for us. More importantly, it’s easy to customize and hook into the rest of our business processes.
    I think the future for proprietary software vendors can take only a few roads. Either you’re lucky enough to have an unnatural monopoly like Microsoft, so you can continue for decades to come. Or you have aggressive control over your products and a dedicated fan base like Apple, so you can continue to sell expensive stuff to zealous followers. Or you gradually get squeezed out of the market by good-enough open-source solutions.
    Your business, sadly, is close enough to being infrastructure to attract open-source solutions. Your customers typically don’t have a lot of money to throw around. And they’re also used to collaboration and information-sharing. I’d say the future for proprietary library information systems is not good.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    David:
    I have to say that I do understand and you are a public and articulate missionary for this single scenario. I agree that there are customers who seek the, as you say, ‘good enough’ software for their organizations and that’s their right. I’ve just never been an advocate, like you, for ‘good enough’ whether it’s open source or proprietary.
    You call several big software players unnatural monopolies and then describe their competition. I don’t hold the same definition of monopoly and with the large number of players in the ILS world, no one can in any way be characterized as a monopoly – except perhaps if your scenario turns out to reduce choice and put all development effort on to the community or forked open source vendors.
    Competition among vendors – open source and others – is alive and well in this space and everyone’s products get better as a result.
    When folks are making ILS decisions they should look into all of their options and keep an open mind until they decide what is good for them and their commnunities. There are lots of folks advocating otherwise and I don’t think that is wise. I primarily care about the current library environment and the ILS and will leave the bigger picture stuff to people like you.
    Stephen

  29. Mark Swenson said

    In your paper you state the following:
    “Some of the most security-conscious entities, like the United States Department of Defense, restrict the use of open source software for fear that it could pose a terrorist opportunity.”
    Based on the date displayed in the filename of your paper, you seem to have published it not quite two weeks in advance of the Department of Defense coming out and knocking down this exact point. On October 27 the Department of Defense issued a memo stating that open source software is equal to commercial software in almost all cases and by law should be considered when making technology purchasing decisions.
    The DoD not only came out with this statement, but they proceeded to show their earnestness by releasing a human resources application (1 million+ lines of code) that the DoD had developed under an open source license.
    (Google “department defense open source” for more information).
    As a librarian at a library in a consortium using Sirsi, there is no piece of software we use which gives me the heebie-jeebies (MS Windows included) from a security standpoint more than Symphony. Tons of private, personal data is transferred in the clear across our own network and then across the Internet to our consortium’s headquarters every day, and I’ve heard nothing about any kind of security enhancements to correct this major, obvious hole. My consortium has been working on at least getting the catalog to run on an SSL connection, which is only possible because HTTPS is an open standard. If we had to rely on SirsiDynix for this feature, I’m not sure when we’d get it.
    Security, more than anything else, benefits from openness. Yes, malicious people can look at code and find flaws which they can exploit. However, so can everyone else. For example, an encryption system that can have a back door that is obscured because it is closed is next to worthless. The only way to know that a system has no back door is to make it open.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Mark:
    You’re right, the paper was written before the DoD issued the new guidance to consider open source. This, of course, doesn’t mean that they are recommending wholesale adopton of open source. I quote: “Ultimately, the software that best meets the needs and mission of the Department should be used, regardless of whether the software is open source.” OS still needs to pass the rigourous security rules and tests. Something they wrote themselves can or ILS software with a track record in DoD sites can and anyone can apply to meet their tests and assure that ongoing support is available.
    I suggest that your consortium contact us for advice on higher levels of security that you have identified as a need. SirsiDynix ILS’s are installed in every branch of the military and passes muster for the DoD rules and guidelines in classified settings. If you want higher levels of security we can help. As long as people are confident that the software is tested for mailicious code and the provider is trustworthy and warranties their work, then anything can work.
    We’d rather you not feel the heebie-jeebies!
    Stephen

  30. Here’s another way to think about open source:
    open source = peer review.
    In the book The Cathedral and the Bazaar, author Eric S. Raymond wrote:
    “…the strongest argument the open-source community has is that decentralized peer review trumps all the conventional methods for trying to ensure that details don’t get slipped.”
    What kinds of thoughts come to mind when it’s framed as peer review instead of open source?
    B
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Brad:
    Thanks for the comment. I enjoyed Raymond’s book.
    I also love the research on peer review and how too many important research papers don’t get published and good inventions are delayed because of the conservative nature of vested interests and the crowd effect.
    I think that clearly the best system is one in which there are options and competition even between the cathedral and the bazaar.
    Stephen

  31. Stephen Abram said

    In an earlier comment someone said that SirsiDynix still does not support 856 linking. I thought that sounded wrong so I checked and we do indeed support 856 linking from MARC holdings records. We also provide mechanisms for externally built URLs to send searches, including holdings limits into our Enterprise, e-Library and HIP catalogs.
    Also, related to other comments out there, SirsiDynix is an industry leader in electronic reserves with our ERes product and have worked closely with academic sites over the last 18 months to update our support for direct interface with the Copyright Clearance Center. We have also provided streamlined methods for ERes to be linked into Blackboard Course Management systems.
    We are providing updated methods to support LDAP authentication in e-Library with our upcoming 3.3.1 release. These methods also support consortial environments and allow customers using a mix of LDAP, guest and non-LDAP based authentication methods to do so with great practicality.
    Enterprise may be used to integrate searching for library objects, Z39.50 and federated searching into other products (e.g., campus portals and content management systems) or can provide content building and management capabilities for those who prefer to use a single product to manage all aspects. Enterprise also supports search and indexing of non-MARC objects such as web sites, PDFs, diXML (our defined format) and content built within Enterprise. Enterprise also opens up the library’s assets for Open Search formulated queries, again promoting new methods for external access.
    SirsiDynix is taking a leadership role in mobile access with recent and upcoming support for user interfaces that are well-supported on popular mobile browsers and for browser free iPhone Apps, the first of which we hope to have approved by Apple before the end of the year.
    Future plans call for major enhancements to our digital assets management software, taking advantage of Enterprise technology to further support the non-MARC objects that so many of our customers are focusing on. Additionally our SaaS facilities put us in an enviable position for more creative asset sharing among institutions as does our support for NCIP, forthcoming Web Services, and ability for our discovery layer to search multiple, separate instances of Symphony or Horizon catalogs.
    I know this is a longer comment and contains details that might be more applicable to academic and college client libraries. Most information (and more) is available in the client roadmaps on the SirsiDynix customer care portal or from an account representative.
    Stephen

  32. David F. Skoll said

    Hi, Stephen,
    Obviously, I support open-source, so maybe I do come across as a missionary. But I’m observing a pretty obvious trend that once open-source establishes itself in a niche, proprietary competitors are marginalized. Open-source never retreats from a market once it has established itself. It’s just the nature of the beast.

  33. Interesting that a software vendor, with everything to lose by customers switching to OSS would state
    “It is fundamental to my belief system that everyone is obligated to look at all sides and engage in the discussion …not driven merely by emotion, philosophies and personal agendas.”
    when in fact, SirsiDynix has the most obvious agenda in this debate of all.
    Software vendors should stay out of the OSS debate.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Debra:
    I still believe in freedom of speech and our constitutional rights in the US and Canada and beyond. I regret that you argue against this freedom for me. One of the main things the OS proponents state is that it is free like speech not like beer. That’s a great philosophy. And I am very happy to listen and read OS points of view and do. Everyone has a perspective (and maybe an agenda) and in our open society we respect everyone’s right to exercise it. Most librarians are very good at separating facts from bias. That’s one of the values we bring to society. I will have to assume you’re not in libraries since librarians are such key defenders of freedom of expression. That’s one of the things I most admire about my colleagues.
    I won’t be exiting the discussion since we have something to add and people can review the full information to support their decisions and make their own choices. I’ve always hated it in history when certain groups and peoples were denied their voice and I am dismayed to see this suggestion in your comment.
    Stephen

  34. Stephen – If your paper had been as open-minded as some of your replies here, it might have been a little better received. Mostly though, I read “defense” in everything you say…that’s fair I suppose, that’s your job. I doubt that any of the open source ILS support vendors will be writing position papers on proprietary software anytime soon.
    I won’t repeat my own knee jerk reaction to your paper here, you can see it on my blog if you care to. Most comments here echo my thoughts (or I echo theirs) in one way or another.
    I just want to pick up on the last bit of the comment thread about freedom of speech. Of course you can say whatever you like but just as I wouldn’t listen to a tobacco company spokesperson to learn about smoking, neither will I pay much heed to what an employee of a proprietary vendor has to say about open source software. And I give most librarians credit and assume that their research on the pros and cons of proprietary and open source software will take them well beyond your “postition paper”.
    :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    Cynthia:
    Thanks. As long as everyone investigates thoroughly before making a decision then they have examined every facet and made a good decision. I sure encourage that! There are many sides to any decision and blocking them out for any reason – especially broad prejudice against a group as a whole in an effort to dismiss their opinions or perspectives – just feels wrong to me. I’d hate for governments to dismiss librarians perspectives in this budget climate just because it protects our jobs! Then again, I guess they could.
    Stephen

  35. James English said

    To put my comments in perspective, I was a corporate programmer for about a decade. Though I have never written an ILS, I have coded software that performs similar functions for high-traffic websites and corporate systems.
    Customer dissatisfaction with proprietary ILS systems (and the companies behind them) is the main driving force behind the increasing interest in open source systems. Two of the big reasons for this dissatisfaction are:
    1) Proprietary systems (and maintenance fees for them) cost far, far too much for the quality of the software, the responsiveness of most ILS companies, and the functions provided.
    2) Proprietary ILS companies usually keep their clients locked out from their own data. The existing reporting modules are terrible. Most systems won’t allow you to do read-only SQL “select” queries against the databases, and few of them make a complete map of the database tables and fields available.
    More libraries are looking to open source systems as ways to alleviate one or more of these problems. Cost is the motivating factor for many of them. Even when you take data migration and such into account, it is still MUCH cheaper to move to an open source system (and maintain it) than to go with any of the top ILS systems out there. Many libraries are willing to lose a few features if it means that they can pay 1/10 (or less) of their current ILS purchase and maintenance costs.
    My library moved to an open source ILS for both reasons, but our main one was so that we could access ALL of our data in as simple or complex a manner as we choose. If I wanted to know how many patrons with non-resident cards between the ages of 20 and 29 checked out books within a particular Dewey range 17 to 23 days ago and returned them on time, I could pop out a SQL statement in 10 minutes to do the job. It would take a LONG time to pull that sort of information from most proprietary systems, if it was even possible to do so (without paying the ILS company to do it, which we can’t afford to do). We can easily put up with a few missing features in the ILS if we have full access to our data.
    Equinox and Koha are not as feature-rich as SirsiDynix, at least not yet. They are fully functional systems, though, that provide all the necessary functions. Libraries that move to them can save a ton of money (even taking into account the data migration and such) and get to their own data. I would rather deal with the occasional blips and have all that than pay for overpriced, poorly coded, locked-down systems.
    Your original paper came across as a very defensive posture against something that your company may view as a very real threat to their business model.
    ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
    “Most conpanies” are not SirsiDynix and our ILS has allowed API access to the data. I am aware that many proprietary ILS companies companis don’t. It is just this sort of generaliation that I was askong people to ask the queastion and check if it was true with the ILS they were choosing. Many libraries don’t and believe things that are not true and apply it to all ILS companies.
    As for the cost savings, I also concur that there is a range on both sides. I know of libraries that have chosen an open source ILS who are now paying almost three times more in maintenance to one of the open source evndors than they did previously. Others have installed open source and then given up. I assume that no one shares these stories because they are embarrassing.
    The real ‘defensive’ position of my paper is that libraries should actually underpin their decisions with the facts and make their choices.
    The number of articles about open sources ILS’s is many times larger than those about others. It is interesting to me that so many open source people are arguing against getting the answers to the questions and issues I mention. Who is more defensive?
    Stephen