Paying Much, Receiving Little

A few more thoughts on FOSS in libraries. Even though I've been beating this dead horse for years now, I've found others writing on the same topic so I'm going to push a little harder and see where we can go with it. Just a few more thoughts this time. First, a couple quotes from my last 2 columns on this:



Eric Schnell:

"They need to begin viewing open source products as commercial alternatives. They need to begin reallocating human and fiscal resources into the development of new systems that can change and adapt as fast as our environment. They need to rethink the services they have and how they are delivered. ""

Nicole C. Engard :

"Where does III fit? I'd say it's a like the crazy cousin you have to deal with because he's family! It doesn't fit, we are a very open IT environment, we have applications all over that need to talk to each other nicely and the III system is a brick wall preventing us from getting the information we need and sending the information we'd like."

Since last week I noticed Jessamyn Pointed To a post by Casey Bisson:

"When something sucks I will say so. When vendors spout crap I will call them on it. My staff deserve good tools, my users need good tools, and I can't afford to buy stuff that sucks. Together, we'll fix the world one product at a time."

Some of us have issues with our ILS/OPACs or whatever you wanna call them:



1. They're made for librarians. From what I can see, librarians talk to vendors, who tell them what they want, or what they think their users want. If their users want something that goes against what the librarians want, it doesn't get passed along.



2. Many of them are web front ends on telnet based systems. There's no small number of librarians (those who use the system most ofter) who still use the old telnet interface. It's a bad thing when the people who use the system most don't use the same system the most important users (patrons) use.



3. They're up against Google, Yahoo and Amazon. It's impossible for vendors or librarians to compete, and yet when it comes to web services we are. We (and our vendors) can't possibley attract the talent it takes to code systems that will compete. Even AOL can't compete:

"But even if AOL manages to surprise Wall Street this week by doing better than analysts expect, it will remain the gilded punching bag of the so-called Internet age. There are several reasons for this, and all appear to stem from one fundamental problem beyond expected declines in revenue, earnings and subscribers: AOL's inability to attract its share of the best talent in its industry, and hence to demonstrate that it has the technological chops to compete with its fiercest rivals."

According to the NY Times. AOL is set to have revenue of $45 billion this year. How can III or OhioLINK possibly compete with that?



4. We have precious little control over anything in these systems. Vendors are jealously guarding far too much and it works against us. An open source system would give us all the control we want.



5. This all adds up to: Paying For A Lot, Receiving So Little. Big libraries pay tens of thousands of dollars for a system that is sealed shut and for customer service that from my experience I can only describe as "user hostile".

Comments

I am attending a demo of Horizon 8.0 shortly. I have seen little bits and pieces of Horizon 8 before. We don't need more bells and whistles and pretty pictures. We need something that works reliably. We need something designed for a consortium our size, not a cookie-cuttered ILS.


A open sourced ILS would not solve all our problems, but I think it would solve a lot of them. Your points on what patrons need, what librarians need, is very valid. How willing is a big company to tweak their product for one library? It's not worth the money to them. The thing is, I'm guessing that library's needs are not in a vacuum. It's just the only library that spoke up. So the vendor continues to bullishly push on, listening to its big-spender clients (maybe), ignoring the needs of its smaller ones, and staying well behind the curve of what library patrons and librarians are asking for.


This time, I am involved in looking at the new ILS product on the table. I am going to scrutinize that sucker, believe me.

I'm of two minds on this.

1. Google and Amazon may have money but when all is said and done they have very simple products that mostly satisfy 10s of millions of people, if not 100s. When we talk about 'customization' what we really mean is taking a semi-complicated, badly developed product and making it more complicated and probably developed even worse which is still only serving 10's of thousands of people at most. Finding the right vendor and everybody turning over a lot of money to get this done is the right way to go if the least likely because no one will agree on anything on that scale.

2. Since there currently isn't a simple-as-Google library database product out there (and probably never will be because most librarians can't get out of their own way with all the 'customization' they want) there is the slight chance, very slight chance that competition between libraries in developing their own software will eek out a product that most librarians see as the most effective. How long they can use it without opening up the hood and mucking it up will be the second question, the first will be how long it will take to get there in the first place.

I'm singled minded on this, which is rare for me

1. Google and Amazon may have money but when all is said and done they have very simple products that mostly satisfy 10s of millions of people, if not 100s. When we talk about 'customization' what we really mean is taking a semi-complicated, badly developed product and making it more complicated and probably developed even worse which is still only serving 10's of thousands of people at most. Finding the right vendor and everybody turning over a lot of money to get this done is the right way to go if the least likely because no one will agree on anything on that scale.

They have very simple to use products. There's nothing simple about what they have built. Good point on trying to get everyone to agree though.

2. Since there currently isn't a simple-as-Google library database product out there (and probably never will be because most librarians can't get out of their own way with all the 'customization' they want) there is the slight chance, very slight chance that competition between libraries in developing their own software will eek out a product that most librarians see as the most effective. How long they can use it without opening up the hood and mucking it up will be the second question, the first will be how long it will take to get there in the first place.

I'm always hesitant to think we need a Google-Simple interface. One, because of the customization you mention, but also because I can't figure out how it's even possible. But that would be the beuty of an open system, someone else would be able to. Google works because of the power of links, something that is sorely lacking in paid databsases and OPACs, what could we replace that with? no idea.

I'm not really hoping for competition between libraries, but rather cooperation between libraries. Many programmers at many libraries working on one project that they can all use/share/customize.

"They have very simple to use products. There's nothing simple about what they have built."

We definitly disagree here. Whatever magic formula Google uses for searching is no doubt impressive but it all comes down to find-and-get, same for Amazon. We're find-get-hold-take-and-giveback. I don't think we'll be Google simple but I think we complicate over and above the extra steps involved.

The debate over fines alone brings our profession to a screeching halt.

We definitly disagree here? How so? I'm sure that librarians love to complicate things to make them "better", but I don't understand what we're disagreeing on.

"I'm guessing that library's needs are not in a vacuum"

That's a good guess, I'm always suprised how many times I hear "we have different needs"

Be sure to let us know how the new one looks!

Just on the point that what Google has built is or is not simple.