Monthly Archives: October 2008

Getting started with DocBook

Any software project needs to have good documentation, and it’s a constant challenge to maintain high quality technical communications. Apart from using a help authoring system many years ago (I was a user of Doc-to-help versions 1-2) I haven’t followed the area at all.  But recent discussion on some of the threads I follow have me curious about technical standards like DITA and DocBook (see also: DITA vs. DocBook).

For DocBook, here’s a very good brief overview from the DMN Communications blog, where they cite this O’Reilly publication:

Get Started Writing in DocBook (enter guest as the user name and leave the password blank)

DocBook & DITA are not just for big technical communications projects. I noted that the recently released Islandora Documentation is written using the DocBook authoring framework.

OSS: “come for the price, stay for the quality”

The financial meltdown impacting global economies shows every sign of being a longer term crisis. O’Reilly Radar’s Nat Torkington has an excellent overview on The Effect of the Depression on Technology. His suggestion that open source will likely benefit is expected IMHO, and I like his phrase: “come for the price, stay for the quality” as well as his thought that “many of the applications (CRM, finance, etc.) higher up the stack” may benefit too.

What this means for the library automation (“ILS”) and related discovery tools and technologies?

Those of us who have been following open source in libraries carefully over the last few years will be cognizant of a very significant fact: the money hasn’t even hit the table yet. Think about how far Koha, Evergreen or vuFind have come in the last few years (or the last 6 months!) and frame their achievements in the context of their available (albeit growing) resources.

Most significantly, many of the those adopting these new tools haven’t yet fully re-directed their “cold hard cash” and internal staff resources.  For example, a common strategy is to maintain your legacy vendor’s contract during the planning, evaluation and implementation phase, with the intent to re-assign those resources more fully once you’ve made the transition. Remember, we are leasing our software and so we have limited rights beyond the heavily restricted terms of lease. Your vendor could legitimately unplug you if you try to run your system without a valid support contract, and so those transitioning to an open source stack need to manage the transition by keeping their lease agreements active until they go live.

So while some are able to re-deploy their staff and financial investments more fully from the get go, many others will be phasing in investments over a longer period of time.  We’re talking a significant ramp up that has yet to even be realized.  The BC Sitka move to Evergreen estimated a total expenditure at over $10 million for annual software maintenance and support with their legacy vendor (SirsiDynix) to 2011. How much of this formally planned expenditure will be re-deployed towards open source development, maintenance and support is anybody’s guess, but I would suggest even half of that would go twice as far.

Ditto for personnel resources: OSS communities are growing and growing fast. But staff expertise, code contribution, and so on will take some time to be fully realized. There’s training, getting familiar with the tools, building capacity with local contractors and developers, all part of the “opportunity costs” of making the move.

So I expect the investment to pay off, and pay off BIG, and the financial crisis will likely accelerate an already growing trend towards OSS in libraries.