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Comment of the day plus bonus ‘ouch’ of the day

Comment of the day

I found myself returning back a couple of times to Ken’s comment in reply to Karen Coyle’s post on the III SkyRiver lawsuit against OCLC:

I see your point about the ‘zero sum game’–to a point. However if we take a broader, more inclusive view of the ‘library function’ we’d see it’s a *booming* market-and seems to be practically recession proof. Google’s mission statement defines it squarely as a ‘library’ company. Interviewed in Wired their CEO proudly talks about how they are ‘good now at cataloguing and indexing stuff’. And it’s not just commercial organisations like Google and Amazon that have ‘disrupted’ the conventional library market. Wikipedia and OpenLibrary are part of the growing ‘social economy’. So I think the action is a symptom of a much wider change. ‘Conventional’ libraries and library companies are scrambling around trying to get their slice of the ‘zero sum game’ because they can’t see beyond it and develop radically new services and products. They are leaving it to others. It’s the ‘Innovator’s dilemma’ if you like.

It summarizes nicely some thoughts I’ve been harbouring for some time as well. Apologies to Ken, but I didn’t have the time to get a Blogger account to view your profile to cite your name more fully.

Ouch of the day — ‘We were thinking about librarians’

Tuesday’s Ottawa Citizen carried an article (original here) on the “wild ducks” at IBM’s Almaden labs, where the company gives its employees a significant amount of leeway to run amok with creative and innovative technological explorations – kind of a think lab on steroids.  Here’s an extract that struck me:

Some projects don’t pan out. In the early 1990s, Haas and IBM’s database management team wanted to figure out a way of searching the web, something that didn’t click.

“If we did it right, we might have invented search before Google,” Haas said. “Be we had the wrong model, and we totally missed the boat. We were thinking about librarians.” [my emphasis]


I also like the quote that “We’re different. It takes a different kind of craziness here” — an appropriate statement on what I think we need a bit more of in the library community.

Koha manoeuvres

Very interesting developments in the Koha community, with lots of discussion brewing since Liblime announced its enterprise version last week. Lots of concerns about forks (read also atz’s comments), and a public response from Liblime’s CEO – it’s worth following that thread.

Not being a Koha user, I don’t have much of an immediate stake in the maneuvering going on, but I was struck by Marshall Breeding’s Open Letter to the Koha community where he writes:

There comes a point where an open source software projects grows beyond what can be managed through informal channels…Recent events suggest that it’s time to take a closer look at the governance of the Koha project.

I suggest a shift from a community comprised of developers to that of a community focused on the libraries that use the software.

I appreciate Breeding’s industry reviews, but I have to say that he’s been a bit of a downer and confusion-monger on open source IMHO: late on the train, and mis-reading the terrain. The observation about “informal channels” is both inaccurate and a bit of a red herring, and so is the suggestion that “a community comprised of developers” is what needs to be shifted to one “focused on the libraries that use the software.”

On “what can be managed through informal channels,” what is he talking about? Anybody with even the minimal experience with these communities can quickly see much blood, sweat and effort goes into “formal channels,” however you want to define them: commercial support options, community investment models (foundations, vendors, sponsorships, etc.),  documentation and support, exploring business models, community growing, and so on. But does a small technology startup become Cisco Systems overnight? How many years did it take for some of the more successful FLOSS projects to ‘mature’? The fact is there is running software out there successfully implanted in a fast growing segment of libraries.

Second, many of these developers are straight from the library community and the developer orientation – to the extent that you can imply it’s a dominating community feature  – is and was needed due to the limited leadership and vision coming out of the library land to make sensible technology investment decisions. Without them, you can’t build something from nothing, and that libraries are somehow divorced from this process is ludicrous. You just couldn’t have had the success that projects like Koha, Evergreen and others have achieved without the focus being on  “libraries that use the software.”

In fact, it’s overwhelmingly the case that library involvement and control is one of the key business drivers for the selection of a FL/OSS system.

On the foundation proposal — a brash opportunistic plug for the OLE approach — this is nothing new (the open letter was posted before any of the dust settled – LOL). Foundation support has been discussed in the community for years but there’s effort and organization involved and no shortage of other high priority developments that need to be addressed.  So recent events have Liblime re-examining Foundation development, and other Koha community memberships are looking at options too. But not much interest expressed in the OLE model and further, a very challenging thing to pull off any way you take it.  Foundation support also won’t address the immediate concerns about Liblime’s direction etc.

The periodic ‘spasms’, tweaks in vendors’ business models, blowout discussions about forks, and so on – all of that is important, expected, and part of the terrain to be negotiated.   There should be no surprises here, and I’m glad to see that at least it’s out in the open for all to see and assess…

CISTI takes a hit

It’s been talked about offline for a few weeks now, but I haven’t seen much on this sad news:  CISTI has taken on some big cuts, and I’m told that about 40-50 CISTI librarian staff – from locations across the country – were given the pink slip.

The  Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) is Canada’s national science library and is internationally recognized for its support to science, technology, engineering and medicine, mainly through National Research Council (NRC) programs and partnerships.

It comes down to this:   Strategic Review process + Budget 2009 = program review cuts.

This is not good. Sign of the times?

Footnote:  NRC (National Research Council) not to be mistaken for NRCan (or Natural Resources Canada).