Tag Archives: Integrated Library System (ILS)

This is what I’m talking about…(Evergreen ILS)

Whenever I’ve talked to colleagues about our move to the Evergreen ILS, one of many “high level” overview criteria that gets discussed was our requirement for supporting vendor neutral discovery alternatives. Moving to a new ILS is one thing, but betting all the farm on a single discovery solution is a lesson we should have all learned: proprietary systems continue to significantly lock in customers either technically and/or via business model traps (e.g. witness the plethora of discussions on next gen catalogue listservs dealing with *basic* data access issues, or vendors hiding API’s behind costly add-on requirements, etc.).
Discovery interfaces

So when we discuss a slide like the one above, we make note of all the exciting work happening at the discovery level for augmenting your OPAC. There are some compelling proprietary solutions and lots of exciting open source projects now gaining visibility and marketplace traction. But where do you place your bet on? One of our requirements was NOT having to place any one single bet.. We need to invest in a foundation that values keeping our options open, and protecting our ongoing investment in the ILS.

Evergreen’s OPAC search is very good and getting better all the time. And there’s lots of exciting work in the pipe from the innovators at ESI as well as community implementors. But for those libraries (especially academics) looking for integrating other digital content, providing complementary feature sets, or just integrating the ILS with a pre-existing search toolbox, Evergreen’s openness and flexible API provides a refreshing and solid foundation.

So This is What I’m Talking About: Evergreen 1.6 with Endeca at McMaster University. Kudos to Wiktor for getting that started.

But wait, maybe Endeca is not your flavour. My colleague Warren Layton began some proof of concept work on a connector to vuFind. But vuFind not your cup of tea (where’s that Andrew Nagy when you need him!)? How about an Evergreen connector for Blacklight available in next Spring?

Or how about…we just say that things are just getting started. Evergreen’s providing us with a a solid and authoritative indexing engine for our OPAC, and now we also see how a diverse community is beginning to lay out the options, all-you-can-eat buffet style…

NRCan Library Update: our department uses Autonomy for full-text search of all website contents. We’ve recently been asked about exposing our Evergreen content into the site wide search, and hope to have something completed next Spring or early Summer. Right now, our current focus is our second and last phase of migrations into our new Evergreen system.

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.

Sydney Plus acquires Cuadra STAR product line

As users of Cuadra STAR, we were alerted late last week by Cuadra Associates of their acquisition by SydneyPlus Group of Companies. It was a considerate call to make, reassuring us that all will remain intact (management team, technical support and development staff to remain with the company, etc.). The deal was not unexpected given the current marketplace for smaller players like Cuadra Associates. There’s some news on the deal here.

Having worked in special libraries for the bulk of my career, I have a special fondness and high respect for the class of products that Cuadra STAR fits into. If you don’t know Cuadra STAR, you may have heard of a similar product in the same marketplace from InMagic. Both products have their strengths, but I personally give my thumbs up to STAR despite InMagic’s bigger market share.

I’ve used both products and I recall the sense of WTF I had with my first experience working with Innopac (and also later SirsiDynix’s Unicorn). With Cuadra STAR you can change indexes, work with non-MARC fields and databases, use one of their turnkey solutions or build your own from scratch.  You have accessible interfaces, very good API support (we’re big users of  Cuadra’s XML and STARDB APIs), and with a reasonable learning curve, STAR remains a strong candidate as a backend database for any special library. Affordable and cost-effective, I was always surprised how many smaller libraries still overlooked these tools in favour of the big clunkers.  For reasons I won’t go into detail here, we use both Cuadra STAR and Millennium in our shop (the former due to bibliographic database requirements that just can’t be met with the big clunker).

Cuadra STAR was in many ways providing a model for what I thought a big vendor systems should be like: cost-effective + turnkey options + general database functionality + power API support when the job requires it.  Cuadra Associates did well by not exercising any of the usual vendor lock-in tricks, so what data goes in can come out and their licensing model was reasonable. They’ve been around and stable for decades, so it looks as if this acquisition will be a good move for the privately held SidneyPlus.

As usual with these acquisitions, what will happen to the smaller company’s product? Clearly, SidneyPlus wants to get a foothold into those niche markets where most of Cuadra’s customers reside: special libraries, museums, archives and company libraries. In the short term, I don’t think Cuadra’s customers have much to worry about as it’ll take some time just to integrate the businesses, identify and exploit the synergies, etc.  And I can think of a lot of worse players to be driving this acquisition. It’ll also be good for Cuadra Associates: the company has a stable and loyal customer base, but marketing and growing the company to the next level would have been a serious challenge given the competitive pressures coming from open source as well as other vendors reaching into their marketplace.

So for now it’ll be in SidneyPlus’s court to decide: the usual customer grab, or something better for all their customers?

Right to Repair…(your ILS)

I saw an advocacy ad from the Automotive Industries Association’s Right to Repair campaign in my newspaper recently and it struck a chord (a similar US site here). Does this sound familiar:

Vehicle manufacturers are restricting access to tools, training and software to the aftermarket industry. Due to the increased sophistication of today’s vehicles, it is gradually becoming more difficult for independent repair facilities to access the information and develop the skills required to service vehicles.

I’ve always tried to give my dealer the benefit of the doubt, yet I always seem to get the bigger bills when I go there instead of my independent mechanic. These folks are courteous and professional, and I tend to end up there when I’m constrained for time (my independent mechanic is located much further from my office).

My last two repairs reminded me why I’ve always end up going back to my independent and why I’m sympathetic with the “right to repair.” With both recent major repairs I started out at the dealer, trusted their advice, agreed to proceed despite the high quoted figure, but at the last minute found the opportunity for a second opinion. Both times I needed an out of stock part, and during the delay just happened to call my independent mechanic for one or another reason and ended up chatting about the problem.

The most recent time, I saved well over $1000 pulling the car out of the repair queue and following the advice of my independent: different parts supplier and wiser advice.

So was my dealer trying to “rip me off?” Well, I don’t know but I don’t think so (at least not in any personal sense). I do know that the individuals I dealt with are hard working, courteous and professional (much like the ILS vendors I’ve dealt with). So what gives? It’s not so much a matter of “being ripped off” as it is who was better aligned with my interests. There was nothing personal like “let’s rip this guy off today” but rather the dealer wasn’t using the most competitive supplier for one of the expensive parts I needed, and in the other case didn’t give me the proper contextual advice (“hey George, this is an 8 year old car, do you really need to fix X in this manner since this is not a safety issue..”).

So it came down to who was most aligned with my interests, and what kind of marketplace serves my interests in the bigger picture. The independents do not have a “captured market” of warranty customers to bring in revenue, so they’ve got to serve your interests in ways that the dealers don’t, and thereby perform a much needed balance of options.

What’s interesting about the notion of “right to repair” is how such questions and issues pervade many sectors of the marketplace – we’re definitely not unique with this in the ILS space. And so we have our own “aftermarket” marketplace for discovery layer alternatives: with open source SOLR/Lucene derivatives, proprietary products like Endeca and many others which can help us “repair” or otherwise enhance the discovery part(s) of our ILS.

Next week’s Code4Lib 2008 conference will see an important update on the DLF ILS Discovery Interface Task Force API recommendation by Emily Lynema and Terry Reese. Keep an eye out for that report, especially if you’re in the process of selecting a new ILS (or reviewing your current one). It’s a good step towards protecting and enhancing your ILS investment, ensuring you have the necessary code/protocols in place to “repair” your ILS so that it could better integrate with vendor independent discovery systems.

The single source vendor should no longer be the only “repair shop” in town. You can find a copy of the draft report at the project home page wiki.