Can you be trusted with Library 2.0?

If you haven’t been following along there has been an open discussion lately regarding ILS user rights and where OPACs are headed. In my recent post I wondered whether an open architecture might allow the faster paced changes that are needed in a technology and information-centric world. Since then Talis has responded again regarding John Blyberg’s response. I’m certain he will post with a better response since he has more first hand experience but I thought I’d address a few things.

First, I’ve read Talis’ whitepaper on Library 2.0 and have to say it has a lot of great ideas and states exactly what it should. In fact is says pretty much everything I would like to but in a much easier to sell to executive type language. For example:

Rather than being hidden in catalogues with a single web interface, stored in proprietary databases only visible via a project’s web site, or accessible only to users of certain machines physically connected to particular networks, Library 2.0 resources should be more widely exposed. They should be available to the wider web, visible to search engines such as Google, and harvestable into new applications and services built by the library, and by third parties.

Some bits are a bit confusing though and I don’t think I fully understand what they are attempting to do. They’re recent responses to John Blyberg’s posts make me even more wary. For example:

Looking at the issue from John’s end of the telescope it sounds so obvious and simple. Imagine looking at it from as a support analyst’s point of view. From her end of the telescope she can see [in Talis’ case] potentially 100+ Johns hacking away on their systems every day – a thought to drive you straight toward the caffeine in the morning!

So the whitepaper seems to give the impression that libraries should be able to build their own services while it would be a support nightmare for them to have access to the ILS data. Further reading of both the whitepaper and the various posts make me think that their idea of the Library 2.0 is a information stream and possibly even central datastore. The image I get is WorldCat with an API. You purchase streams in and out and build your services off that. I think such a thing might work for some but many would find giving up that level of control over their data and offerings.

I also disagree with the support argument as I’ve pointed out in a recent post if the architecture is done right so that “hacking” isn’t required then support can actually become easier as others have found. I also think the OPAC created by the 100+ Johns would likely be much better than any vendor supplied solution. With the amount of resources and integration required by many these days, a single solution just doesn’t work. What happens when an academic library needs to integrate with software that only exists at that university? While it’s nice that Talis has plans to include things like RSS, IM and the like how easy will it be for the library to add things that aren’t “hot technologies”?

It is a revamping of the whole architecture to get those nice to haves, and make it easy to add so so much more.

It’s good to see the architecture is being thought about. However I get the impression that the “easy to add” will be for vendors and their “approved partners”. The whitepaper had quite a few references to third-party partners and providers but didn’t really list libraries as being one of them that much.

Any SELECT which causes a substantial slow down in the performance of your ILS is dangerous for the reputation of your Library. Are you sure that all the bespoke work you do against your database is scalable, (eg RSS feeds) when used by the majority of you customers.

While I agree that such things could cause performance problems, having things more open could help a library scale as they want. I also think the reputation of the library is harmed when they have to answer patrons with “we’re waiting for the vendor”. Our university mail system recently had quite a few hick-ups that caused some hate and it went on for what many believed to be too long. The status message? “Waiting for patch from vendor”. Granted some things require core updates but others shouldn’t.

The message I’m starting to get from these conversations is that librarians can’t be trusted with library 2.0. That things will be different this time, don’t worry about it. I’ll be interested to see how it all turns out and how some of the open source ILS systems handle similar questions. What role should libraries have in their OPAC?

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2 Responses to “Can you be trusted with Library 2.0?”

  • 1
    casey20 Says:

    It strikes me that although vendors may reinvent the way that library users interact with library systems, they have no interest in disrupting the way that library systems interact with them.

    ILS vendors, from the dawn of time, have been trying to keep their customers’ data locked up in these little proprietary boxes. While that may be great for an ASP solution geared towards smaller shops, this strikes me as a fundamentally flawed business model when it comes to bigger customers.

    In my experience library patrons don’t give a crap about why your systems aren’t working. Whether you tell them that it is your fault or the fault of some company you pay tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money a year to really doesn’t matter — and why should it? A systems administrator’s job is to make things work, by whatever means necessary.

    I’m sure savvy places like Ann Arbor have dedicated development machines & databases and do benchmarking before rolling something out. And as long as the system isn’t running inside of some locked down or proprietary database, it’s (usually) easy to tell if some in-house generated program is making the database slow.

    100 John Blybergs + Georgia PINES = ?

  • 2
    panlibus Says:

    The rise of the Platform – Continuing the Library 2.0 discorse with Blyberg

    For those of you who haven’t been following this conversation, here is a brief history to for you: Nov 15th 2005 – Talis launch white paper Do Libraries Matter? The Rise of Library 2.0 at Talis Insight Conference 2005Nov 18th…