Library Automation – where are we?

It is always worth reading Marshall Breeding’s analysis of the happenings in the Library automation business, and his recent offering Automation Marketplace 2011:The New Frontier is no exception. We’ve been hearing about some of the new offerings for some time, so it was useful to hear about who has decided to take a gamble on Ex Libris’s Alma and OCLC’s Web Scale Management Services, the first of the new generation of systems to be taken up.

At a meeting I attended today, there was some discussion about some Australian libraries signing up to be early adopters as well.

One thing puzzles me.

With the growth in open source, and in particular with Kuali OLE appearing on the horizon, why would a Library lock themselves into an agreement with any company to be an early adopter of one of these systems, when the potential of a completely new approach to library systems is just around the corner? I know that you shouldn’t wait for timing to be perfect in the technology market or you may never get anything, but is any Library so desparate for a new system right now that they can’t wait a couple of years to see if open source delivers?

We have seen some significant pronouncements about open source adoption in Australian. As long ago as 2007, NSLA (National and State Libraries of Australasia) produced The Big Bang which stated

NSLA Libraries will encourage collecting institutions in their state or territory to implement open source.

We saw NLA lead by example with the implementation of vufind.

More recently, in a policy approved in December 2010 and circulated  in January 2011, the Australian Government informed agencies of the requirement to consider open source software in all software procurements .

We’ve seen a number of Australian universities moving to Moodle as their Learning Management System, so all the groundwork has been done in terms of developing policies and risk assessments for moving to open source.

So why throw away the option of freeing your library from the constraints imposed by vendors that we have all complained about for decades, and of moving to an environment where we could make our systems client centred? This really smells like a vendor locking in customers before we all jump ship. All I can say is it must have been a really good deal.

 I’d rather put my faith in Brad Wheeler and co. 

10 ways public libraries help build social capital

  1. Provide access to information and assistance in finding information to build a better informed community
  2. Provide training  in seeking information to build a more self-cufficient community
  3. Provide recreational material to build a happier engaged community
  4. Provide equitable access to virtual communities to build a connected community
  5. Provide training to build a community which has a voice using all communication channels
  6. Provide opportunity to access electronic servicse to build a serviced community
  7. Provide a safe and pleasant environment to visit to build a supportive community
  8. Provide a safe venue to meet with others to build a connected community
  9. Provide trusted advice to build an informed and trusting community
  10. Provide training and access to training to build a community that is learning

New job title – new focus

One of the advantages I have found to getting old is the depth of experience that I have available to draw on when faced with new challenges and new environments. Since starting my new job, I’ve needed to shift my focus and reflect and question, and I have found it useful to think back across all those years of varied experiences and to draw on successes and failures from the past, reshaped for the present or the future. Sometimes I get odd comments about someone my age being involved with new technology, but as long as I keep an open mind, am willing to learn and question, experiment and listen, I don’t think my age should have anything to do with how effective I can be.

So what does innovation mean? Has the meaning changed over the last 20 years? I don’t even remember the term being used 20 years ago in the same way it is now, especially in libraries. I think we felt that our role was clear, that we knew what our customers expected of us and the technology (such as it was). The internet and more importantly, the interactive web, has changed all that.

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Shifting IT directions – setting library free?

I had a very interesting discussion with a colleague today about where IT is heading. She indicated that following a period of centralisation and the move to shared services, we are seeing the beginnings of a shift to some decentralisation. She suggested that the motives of IT in this shift were not always honourable (libraries are too hard, too demanding, too informed, too expensive to support , a damned nuisance etc), but that nevertheless there are opportunities for libraries in this move.

All the good reasons for centralisation in a corporate environment (development of standard environments, reduction in costs, sharing of scarce and expensive expertise, economies of scale, single point of contact etc) can actively work against the ability of the library to provide the services it has a mandate to provide to its customers. It can certainly limit the ability of the library to experiment and ‘play’ with the emerging technologies to determine if and how they can be of benefit.

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Death of a vision

When I wrote my last post I was hopeful and optimistic about the outcome of the review. My silence since then reflects my sadness and frustration at the result. I put so much into the process and was so burnt out that I am no longer working for that worthy library, and have moved on to greener pastures (literally, no red dirt around here!). Those feelings weren’t the only reasons for my moving on, but they did play some part.

Now that some time has gone by, I am again positive, optimistic and creative – and now feel strong enough and distant enough to reflect on the review process and the outcome, at least to the point at which I left.

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IT services review

Our proposed plan for the review has now been submitted. In general it consists of the following plan.

 Stage 1. Vision

This stage involves getting all key stakeholders together with an external facilitator to brainstorm what we want from our ICT environment. This is much wider than a list of services, and at a much higher level than a Service Catalogue. When I think of this stage, I think of words like 

  • flexible
  • responsive
  • agile
  • standards-based
  • customer focused
  • consultative
  • transparent
  • accountable
  • efficient
  • well resourced

I’m sure I’ll think of many more. If possible, the group would also attempt to develop a vision and mission statement, or at least some alternatives. These will then be made available online for a defined short period of time for discussion by any member of staff. Once time’s up, the Project Team will incorporate that feedback and develop a final vision and mission statement for submission to the Steering Committee.

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VALA – day 2

I have been extremely impressed with the keynote speakers from this conference. I commented previously about Andy Powell’s opening address, and Schubert Foo’s discussion of the initiatives taking place at the National Library of Singapore was truly inspirational. The award winning building shows what could be done with clever design. For me the most thought provoking idea was that their virtual reference services are including conversations with ‘experts’ such as academics and amateur enthusiasts from outside the Library – and the delivery of the answer to the requester includes the conversation used to establish the response. This also becomes part of the knowledge base which is then available for future querying.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Michael Geist’saddress on public policy and legislation which relates to the internet. But I was fascinated by his example of mustering public support to challenge copyright law by using Facebook, although a bit unsettled. While it is easy for a librarian like me to support this use of facebook and other social networking tools, the power of the people that this demonstrates has enormous implications for social change.

I have certainly experienced the power for connecting people, but I hadn’t seen such a clear demonstration of manipulation of public action before. I am a member of the Perth People Who HATE Daylight Savinggroup on facebook, but hasn’t generated the sort of impact that Michael’s has – maybe that is a reflection of our Australian laid back attitude to political issues. My family would say it is because daylight saving is just fine……but I digress.