There is no virtue in being right

Dan Scott has just alerted us to an article in Information Technology and Libraries - it is called A Comparative Study of the OPACs of Koha, Evergreen and Voyager by Sharon Q. Yang and Melissa A. Hofmann.  Read it here if you're an ALA member or in your friendly library database if not.  Here's the thing, Dan points out many problems with the findings of the researchers in regard to the Evergreen OPAC.  Why the title of this post?   I have no doubt that Dan is right, but darn it all, lots of folks will read that article and come away with some wrong impressions of Evergreen and possibly Koha and Voyager too.  The article is published in a journal that lots of people respect, no matter how much we protest, it is very likely that many, many people will take it at face value.  Still, if you know Evergreen, or Koha or Voyager I encourage you to follow Dan's lead and check what Yang and Hoffmann have said.  Publish what you find on your blog or add comments to Dan's post.  Maybe go directly to the researchers if possible.  Let's not fall prey to poorly researched and reviewed articles to help us make our decisions.  Let's think for ourselves, let's figure it out for ourselves, let's be the darn information experts we're supposed to be.  If you've really done your homework and you choose a proprietary system over open source then good on ya.  But don't just read a few articles and then put out a traditional RFP that pretty much cuts open source out of your choices right off the bat.  I repeat, be your own information expert. 


Almost a strike at MPOW

Well, it seems as though we've missed being out on strike by the skin of our teeth - 51% in favour of accepting the contract on offer.  There's so much going on here that it is hard to describe it all.  At one point the union had a vote in favour of a strike and at that point, I didn't want to go out.  Then when I really understood the detrimental affects that this contract will have on the full time work force in the system where I work, I changed my mind...  I'm in a union with teaching faculty and counsellors, and at my particular college, we are at 50% full-time workers and 50% part-time workers - it is only going to get worse over the next 3 years under this new contract.  What we've done by signing this contract is give our management the ability to "ask" some people to take on bigger classes & extra work.  If (read "when") they do, the workload formula will be adjusted and they'll make slightly more money - not a lot IMHO.  And what will also happen, is that the college can then lay people off, because if some do more, then we can do with fewer employees.
I'm angry at myself for not figuring all of this out sooner and I'm angry at my union for not better communicating the problems with this contract.  We've gone out on strike more than once to get and then protect the standard workload formula that helps cap class sizes and give instructors and the college a formula with which to figure out compensation for time spent.  Now we've just given it all up.  We have part timers in our union, it is believed that they turned the tide against a strike, naively believing that they need to keep working and doing a good job so that someday they can become full-time.  Not gonna happen and it is a shame they couldn't see that.  And I can't help but wonder about those close to retirement - did they vote to accept - they've had their ride on the gravy train and they'll retire to fully indexed pensions, who cares about anyone else?
We are very well paid for what we do and we have great benefits, it would have been well worth accepting a 3 or 4  year wage freeze (yes freeze) in order to protect the Standard Workload Formula.  We've gotten greedy, only paying attention to raises and this is the consequence.  There was a time when being a government employee meant accepting a lower wage, relatively speaking, because benefits and job security were so good, and because we are civil servants, tax payers pay our salaries.  I don't know of another sector of librarians in my province, hell, in my country that has the salary range that I do in my system.  So many people are unemployeed, under-employeed, what makes us think we're so special??  It ain't all about money.  


Does Confidence Equal Ability?

Just read this post over on Open Education.  They mention a survey, Young people's writing: Attitudes, behaviour and the role of technology, done by the National Literacy Trust in the UK and it got me wondering - why are we only asking students about their own confidence in their abilities?  Seems like a bit of a no brainer to me that students who are confident in their reading and writing abilities do more of it .... but does that high self-confidence translate into better abilities?  I'm off to read the survey and see if they address my question or not.  More Later.
Back again a couple of months later - the survey doesn't address abilities at all, just students' own judgements of their own literacy.  Call me dense, I don't get it.


The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver's Latest

Yes, it is another book review.  I can't resist, after the disappointment of Irving's latest, I had to write about how much I enjoyed Kingsolver's new one.  She is another author I've followed since her first book and has long been a favourite.  Unlike Irving, she manages to write about lots of different things, people and places.  Yes, her social conscience comes through in her themes but that's where the similarities from book to book end.  No young boy killing a woman with a baseball hit in one book and tweaked into a young boy killing a woman with a frying pan in another for Ms. Kingsolver.
The Lacuna is about a Mexican American writer, Harrison Shepherd,  who goes back and forth between the US and Mexico and isn't really at home in either country.  The book covers his life from the 1930's to the 1950s.  He meets and works for artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and through them meets and works for Trotsky, all in Mexico.  The book is an amalgamation of diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings and though the character never uses the word "I" once in the entire book, the reader grows to know him well.  No more on plot or story, suffice it to say Shepherd's relationships with Kahlo, Rivera and Trotsky get him in trouble with the House Committee on un-American activities after he moves back to the States to live and write his novels.  To find out more, you'll just have to read it for yourself.
Kingsolver manages to touch and provoke without ever becoming preachy. Her writing is a joy to read, as always.  This is a marvelous book, I read it slowly because I didn't want it to end.


My Ex-Favourite Author

John Irving's new book "Last Night in Twisted River" has driven me to give up on him. I say it here and now, I am unlikely to ever purchase or read another Irving book.  I've read everything the man has written and claimed him as my favourite author pretty much since the beginning.  After 'Widow for a Year", he was down-graded to being called one of my favourite authors and now, well, I'll still recommend the older stuff, but I will not let him indulge in his obsessive need to explore the stuff he explores in almost every book at my expense anymore.  No more with the wrestling, running, bears, farting dogs, one big strong woman, one cranky, opinionated man, etc.  I'm done.  Move on already I say.  He has explored this to death as far as I'm concerned.
To add insult to injury, the autobiographical tid-bits in this book are blatant and obvious and Irving says, according to the Toronto Star, that they are "...deliberately a little mischievous."  Well, you know what? I think that's just too self-serving.
Now, here's the rub - I can't say he isn't a good writer, if I'd hadn't read any of his other books, I'd probably like this book but I have, so I don't.  'Nuff said. Well almost, one more thing -  my friend Angela gave up on him years ago, she was right!


Last Word on Stephen Abram's OS Position Paper

I hereby grant the last word on Stephen Abram's Open Source Position Paper to Mark Leggott at UPEI. 

His response is thoughtful and deliberately without data but oh, so full of truth and rightness.  Thanks Mark.  There are those who say that this is not about not about the dark side vs. the light side but in many ways it is.  I say, thank goodness that Mr. Leggott is on the light side, the good side, the right side.


Stephen Abram goads me enough to blog!!

So much for resolutions.  Think I said, I'd try to post once a week, well not even one since February!  I wonder if there are resolution police around anywhere??  Since I resolved to blog more at the beginning of this year, Twitter has absolutely exploded. I'm not there, not going there, don't want to talk about it.  I prefer to read blog posts.  Good and bad about Twitter is all over the 'net, you don't need to hear it from me, and I digress...

Stephen Abram's Open Source Position Paper has driven me to a response.   I first learned about the document on the Evergreen general mailing list.  It was in a discussion that started about a Library Journal article about the paper.  I posted my knee jerk reaction on the mailing list.  Folks have encouraged me to put it up on the web, so it is below, in its entirety.  To get the full picture you really need to read his paper -  here -  the post is entitled "It is about respectful Discussion".  Be sure to read all of the comments on Stephen's post, lots of thoughtful folks talking to him.

If you're following this at all, you also want to see this totally non-library response from ITwire. 

My headings follow the headings in Abram's paper:

TCO:  We handled our own migration to EG, a possibility that Abram doesn't address. Our hardware costs were under $10,000CAD.  We migrated early in the last year of our support contract with our proprietary system - essentially having access to both systems for about 7 months.  We could never have afforded to do that if we'd been migrating to a new proprietary system.  Has it cost us in time?  Of course it has, but I once spent the better part of a year on a DRA to Dynix migration (not to mention the year before that dealing with the whole RFP & decision making process) AND we spent approx. CAD$180,000.00 on hardware, software and training - that was many years ago and in a pretty small library system - I'd hate to think what a migration to an SD system would cost today. But of course I wouldn't know would I?  Those companies ask us to sign confidentiality documents around quotes.  We do have a develpment contract for some work from Equinox and no one has asked us to sign any confidientiality documents around the work or the quote.  The time investment in learning about Dynix hasn't helped me much with other systems - none of their standards or software are the same as anything else I've encountered. The time invested in learning about and implementing EG has given me sustainable, transferable knowlege that will help me and the institution I work for well into the future.   Oh and yes indeedy it is free like in kittens not beer but kittens last a lot longer than beer, much as I enjoy a good beer, kittens are a way better ROI, don't ya think?  Last on this point -  let's not forget about paying for own data when we migrate from one system to another - we won't have to do that if we ever migrate from EG.

Opportunity Costs:  "Some software isn't compatible with open source".  Is he kidding?  Like any proprietary system is compatable with all software!!!  We had to pay for extra programming to make sure our former mythical beast of an ILS was searchable in the federated search product that we chose.

SaaS - FUD, total FUD mongering.  I have no comment.

Features and Functions:  I'll admit that the EG cataloguing module isn't the most user friendly thing I've ever used but since 90% of our cataloguing is done by a vendor, it's not a great issue for us. We migrated from a pretty old SD OPAC so for us the EG OPAC is more feature rich but I get that there more bells and whistles in other SD products than the one we used.
As for SD being the most robust and feature rich system on the market??? Why did Georgia decide to build their own ILS?  Why is Queens PL suing SD over what are essentially broken promises???

Customization: "Probably the most attractive claim by the open source community is its ability to be customized by anyone, for anyone. This claim is technically true."  I almost want to say 'nuff said.  But I can't help remembering being sold on being able to do minor customizations to Horizon, only to find that stuff we did would be undone by minor upgrades.  At least in EG we can track our own tweaks and just re-do them after an upgrade if need be and instead of getting surprises, we'll know what tweaks won't go with an upgrade, because not only did we make the tweaks but we can also see the code.

Security: I think this is just more FUD.  Others more qualified than me should address this if possible.  update based on itwire post:  the US DoD is embracing open source - think they'd do it if was generally not secure???

Networking:  Doesn't relying on more open standards stand us in better stead?  Keeping up with changes to browsers and operating systems is difficult for all of us, proprietary or open source.

Necessary Expertise:  I am aware of the budget cuts to libraries over the decades that caused us to lose systems and other positions over the years. So I lay no blame for giving up a lot of power over our own destinies.  But this loss has caused us to rely much too heavily on proprietary vendors methinks. I think that building the "necessary expertise" is crucial to the future of libraries. We are the organizing experts, as more and more digital repositories are created, more open publishing at our institutions happens, we need to be the ones who help with organizing and access to this stuff.  In many ways I agree with Clifford Lynch when he wonders about the cost and time and effort being spent to create something that essentially already exists.  But this is a case of going back to school, learning about our principles and standards either again or for the very first time - taking back ownership of our own systems is a very good thing.  If it feels like a step backwards to some, so be it, eventually it will lead to huge steps forward.

Testing:  I've said this once and I'll say it again, is he kidding??  Those big proprietary systems are impossible to test thoroughly,  there is no one who is familiar with the entire history of their development. I remember a Horizon support guy telling me they'd never be able to release a new feature if they had to be completely & totally sure that it wouldn't break anything.  We're all familiar with waiting for others to apply patches and do upgrades first to avoid that early adopter disaster.  This is actually the way of a lot of software isn't it? Early adopters do take their chances. At least right now, the EG and KOHA developers are all intimately familiar with their systems and if they don't catch "breaks" that will be caused by an upgrade before they happen, they'll often be able to get to the source and fix it with a really good patch, not a quick fix that causes other problems, etc. etc. etc.

Integration:  Mostly agree with what he says here, but would add that with Open Source you're more likely to be able to understand compatability issues 'cause you can see the code!!

Community Driven:  I suppose I can concede that there is a big, mostly thriving Sirsi Dynix community but has anyone ever rec'd a reply to a query or problem almost instantly from SD developers???

Scalability:  I think he goes into territory he doesn't know much about here. Remember that Georgia didn't have enough confidence in any of the proprieatry systems in that department. Yes EG was developed for a specific consortium but Conifer and BC Sitka and others exist so the specifics for Georgia haven't made it impossible for other consortiums to use EG.

Speed:  This is such a red herring.  So many things can cause speed issues it is almost impossible to decide that one system is faster than another.  Our EG system is totally zippy - but I know better than to say that is way faster than the mythical beast that we left because we were part of a consortium using a pretty old version of the OPAC - apples to oranges.

Reliability:  I truly don't know how he has the nerve to discuss reliability.  Think of what SD did to their Horizon customers. I still struggle to contain my outrage about that and my library wasn't directly affected!!  That DRA to Dynix migration I participated in?  Forced, by the end of the life of DRA.  No software is totally reliable ... at least if the EG community dies or forks irrevocably, we have our data and our system and can keep it running just fine while we decide what to do next. 

Open Source and Libraries:  More FUD.  Lynch has already clarified what he was saying.  Libraries need to explore open source and proprietary solutions and based on their needs, I don't think it is a matter of open source all the time but I gotta admit, we look for those first.

SD on Open Source:  Who cares?? - just like I wouldn't listen to the tobacco industry about smoking I'm not going to take advice on open source from a company who stands to gain by turning libraries away from open source solutions.

Caveat emptor indeed!  I totally agree with him on that one and it is why I would not go near SD with a ten foot pole, given a choice.