I'm seeking some help understanding here. From my perspective
(again, that of a long time vendor of "commercial software" having
recently moved to "commercial service for OSS software") this is
exactly what a number of us (LibLime, Evergreen, Index Data, CARE
Affiliates) are *trying* to do. We're not only providing the
services to allow libraries to adopt open source, we're also doing
the marketing and selling that libraries seem to require before
they'll even consider the option. It would seem to me that if
libraries would move to adopting the open source faster by working
with companies like these (or others) we would see a couple of
1. The shift to OSS logarithmically expand. This profession tends
to be low on risk taking until they see enough leaders move to show
them they won't get burned. The problem with leaders here moving is
that they do it with their own software support, which causes the
smaller, less resource rich institutions to balk thinking they can't
afford to do it. Yet, if we could get more business for the
commercial firms providing support, they'd grow and be more visible
and known to the rest of the profession -- who would then also follow
2. The commercial firms would also make a shift to using more open
source, more quickly. Existence they understand and they'll move
when they see the train is leaving the station. This will ultimately
benefit their customers, maybe not as much as the pure OSS adopters,
but then we all know, the pure OSS option won't be for everyone.
So, I think the "framework" is already in place or being put into
place by many of us. We've got mechanisms in place to minimize
forks. We've got software development controls in place. Now, maybe
someone wants to take exception because these are "for-profit" as
opposed to "non-profit" firms? But, if you really want to see
growth, more resources attracted to the cause, then the for-profit
status is the right vehicle. Sure, you don't want to see profits out
of line, anymore than you did in the proprietary side. But I think
if you've talked with any of the people leading these kinds of firms,
you'll usually find they're not driven by profit, they're driven by
altogether different causes ranging from "right-thing-to-do", "taking-
care-of-customers" to "just-want-to-produce-brilliant-code" to
personal satisfaction. Do they want to run successful, growing
companies? Sure, but so do librarians want to run successful
operations. The commons would be supported just a successfully and
I would argue, more so, with this framework.
If the same numbers Joe mentions came knocking on the doors of the
firms available to provide what is described, this train would
already be long gone from the station!
Isn't the right framework (slightly different I agree) to achieve
what Joe has described -- already there?
On Nov 7, 2007, at 11:28 AM, Chris Barr wrote:
> Hi Code4Libers,
> I am forwarding a post on NGC4Lib from Joe Lucia of Villanova
> (my boss) that I think might provoke some discussion here.
> Now back to work on that Code4Lib proposal...
> Chris Barr
> Villanova University
> From: Joseph Lucia <[log in to unmask]>
> Date: November 6, 2007 5:01:12 PM EST
> To: "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
> Subject: [NGC4LIB] A Thought Experiment
> Reply-To: Next generation catalogs for libraries
> <[log in to unmask]>
> My reply to Eric's message has spurred me on to share a few other
> thoughts that have been kicking around in my head about the success
> prospects for open source applications in libraries. What most
> frustrates me in a general sense is the degree to which in
> libraries our human capital and our financial resources are tied
> into commercial software that rarely meets our needs well. That is
> old news. The issue is how to break free of the inertia that keeps
> us in a technologically paralyzed state.
> I have initiated a number of conversations within the mid-
> Atlantic region about the very real potential for a shift of those
> investments from commercial software support (and staff technical
> support for commercial products) to a collaborative support
> environment for open source applications facilitated by our
> regional network (in this case Palinet, where, in the interest of
> full disclosure, I currently serve as board president).
> It is frightening for many to contemplate the leap to open
> source, but if there were a clear process and well-defined path,
> with technical partners able to provide assistance through the
> regional networks, I suspect some of the hesitancy to make this
> move, even among smaller libraries, might dissipate quickly.
> Within Palinet, for instance, we have a small regional public
> library system that has successfully made the transition to Koha
> and has been able to re-direct funds that used to go into software
> support to local initiatives. There's also a publlic library that
> has transitioned its public computing environment to Linux, at
> considerable savings and with reduced support & acquisition costs
> for technology. The success models are there and developing best
> practice frameworks and implementation support methods that will
> scale will not be rocket science.
> These are small test cases but I think they prove the concept.
> Evergreen is clearly a project on a much larger scale that is
> working. And it seems to be driven by the same economies I am
> trying to describe here. I look at my own technology budget and
> think about how much we expend annually for inferior commercial
> software. Then I ask myself what if I could find even just a
> handful of regional partners to pool funds and initiate a support &
> development consortium for Evergreen (as one obvious choice). I
> can easily envision a collaborative group of academic libraries
> identifying a million dollars of "liberated" software support funds
> within a year.
> What will it take to break this logjam? Is it intensive,
> informed outreach by people like myself to other directors? Is it
> credible tech support offerings from organizations such as regional
> consortia for open source applications? Is it both of these and more?
> If we look beyond money to personnel, the option looks even
> better. Let me suggest some numbers. What if, in the U.S., 50 ARL
> libraries, 20 large public libraries, 20 medium-sized academic
> libraries, and 20 Oberlin group libraries anted up one full-time
> technology position for collaborative open source development.
> That's 110 developers working on library applications with robust,
> quickly-implemented current Web technology -- not legacy stuff.
> There is not a company in the industry that I know of which has put
> that much technical effort into product development. With such a
> cohort of developers working in libraries on library technology
> needs -- and in light of the creativity and thoughtfulness evident
> on forums like this one -- I think we would quickly see radical
> change in the library technology arena. Instead of being technology
> followers, I venture to say that libraries might once again become
> leaders. Let's add to the pool some talent from beyond the U.S. --
> say !
> 20 libraries in Canada, 10 in Australia, and 10 in the U.K. put
> staff into the pool. We've now got 150 developers in this little
> start-up. Then we begin pouring our current software support funds
> into regional collaboratives. Within a year or two, we could be re-
> directing 10s of millions of dollars into regional technology
> development partnerships sponsored by and housed within the
> regional consortia, supporting and extending the work of
> libraries. The potential for innovation and rapid deployment of
> new tools boggles the mind. The resources at our disposal in this
> scenario dwarf what any software vendor in our small application
> space is ever going to support. And, as is implicit in all I've
> said, the NGC is just the tip of the iceberg.
> Yes, we'd need to establish sound open source management
> protocols and we'd have to guard against forks and splintering of
> effort that might undermine the best possible outcomes. But I keep
> thinking about how successful Linux has been, with developers
> around the world. Surely librarians and library technologists
> could evolve a collaborative environment where we'd "play nice" and
> produce good results for all.
> Let me add one more point. Libraries are committed to the
> notion of the "commons." Libraries are in fact one of the last
> best hopes for the preservation of the intellectual commons. That
> value system should extend to the intellectual work we do on our
> access systems. We should reclaim the domain of library technology
> from the commercial and proprietary realms and actualize is as part
> of our vision of the commons. I think there's a clear path to that
> end. We are also congenital collaborators. Can you think of any
> other group of institions that share their stuff the way we do
> through ILL? So how can we marshal the courage to make open source
> technology happen in more than a few isolated library environments?
> BTW, we at Villanova are looking seriously at migration module by
> module over the next year from commercial applications to open
> source solutions in every area where this is a viable option. I
> intend to put my money where my mouth is. VuFind is the first
> (necessary) step.
> Joe Lucia
> University Librarian
> Villanova University