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My slides from Conferencepalooza 2010

The downside of using very picturey slides is that I don’t think they can stand online on their own, which means that “post slides” slips (and slides ) further down my “to do” list every day. I was fortunate to give several presentations about my slice of Bibliomation’s Evergreen project at Computers in Libraries, Connecticut Library Association’s annual conference, and Evergreen 2010. I copresented with Amy Terlaga of Bibliomation at CiL, and Melissa Lefebvre of Bibliomation and Gary Giannelli of Ferguson Library at CLA. Their slides are forthcoming.

Bibliomation is a consortium of 48 public and 24 school libraries planning a migration to Evergreen. I came on as part of the Open Source team to work on the BibliOak project. In order to prepare for the migration, Bibliomation wanted to bring some libraries up on Evergreen before the big migration. A few consortia have done this by asking for volunteers from within their members. Bibliomation put a call out to nonmembers, recruiting a group of small libraries as development partners.

I spend a lot of my time driving around the state, meeting with and training the staff at these small libraries. The idea with the development partners is that they’ll provide lots of feedback and we’ll funnel it into the larger Evergreen community. This library is our smallest BibliOak library. They don’t have an ILS or a bathroom. I love going there, but I made sure I knew where all the Dunkin Donuts were along the way.

We have two groups of libraries – our current membership and our development partners. So we’re getting two very different types of feedback and addressing two sets of concerns. Our members are concerned about what they might lose, what they could gain. They’re using a modern ILS and while they have to migrate no matter what, they want to minimize the impact on their work and their patrons. The development partners either aren’t automated or are using much older ILS. The change to Evergreen is huge for them. I originally thought that the two groups would be like oranges and kumquats – different, but similar. Now that we’re migrating libraries, it’s clear that each library has it’s own concerns and it’s harder to lump them together like that. It’s more like oranges, kumquats, grapefruits, pomelos…

Keeping FUD to a minimum is a huge part of the lead-up to this migration. The development partners are operating on much shorter timelines than the membership and they’re expecting huge changes. Our members want something better than what they’ve got, and they have a collective and individual love-hate relationship with their ILS. I think it’s a pretty typical library/ILS dysfunctional relationship: “I hate it, but it’s probably the best there is and I love this one feature, so I don’t want to lose that…” We’ve all been there – it’s a dynamic borne not out of software limitations, but out of a feeling of powerlessness.

Since our development partners are either not automated, or using systems that remind me of playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” on an Apple IIgs, I foolishly assumed that this change would be smoother sailing for them. Moving from an outdated system to shiny, modern (cutting edge, even) automation would be great! But it’s still major change, and it’s still stressful…

Even when we sign up for it, massive change is hard. It’s so cliche to say that, but it’s so true. A new ILS is like a new job for most library staff, especially if they’ve never been through a migration before. Because our development partners are not on systems we’re familiar with, we’re unable to show them crosswalks in Evergreen and often, they don’t exist because their legacy systems are dated. My coworkers are all extremely well-versed in Horizon, so they’re able to provide a Horizon to Evergreen translation for our members. Anyone who’s migrated from one major system to another has been through that, but our development partners are just jumping in the deep end, which is wonderful, but a heck of a lot of work. Also, they’re not only getting a wildly different system, they’re joining a consortium, which brings up a whole other set of issues.

So, I spend a lot of time unpacking Evergreen issues from consortial issues. Things like centralized cataloging, intralibrary loans, and standardized barcodes are consortial. Barcode problems can take a tremendous amount of time to fix (and can be totally maddening), but they have nothing to do with Evergreen.

Between learning about consoria and Evergreen, problem-solving, training and migrations, the thing that I’ve found the most surprising is how my own understanding and explanations of open source software has evolved.

The story we’ve (and I’m using we here to mean the broader library-tech community and yes, I know, it’s a sweeping generalization) all been telling about OS tends towards OS=magic. We’ve created a lot of false expectations. The model most people are familiar with is Firefox, which is software used by individuals. Evergreen is software used by organizations, typically networks of organizations. It’s a completely different animal.

When we start talking about open source, the first thing we start talking about seems to be the code. Which makes sense – it’s the source in “open source” – but isn’t helpful for people who don’t know how code and development work. When libraries start asking for complete overhauls of the software, saying “that can’t be too many lines of code, can it?” it’s a sign that the real story of open source isn’t clear.

An open source ILS is a lot like many other library resources. We have a shared classification system that we work together to improve and maintain. Libraries that devise their own classification system would need more staff to maintain it. But it’s not magic and we’re inviting disappointment with that explanation.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I think that when we talk about open source in libraries, the emphasis needs to be on the community around it. Community-driven development is incredibly powerful – it’s the community that makes my heart skip a beat every time I see libraries pulling together to fund development of a feature or figure out a solution to a problem.

“hey, we can all see the code” is an incredible part of open source that only matters to the small group of people who can do something with it. For the rest of us, the power of open source comes in moving past that feeling of helplessness that plagues us in our relationships with proprietary products.

I’m closing with this picture, because I don’t want people to come away from my presentations (or this post) thinking I’m offering a negative spin on open source. Evergreen is wonderful, the community around it even more so. This is the display case from one of our development partners. They modified a “Happy Birthday” banner to say “Happy Day” for their move to Evergreen.

We have eight public libraries and three school libraries in our development partner group. The consortium itself has migrated a number of times. By the time we’ve moved the entire consortium to Evergreen, we’ll have quite the wellspring of migration horror stories. It’s fun to talk about glitches, barcodes gone awry, the ISBNs that got away, but it’s not the whole story.

Open source is here. Happy Day!


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