Friday, August 25, 2006

Are OPAC Vendors Days Numbered?

I just did a quick scan of the study report Software and Collaboration in Higher Education: A Study of Open Source Software by Paul N. Couran (Principal Investigator) and Rebecca J. Griffith

The Study was funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University, Foothill-De Anza Community College, Marist College, Indiana University, the University of Michigan, Stanford University, the University of North Carolina, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The report references librariy OPACs:

"These systems are used to catalogue library holdings. There are a number of commercial products available (Ex Libris, Endeavor), but consensus seems to be that these systems are clunky and outdated. One theory we heard is that vendors are reluctant to invest in upgrading these systems because the function of libraries is in such a state of transition, and it is not at all clear what activities the software will need to support five to ten years form now. A number of people speculated that an open source OPAC would make sense, though the same challenges would apply."

As is the lifecycle of all to many software companies, the reluctance of vendors to keep their systems up to date results in a dwindling of licensees. In time, these companies are financially supported by a handleful of licensees who pay an increasing amount for support and customization. The licensee becomes trapped by the vendor in since they have a large investment in the system!

The report also discusses the concept of an incubator of OSS projects. The benefit of this model is that it would provide a legal home for open source projects and reduce the overhead costs associated with setting up separate non-profit organizations for each one. While a different cocept that the open source resource sharing networks I have previously discussed, but is in the same spirit.

I suspect the the combination of open source and the reluctance of vendors to keep their systems up to date will result result in the demise of significant number of commerical library vendors in the next five years. The poor performance and outdated products of commercial OPAC products is due largely to the disconnect between developers in software firms and their customers. This should be an advantage to library developers, and the timing to look at open source networks/incubators is ripe. Sphere: Related Content


bcarson said...

I have been a library cataloger for seven years and a paraprofessional in technical services for an additional twelve. I have worked in five different public, academic and medical libraries and with five different library systems. (Innovative, NOTIS, Dynix, some Mac-based system whose name is the one thing I can't remember about it, and a homegrown system that was easily the worst of the lot).

I have never once used an OPAC to "catalogue library holdings." The cataloging module or interface of the ILS, yes, but never the OPAC.

I haven't read the report yet -- I intend to do so this weekend -- but it's rather sad that they didn't care to get the industry terminology right.

Darla Grediagin said...

I am currently starting to work with a program called KOHA. It is an opensource library catalog program. While I know it may not come with all the bells and whistles of the latest and greatest program, I also know that it will be easily updated. I will be able to stop giving money away to a company for support every year and use that money to add the bells and whistles that I want to my system. The only problem with the additions I make, Hmmm.... I have to share them with others. Wow, what is one of the major components of a librarian -- we share. I think open source will be a great way to go.

Anonymous said...

Yeah... I'd say that report paragraph took all of 3 minutes to write and 7 minutes to research. I can't fault the spelling, word usage or grammer, but it's content is real weak with little to convince me they actually looked at the subject. I've used Koha it's probably about 5 years away from hitting the functionality of DRA/SIRSI/DYNIX/EX LIBRIS/NOTIS/VTLS/NAME IT as of 2000. That paragraph could have used an actual librarians input.

ADHD Librarian said...

One public library I worked for had an very good approach to this sort of thing. They twice developed inhouse software, once stand alone and a second time on open source. Either of these systems were as good as any commercial product I've used and the first version (early 90s from memory) was better than the commercial product of the library I am at now.

Eric Schnell said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Schnell said...

Thanks for all the great comments! I would suspect many would disagree that KPHA lacks the functionality of commercial systems available six years ago. Some may argue that these systems function today as they did six years ago, which is the issue here. We need systems that fit into our customers current workflows, not those of three or even six years ago. OSS provides the tools to build (locally customizable) systems that have the potential to evolve much more quickly than commercial vendors could ever respond. There needs to be a culture and vision shift among library leaders for OSS4Lib to even begin to uncover its potential.