Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Revisited: Are OSS4Lib Networks Needed?

Over a year ago, I posted a piece entitled Are OSS4Lib Networks Needed? I argued that libraries have traditionally banded together to pool resources with the common goals of obtaining monographs, serials, and databases as economical as possible. The decision to develop or become involved with a library network is to affect a positive change on a library’s ability to plan and budget.

Unlike these cooperative efforts of the past, libraries have chosen to work independently on information system solutions. So, I asked this question: With the significant costs involved in the purchasing and maintenance commercial information systems why haven't more libraries banded together to build library systems?

A post by Joe Lucia to NGC4Lib presents a compelling case in support of this concept. He discusses a shift from an investment in commercial software support to a collaborative support environment for open source applications facilitated by regional networks.
"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... The success models are there and developing best practice frameworks and implementation support methods that will scale will not be rocket science."

"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...

I couldn't have said it any better.

The State of Ohio has a great resource in OhioLink. OhioLink is a consortium of 86 Ohio college and university libraries, and the State Library of Ohio, that work together to provide Ohio students, faculty and researchers with the information they need for teaching and research. Serving more than 600,000 students, faculty, and staff at all 87 institutions, OhioLINK’s membership includes 16 public/research universities, 23 community/technical colleges, 47 private colleges and the State Library of Ohio.

I have been in discussions for over the years involving concepts like a state-wide electronic document delivery system. They go nowhere. Right now, much of the technical site of the OhioLink system lies on the shoulders of Peter Murray and Thomas Dowling (There are a couple others, but they are the ones I know of) The usual response is they can provide a LAMP box for testing, but have no spare staff for development, let alone ongoing support. So, the question I have been posing for a while now is:

What if each of the 87 institutions provided 1/2 of an IT position to OhioLink as a condition of membership?

That would result in over 40 FTE developers. Not only would the state be able to build and maintain an vendor-based catalog system that uses open standards and service-oriented architecture, they could build other systems and services that could benefit the entire state rather then each struggling to find resources to do so. Imagine if each provided a full FTE!

The challenge that Joe will find is libraries are very protective of their IT resources. This issue became apparent to me in the question/answer period following my presentation at a Library 2.0 conference earlier this year. A library director asked how libraries can change from the siloed systems we currently have and adopt SOA. My response was essentially it is up to you! The discussion then turned to the limited numbers of IT human resources. (In my opinion, this is because too many library directors still equate all technical knowledge as being interchangeable and that all IT staff know everything. As a result, most libraries do not allocate enough resources into IT yet have high expectations of their limited staff. But, I digress.)

The challenge continues to be that libraries leaders/directors need to be willing to see the benefits and more importantly, willing to make the sacrifice. They control the resources and therefore hold all of the cards. So, having more of us out there talking to them like Joe, is key! (assuming, of course, that they are not in this communication space and not a part of the dialog).

There have been many of us out there evangelizing for over 10 years now, (Thanks, Dan Chudnov and Eric Lease Morgan, for helping me see the light!) and we are only now beginning to see some daylight. Sphere: Related Content

No comments: