I’ve become more and more convened over the past year talking to directors that for OSS development to be accepted as a part of the library community, it’s going to have to become a mainstream service.  Too much R&D in libraries is done as part of an individual, student or demo project.  To a large degree, front-line workers and developers within the library community have a healthy bent towards OSS.  But organizational attitudes change slower and these are the ones that tend to matter.  So, I’m going to be taking a different course over this next year — at least within my own small part of the world. 

Over the past three months, I’ve been leading a group looking at next generation ILS services for our regional consortia, Summit.  Summit is a consortia made up of 33 academic libraries throughout Oregon and Washington — with all system’s being Innovative.  This is due to the fact that III’s consortia software really only works with III libraries.  In looking at the various options available — we’ve tried to keep an open mind.  I’ve been running copies of Koha and Evergreen over the past month to look at current functionality within a very untraditional consortial setting, folks have spoken to vendors like Endeca, Aquabrowser, III and OCLC as well as others.  In all, the process has showed me a couple of things.

  1. Given that this decision will be just on the consortia database, our options are somewhat limited.  III doesn’t make the process of having an outside vendor interact with the Innreach system easy — though we’ve been told it could be done.  This means that we migrate off III as a group (can’t see that happening), partnering with III (what I think many would consider to be the safer, least disruptive choice), working closely with OCLC —  though the second and third options don’t hold much appeal to me personally. 
  2. Which leads me to number 2 — while the consortia has more than enough talent to develop an inhouse solution — the organization infrastructure simply doesn’t exist to allow such a solution to be considered. 

The second realization is what struck me most.  I spend a great deal of my time helping folks within the Pacific NW implement tools around their ILS — but there really isn’t a centralized or formalized R&D process within the consortia — and for a group this large, that seems to be a shame.  There is a lot of talent tied up within the 33 member organizations, the question is how to get at it.

Well, I’ve got an idea.  While my group really cannot make a recommendation related to the current software available (we can talk about what’s available and what I believe to be the future trends) — I can advise that we formalize an R&D group within the consortia.  Fortunately, Summit is hiring a digital library coordinator — and I think that this position would be perfect to lead this group.  I envision a committee that could be used to:

  1. coordinate Summit development efforts and investigate options like SOPAC, metasearching within a consortial environment, OpenURL within a consortial environment, etc.
  2. provide Summit with shared development resources — allowing member libraries to help drive development of services, while distributing the R&D between member libraries
  3. advocating for OSS and an active R&D agenda to the member libraries directors and the Summit executive board.

In all honesty, I think #3 is the most important.  The proprietary vendor community is very adapt at dealing with the library community at a high level, and this allows them to shape the overall environment within the organization.  My hope is that by creating a formal working group within the consortia and identifying that this is indeed important — and help to lead to an attitude shift within the Pacific Northwest. 

Will it work?  Who knows.  I’ve floated the idea by a few folks — some on other committees, some familiar with the current makeup of the executive committee, and the overall mood isn’t optimistic.  The biggest challenge to overcome is this idea that one’s library doesn’t have any special skills to offer (or any bodies to offer).  If R&D is valued at an organization — resources and people can be found. 

Anyway, my hope is that the recommendations that come out of this study will help to move this conversation forward.  As I said — there is a lot of talent in the Pacific Northwest — its time we started tapping into as a group and seeing what can be accomplished within a consortia when everyone contributes.

–TR