Friday, February 13, 2009

Horizon unConference part 2

Day 3 and we start with an extremely interesting chat with John Dalton who, though based in Hobart is a DBA for LibraryThing. He talked a little about LibraryThing 4 Libraries, but stressed he wasn't a salesman, and a lot about user tags and the power of folksonomies - and coffee table books.

Next DA's GM talked about the future of publishing from his perspective - probably the highlight was the video of the Espresso Book Machine in action. Yet again I got a sense that an industry intertwined with tertiary education was at the brink of major change. Publishers are getting closer to accepting the primacy of E over P, and considering ideas like selling micro content (eg a chapter out of a textbook).

The next ILS vendor was Civica showing Spydus. I got all nostalgic, having administered URICA back in the mid 90s - the product has come a long way - in fact it's not recognisable as related to URICA at all, which was written in Pick and sitting on a UniData dbms on a proprietary UNIX box (how did I get so old?) - Spydus is firmly in the Windows camp sitting on SQLServer and with client modules that act very much in the manner of the Microsoft Office Suite. It was the only Australian provider.

We then had Innovative Interfaces present, tag team, their core product and a couple of add ons. They worked hard to dispel the 'black box' myths about Millenium, saying that the data was fully accessible through web services. The ability to access functions associated with other modules without having to leave the module you were in was very appealing (eg create a temp bib record while in circulation). Another high point was the fuzzy search that when queried for 'Harry Potter and the Magician's Rock' asked if we meant 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'.

The day wrapped up with a group session led by Anne Scott of the University of Canterbury. We got a sense of who was happy to sit with Horizon and tweak HIP, who was looking at a discovery layer over Horizon (which would make the move from Horizon transparent to searchers). We agreed to take HES up on their offer of groupware to give us a space to continue the conversation.

We discussed the possibility of collective bargaining, and while it makes sense to combine our economic 'might' there is little chance we would have identical aims for our resource discovery systems.

A draining but thought provoking three days, well organised, and a much needed crash course in the major ILS options open to us. I look forward talking more about the things it's making me ponder.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Horizon Unconference : where to from here

I'm at the end of day 2 of a three day 'unconference' at the University of Tasmania in chilly Hobart, where a group of Horizon using libraries have sent representatives to talk about what's the next ILS now that it's clear SirsiDynix will not reverse their decision to euthanise Horizon 8.

About 26 libraries are here. University of Tasmania are the organisers and drivers. They had three staff in the USA last year conducting an environmental scan (I'll make Rod Foley's reports available on the intranet - very interesting reading). One thing that strikes you immediately is the difference in resourcing between US and Australian libraries. One University with around the same number EFTSUs as JCU has 185 employees (with 11 dedicated to library IT).

As Di Worth said in opening the unconference, 'we won't come away with the answer' but I already feel that I have a much clearer handle on what the question is. Linda Luther asked the question 'What is an ILS really for?'

The proprietary vendors of ILS are surprisingly few in number (at least those in the University sector) and even more surprising is how old their offerings are; Endeavour is the youngest and first released in 1995. All the products have evolved but you wonder about the core assumptions in their initial design when the most recent was released the same year as Netscape 1.0

Warwick Cathro outlined the NLA's experience with OSS but focused mostly on the directions they are taking in evaluating the multitude of systems they have think about Service Oriented Architectures.

Ex Libris then presented their ILS and product suite and answered questions about migration paths. They stress their position as an innovator and Unified Resource Management (URM) was discussed as their next generation discovery layer.

Then it was off to the library staff room for welcome drinks and nibbles - nice couches well laid out kitchen and servery, and facing an atrium full of barwangs - better laid out than Cairns but doesn't have our view!

Open Source software has been bandied around a bit, Anthony Hornby had a very pragmatic overview of how you should approach Open Source - the same way you approach proprietary software - evaluate for best fit. He dispelled a bunch of myths about OSS, from the wildly evangelical to the demonising (and showed us the little funny below).

Anthony pointed out that even proprietary vendors relied on OSS (e.g. Java), and that we all use it every day (thing blogs like this one, or IM).

We were given overviews of Koha and Evergreen by brave souls who've installed and played with it in test environments (common theme: follow the installation instructions meticulously).

HES then presented, offering the group tools for future collaboration and collective action. JCU participates in HES for a number of systems e.g. our HR system, and we benefit from the negotiated agreement with Oracle.

Next was Serials Solutions, which held little new for me, until Summon got a mention, which is sort a competitor for URM but much closer to implementation. Basically it operates more like Google Scholar in that databases are harvested for metadata, removing federated search's Achille's heel; connection files and retrieval times. SS benefit from being part of the Cambridge Information Group which includes Proquest, Bowker and Ulrich's. Apparently they have an agreement with Thomson Gale to allow harvesting of the databases and many other larger publisher are either on board or soon will be.

SirsiDynix then made their presentation, revolving around Symphony, which looked quite cool. I admire SD staff, they've had so much flack from customers since the Horizon 8 death notice but they are still cheerfully plugging away. The word going around is that SD are focusing on the international market, and rumour says that's because the customer response to H8's death in the US was so vitriolic - but it might also have something to with it's ability to handle unicode making it usable in Asia.

Softlink (Liberty) then presented - they chiefly work in the specials and small publics sector and don't have any university customers in Australia.

The breaks are full of conversations between people asking each other 'what are you going to do?'

Friday we have LibaryThing, DA, Civica and Innovative Interfaces, before another all in library only session to finish up.

Most of the powerpoints will be made available, and I will be writing a more detailed report after cogitating a bit. I think this is a good time to think about our ILS as we are thinking a lot right now about how we do resource discovery with the CMS and 360 Search being launched in the last week and a bit of January (my blonde tips are getting bigger).

Another thing Anthony Hornby had in his powerpoint really tickled me - I think I'll make it my family crest: