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LJ on Top Tech Trends: Talk about getting a story wrong

Library Journal skewed my comments at LITA’s Top Technology Trends at ALA Midwinter. –unless, in the vagueness of the 8 a.m. time slot, I really did sound like a cautionary scold.

Part of the problem with this article is it conflates submitted notes with real-time discussion in a Forrest-Gump sort of way. Roy Tennant had submitted his comments in writing, so there was no real-time “exchange” on the podium. It’s not as if Roy said, “Evergreen–it’s cool” and I replied, “Grump, grump, grump.”

Second, you would have to look hard to find a stronger enthusiast for the Evergreen open source ILS project. Yes, I do frequently point out that open source software has its overhead (the “free beer versus free kittens” catechism). But so does commercial software. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but one comment I made at TTT that didn’t get included into LJ’s article–a point I think that Clifford, for all his brilliance, missed–is that if we can do the same work for a lot less money, then yes, open source is effective, and particularly so for a product as demanding of a library’s financial resources as the ILS.

Part of my concern about the modern ILS is the disproportionate percentage of resources it demands. If the user is the sun, some rogue planet shouldn’t be hogging the atmosphere. Furthermore, a strong open source product encourages the creation and sustainability of third-party maintenance support vendors. The bottom line for these vendors, and their profit margin, rely on keeping the customer happy.

I believe 2007 will be a tipping-point year for the open source ILS. Yes, I do also see OCLC possibly playing a role in providing a web-service-based ILS for small to medium libraries. I could even see LibraryThing getting into that market–if they were nimble about it, their powerboat might whiz past OCLC’s slow-moving barge. Finally, movement to Evergreen won’t be overnight; there is a huge installed legacy base for commercial library systems, and administrators are not stupid to think twice before changing such a significant tool.

But in any event, let me make it clear where I stand. Evergreen is a terrific initiative with one solid real-world functioning implementation and more to come. As Roy suggests, September 5, 2006 should be recorded in LibraryLand history for the significance I believe it will someday carry.

It could well be that in fifty years we no longer need that thing we call the ILS, but here and now, if we can do the same thing for less money, we have at least accomplished one small miracle.

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