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Our exhilarating new mix and match, slice and dice world

My online presentation, “Death to Jargon,” went pretty good today, for a first-time-talk, though at one point I began stammering and I realized it was because I was talking to over fifty people I couldn’t see or hear. So I went inward and focused on the topic, as if I were presenting to myself, and that smoothed things out. The talk will be online later, I am assured.

But what grabbed me most about today was a talk with Jeremy Frumkin about LibraryFind (and about barbecue in Tallahassee, his four-month-old baby, and food in Oregon). It’s not just that LibraryFind is a “kewl app” — though LibraryFind, which ties together catalog records, database articles, and other stuff and presents it through a very nice user-tested interface, is plenty kewl enough — but after the call ended I realized how excited I was by the options we have in LibraryLand — many designed and built by library developers.

Want to hoist your library out of its institutional silo and get your data on the Web? (After all, as Mae West said, who wants to be in an institutional silo?) You could pick an open-source ILS (library back-end, for the functions) such as Evergreen, in live deployment in hundreds of libraries in Georgia, and version 1.2 just deployed. Or look into eXtensible Catalog (in development at the University of Rochester). Then give either a single integrated front end — one-stop-shopping for your users: books, articles, more — with open-source LibraryFind or OCLC’s “unified finding aid,” WorldCat Local.

If you pick WorldCat Local, a single search can take your users global–one search goes infinitely beyond the local library, with the promise of fulfillment from many different libraries. If you pick LibraryFind, you’re searching your own silos — for now — but Evergreen is so robust it could be 200-plus silos (as it is in Georgia), and LibraryFind is built to leverage OpenURL more effectively than any other unified finding product.

We, as a profession, could even build out own “silo” — a kind of librarian-built “Free OCLC.” (The Free-C?) Both Evergreen and eXtensible Catalog are designed in part on the premise that the only good data is Web-readable data which can be harvested by protocols such as OAI, placed in a central catalog, and made available for all to use. (Since I’m hungry, I’ll describe OAI as a humongous straw that can suck in all kinds of data, like those straws used with pearl tea.)

(Yes, I know OAI is the “initiative,” and OAI-PMH is the protocol, but everyone says “OAI,” so don’t rag me about that.)

Then again, over at the Internet Archive we have the Open Library project: a web page for every book! But wait, there’s more: the inimitable Tim Spalding of LibraryThing announced yesterday that LT had debuted “social cataloging,” where plain ol’ LT users can enrich record fields.

None of these initiatives are “free” as in “free beer”; they are all free kittens, in need of care and feeding. (Companies such as Equinox and LibLime have sprung up to provide third-party maintenance.) All of them exist because some organization or person (or both) put up cash or sweat equity. Some, like eXtensible Catalog — which just got second-year grant funding — are still a gleam in someone’s eye; some, like LibraryFind, are still very, very new, though undergoing rapid development. All need strong sustainability models to keep going.

But they’re all much different than the model we’ve been using for over a hundred years, where the cards — and then the records — were stuffed into local catalogs, and they’re also different from the model of the last several decades, where the brass ring was the super-secret code, and the support and development were where everyone economized.

Everything is different. That may even mean we’re different. And if so — then vive la difference!