Saturday, October 10, 2009

Evergreen, Drupal, Focus of Lyrasis Conference

Yesterday, I attended a one-day Lyrasis conference at the Olin College of Engineering, in Needham, MA, called "Open Source in Your Library." (Lyrasis, formed by the merger of PALINET and SOLINET, just merged with NELINET.) The three speakers for the day were:
  • Joe Lucia, Director of Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova University
  • Dan Scott, Systems Librarian, Laurentian University, Ontario
  • Karen Coombs, Head of Web Services, University of Houston Libraries
The message that ran through each of the presenters' presentations was, "Don't be afraid to try open source in your library. It may help to save us from irrelevance."

Joe Lucia kicked things off by providing his ideological views on the benefits of the open source community for libraries. He emphasized the importance of "the commons," a social and cultural platform for libraries for the exchange and refinement of ideas. Joe also outlined some of the challenges open source faces before it can grab hold in a major way; he mentioned Marshall Breeding's 2008 Library Automation Survey, a reality check for those of us open source evangelists:
  1. We're still a small minority in the greater library automation picture
  2. We have a "true believer" problem, in that we preach to the already converted
  3. We need to get more good reviews in the support vendor marketplace
Other challenges Lucia outlined had more to do with today's generation of librarians, that if we have to wait until the next generation to make the open source leap, this might already be too late. Our professional culture is marked by timid leadership, legacy data standards (ex: the MARC record), complete investment in legacy institutions (ex: OCLC), and the notion that open source must be perfect before it is embraced. Joe didn't stop there in his laundry list of challenges - libraries have fixed/diminishing funds, a long addiction to proprietary vendor support, a lack of technical confidence, and too much dependence on a small cadre of talented individuals, instead of strong communities. In addition, the big vendor companies are competing head-to-head with open source by developing OPAC discovery tool add-ons, further dividing libraries and keeping them addicted to this proprietary vendor industry.

Joe ended his presentation on a positive note by providing a basic roadmap for libraries to follow so that a robust open source community can flourish. The most important point he made - stop investing in expensive hardware and proprietary vendor software and support, and start investing in talented staff with technical expertise and collaborative open source communities.

Dan Scott, of Laurentian University, explained his work on Project Conifer, a shared Evergreen migration and software development project with many universities in Ontario, Canada. These universities migrated to Evergreen in May 2009, after approximately two years of development work and testing on Evergreen, including:
  • OPAC interface improvements (internationalization features added, customized OPAC skins)
  • The addition of localized URIs
  • The creation of basic serials display and editing screens
  • A Reserves module
  • Lots of input on how Acq works in Canadian academic institutions
  • Z39.50 server maturity
  • Early testing of the Evergreen 1.6 release
Dan emphasized the importance of communication for open source to work, that the software can only improve when you report back to the community, not just to your particular open source support vendor.

Dan also mentioned that Laurentian's reference staff and students had to get used to the simplicity of the OPAC search, that the relevancy ranking in Evergreen is so good that the keyword search is often the best way to go when using the library catalog.

Karen Coombs, Web Services Librarian Extraordinaire, evangelized on all things Drupal. With Drupal, one of the more popular open source content management systems out there, you can "de-silo-ize" your library's many library resources for better integration in searching. Karen highlighted many of Drupal's search and social networking features like RSS feeds, organic groups, faceted searching, user tags, user ratings, and reviews. The best live example of beefing up your library catalog on Drupal with many of these social networking features - John Blyberg's Darien Library catalog, called SOPAC. She ended her presentation with a plea to all, to not be afraid to try out one of these open source CMSes, that Wordpress, one of the easiest open source CMSes out there, can be tricked out in all sorts of amazing ways for patron enjoyment.

The conference ended with a Question and Answer session with most audience attendees showing an eagerness to move forward with open source if only they could convince their administrators that it would be worth it in the long run to take a chance on the open source movement.

--Amy Terlaga
Assistant Director, User Services

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