Thursday, June 23, 2011

Open source is not a trend (Library technology thoughts, pt. 8 of 8)

Back when I started this series, I noted my surprise and disappointment with the fact that I couldn't, in good faith, include open source software as a trend. Surprise, because library-vendor economics are brutal, and more and more librarians are going to decide that if we are going to have headaches with our tools no matter what, they might as well really be our headaches. Disappointment, because I have tried to move our library [shouldn't link to back-end database] tools [just in case] to open source whenever possible.

However: remember the idea that the headaches would be our headaches? It turns out it only works if there is a consistent "we." People keep leaving. In the case of the archives, positions have been eliminated after incumbents moved on. IT officially doesn't support our fringe Linux set-ups, and turnover at IT has meant that our unofficial support has mostly evaporated too. That back-end database I'm not providing a URL for? We actually haven't been able to get into it for months, because a) nobody on staff can trouble-shoot it, b) it supports services the university has largely de-funded, and c) the position responsible for getting an outside contractor to fix it was vacant from February to June. (For that position, MySQL experience was a preferred qualification. Out of roughly 60 applicants, maybe one had it. In my corner of libraryland, at least, we can't pay for the skills we need.) Maybe larger institutions can pull it off. Maybe consortia can pull it off. I'm not sure. Before they can, though, there are all kinds of organizational culture changes that need to happen first, and the few signs I have seen of that have been sloooooow. (Now is an especially good time to point at the Library Loon's post on the exodus of tech-savvy librarians.)

I am not saying the situation is necessarily so much worse than when we were using proprietary software. But it isn't better, and libraries need to get better on the tech side. That is kind of the whole point of this series of blog posts. Given the brutal library-vendor economics referenced above, and the independent incentives to merge library systems with course management and enterprise systems, I don't see long-term institutional support for the creation and maintenance of library-specific open-source tools. (Not that short-term support is so strong either; we're about a year past the point where the promised reserves module for our hosted Koha ILS was supposed to come online, entirely because of funding cuts at supporting libraries.) While open source is happening in CMS, I can't see it happening at the enterprise level, like, ever--so, yeah, not a trend. It pains me to say it, greatly. Hopefully someone has a good counterargument?

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