ILS Customer Bill-of-Rights Discourse Continues

I’ve not intentionally delayed my response to Richard Wallis’s recent comments/reply. I’ve been a little busy rolling out our “3.1″ feature-set over at aadl.org. I plan a reflective post on “Zen and the Art of OPAC Wrangling” in the next week and another geeky post in which I 1apse 1nt0 b1nar100101 10101001 100101. Damn! Did it already!

But, as it turns out, I’m glad I let this conversation simmer because a number of people have added their thoughts to the mix as well, and I’m really pleased with the fact that this issue is getting some attention. As I’ve said before, what we are allowed to and able to do with our ILSs will determine how pertinent libraries are over the next ten years and beyond. We need to get everything we want from our vendors and we need it fast.

Originally, Richard had suggested that if we were given open read-only access to the data, we would not “[understand] what the data in the tables actually means”, to which I replied, “This does not give enough credit to those of us who hack away on these systems every day. We’ll figure it out.” Want proof? Richard’s response:

Looking at the issue from John’s end of the telescope it sounds so obvious and simple. Imagine looking at it from as a support analyst’s point of view. From her end of the telescope she can see [in Talis’ case potentially 100+ Johns hacking away on their systems every day – a thought to drive you straight toward the caffeine in the morning!

Let’s just put aside the fact that 100+ Johns, alone, would probably drive you straight toward the closest stiff drink. I’m really not sure how to take this comment, except to say that support analysts are there to “support”. When I talk about changing the way vendors and libraries interface, this falls right into that slot. Those support analysts need to be retrained (reprogrammed?) to be able to think about the caller on the other end of the phone as an equal–that way, they become an advocate for the customer, not just a problem solver. I just can’t buy into the thinking that we can’t be granted the essential right to access our data because that might make it harder to support. That is a challenge for vendors to deal with and I have little interest in how comfortable support analysts are with their job.

The development and support needed to provide an ILS that was capable of being relied upon by 100’s of academic and public libraries, predicated the customer vendor relationship we are now used to.

To some extent, yes, and I’ve mentioned before that libraries are partially to blame for enabling vendors to pursue their current business models. But the prevailing winds were different, even a few years ago. I’m my mind I tend to liken ILS vendors to the recording industry. A colossal shift is happening within libraries, due in large part to the emergence of web 2.0 technologies. This shift is wresting control of the development process away from vendors and putting it in the hands of the library coder. I believe this will eventually blossom into a large library developers network (and I’m hoping AADL can play a key role in getting that moving). Under current business models, it just doesn’t make sense for vendors to allow that to happen. The arguments against any component of my bill-of-rights have seemed tenuous at best.

Read Paul & Ken’s whitepaper and you will see that we at Talis, believe that things are due for a change, and not a small one; If Libraries are to continue to matter, which we believe they must. We Libraries, librarians, ILS & other system vendors, we will have to embrace and promote that change.

I’m not at all worried whether libraries will matter. I’m worried to what degree they will be pertinent in the lives of our constituents. What vendors need to be asking themselves is, “If we don’t change, will we still be in business?” I see rough times ahead for vendors as the gravy train comes screeching to a halt. I’m glad for Richard that Talis seems to be jumping the rails for a workable business model–I just think they ought to be committed to providing the four basic rights I’ve proposed to libraries. Libraries, in turn, need to be insisting upon them when it comes time to migrate.

You want your OPAC to differentiate your Library; you want your users’ account information to appear in their favorite portal; you want to communicate with your customers by email, RSS, SMS Text, IM, etc.; if all the core functionality was available via a software service you could – and would you care how and on what it ran? I think not.

I think I probably would. As you know, one of my assertions is that we ought to have administrative control over the box. We also need to be able to integrate the box into our enterprise. That means being able to deploy software such as our own backup and restore agents on the server. We’d need access to logs, the ability to monitor processes, etc. Telling an organization to entrust it’s livelihood to you without allowing them to look under the hood is not right. Even philosophically, it doesn’t jive with the idea of web 2.0.

It’s hard not to notice that there is a measure of bitterness directed toward vendors. I myself have been quoted as saying vendors are “money hungry” (when, in fact, my point had been that vendors are perceived as money hungry. An important distinction). At this point, I think it’s important that both sides approach the other in a manner that does not incite defensiveness. In my opinion, the debate over how much we’ve been paying vendors is not important to this discussion and is probably counterproductive. That’s a matter for market forces (and accounting) to deal with. I want this discussion to evolve as it has and hopefully lure other vendors into it as well.

So that’s my response to Richard’s response to my response to his response to my ILS customer bill-of-rights. Headache anyone?


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