eXtensible Catalog Partners Meeting

XC Partners MeetingI just got back from Rochester, New York, where it’s cold and snowy. But that fact didn’t do anything to put a chill on the impeccably hosted eXtensible Catalog partners meeting. The eXtensible Catalog (XC) is to be, potentially, an open-source product that arises from a grant given to the University of Rochester by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant itself is up for renewal in April 2007.

From the XC blog:

The principal investigator for the project is Ronald F. Dow, the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries, with co-principal investigators David Lindahl, director of digital initiatives; Jennifer Bowen, head of cataloging; and Nancy Fried Foster, lead anthropologist for the libraries.

This first year of grant funding represents “Phase I” of the XC project, and one of the goals of that phase is to secure a number of partnerships for going forward. That’s where the partners meeting came in. In addition to getting a lot of valuable feedback from a group of about 30 people from a wide range of institutions, the XC project hopes to get a number of people to sign on to help the project itself with anything from consultation to actual development.

As a library geek, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the scope and structure of the project until David Lindahl gave a technical overview of how the development process might work. XC is to be a highly modular project centered around a common framework. This will, hopefully, allow XC to be a ubiquitous product that works with any ILS. It would be up to the XC partners (and perhaps, ultimately its users) to create the “plug-ins” necessary to make it work with a previously unsupported system.

I have to say that I really like the proposed structure that Dave talked about, and as I mentioned at the meeting, there are a number of projects that are currently striving to do similar things, but none of them have really thought to harness the potential of the open source “community” like XC does. So I believe XC has a higher potential for success than some of the other projects like it.

That said, a number of very good issues were raised at the meeting. Foremost among them was the issue of governance. Who will ultimately be responsible or the project? Will it stay in Rochester? I think this issue, more than all others, is what made many of the other potential partners nervous. That, and the fact that the XC project is still very early on in the design phase. Justifying a commitment to the project is not easy for a lot of libraries. That, of course, makes my blood pressure rise. When I think about the fact that the prospect of working together with other libraries on a long-term project is a hard sell to library administrators, I get mightily frustrated. Librarians seem to always want the “sure thing” even if it means settling for mediocre. I’d much rather take a risk and go for the holy grail. After all, it’s just time and money, right?

Not that I’m saying that XC is the holy grail. Not at all, but, like I also mentioned at the meeting, XC is a lofty, idealistic vision for library catalogs. I like idealism. If we, as libraries, can get past our sanctimonious insistence that lofty goals are for careless upstarts, we might actually wind up with something we want, for a change.

So, who knows what the future has in store for XC. It’s one of those projects that will succeed beyond all our wildest dreams if it gets the support it needs. Or it could die on the vine due to lack of attention and care. Kind of like the rest of us.


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