Saturday, November 1, 2008

The need for metasearch tools in libraries

I've posted a new entry on the Federated Search Blog.  It's about the need for metasearch and my concerns that librarians aren't listening to their users about their needs and how metasearch technologies can address those needs.  I invite you to read it and to comment.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Redouble or Retrench? Librarians respond to the financial crisis.

Given the current financial crisis, it’s no surprise that librarians are alarmed, reactive and rapidly retrenching on nearly all-new initiatives, particularly anything that involves the outlay of money.  I wonder if that’s the right thing to do?

I’m on the mailing list of the North Suburban Library System, run by a friend and colleague of mine whom I greatly respect, Sarah Long, and I noted on the NSLS website that they are reporting increasing circulation over last year.  This is due in no small part to the declining economic situation.  It is not an uncommon trend.  Most libraries will see increased usage and circulation in bad economic times.

In my work, I recently met with the entire sales team of the company.   They all mentioned that that the librarians they’re working with are dealing with budget cuts and were therefore scaling back plans for new products and services.  Many are reducing current services and therefore the utilization of existing and installed products.   I’m dismayed. As librarians, at the very time that we’re about to see a renewed opportunity to re-establish in the minds of our users the value of our profession, we’re retrenching?!?!? No, no, NO!

This is very time we need to grab the opportunity and exploit it to no end.  It is unfortunate that this opportunity is arriving on the backs of so much pain for so many people.   But let’s grab it folks.  Let’s use it to:

1.    Focus.  In good economic times it is easy to try a large number of new ideas and initiatives and, as a result, to get pulled in a lot of different directions.  Now it’s time to get back to the basics.   That doesn’t mean basic services it means basic values.  Each organization will have its own values, but there is a common set of those values shared by librarianship.   In my mind, it is offering authoritative, appropriate, authenticated information that meets the specific needs of your users.

2.    Cooperate and share. Again, in good economic times, it’s easier to do specifically what you want to do, rather than compromise and cooperate.  Now that this is no longer the case, we need to get back to working together to achieve greater, collective good for all concerned.  Look to your neighboring institutions and purchase collectively.  Share what you purchase and make sure that you’re extracting the maximum return by offering unique services you have through your neighboring organization’s branches/outlets.

3.    Put up the new search interface.  Sure, they’ve all been using Google and will continue to do so, but very likely, they’re going to be turning to your organization for the first time in a long time.  It’s time to greet them with a new, better working, better service.  It’s the front door of your organization, make sure it isn’t a shabby one.

4.    Ensure the new search interface’s functionality conveys and confirms the value-add of librarianship.  I recently wrote a post about this on the Federated Search Blog. The main point of the post was that as Librarians we need to clearly remember what our mission and objectives are and make sure that in this online environment, we need to convey the value of those objectives through the automated tools we offer.

Finally, let’s remember the old quote that “Information is the currency of Democracy”.  We, as librarians are outlets for quality information.  The need for our services will never be greater than in the days ahead.  Let’s do it well, let’s do it better.  It is not time to retrench; it is time to redouble our efforts.


We might even want to start with our own library organization.  While researching data for this article, I encountered this at the ALA website <sigh>:

So, I went to Google, which showed:

Great, there is exactly what I’m looking for!  But, our fine organization has implemented a new website without maintaining the persistence of their URL’s, so when you click on the link that looks like exactly what you were hoping to find on the ALA website you get <double-sigh>:

What can I say??

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A new but familiar direction…

You might have seen the press release by now, the one announcing that I've been given the opportunity to resume a familiar role at a company that I deeply like and respect, one that is run and staffed by people I feel the same way about. Furthermore, it's one that I played a role in establishing in North America in the early years of this decade. . That company is Ex Libris North America. It is a much larger company now and certainly poses some significant new challenges, but I'm looking forward to the opportunity.

Taking on this position was not an easy decision, and I realize many people have considered me an open-source “evangelist” and will wonder what my new role means, if anything, about open source.

First, I think it fair to point out that moving to Ex Libris is not a move to the “dark side,” as some will undoubtedly portray it, but is, in fact, a move to an enlightened side. Ex Libris has done a lot lately in opening up the company platforms. I watched and admired the announcements about the new openness of Primo, and the ALA announcement about moving toward “open platforms.” I felt that this was one company that understood that open source was making a change in the software marketplace, and clearly, Ex Libris was listening. You might also recall, if you've followed this blog from its humble beginnings, that I've always said that I believed that open source and proprietary solutions would exist side by side, that they would affect each other, and that sometimes they would be married together to meet the solution needs of the customer. I took a fair amount of heat over that approach from some segments of the open-source community, in particular with regard to OpenTranslators, but I believed it then and I believe it now. Thus, the Ex Libris open-platform strategy seemed like both a comfortable and good fit to me and one that Ex Libris felt I could make a contribution to by returning to the company. I was certainly flattered and appreciative. I will take what I've learned in the open-source community and apply it to the world of open platforms. I think it'll be a positive for both existing customers and new customers of Ex Libris. As for the open-source community, I'll stay involved. I still believe that open source has an important role to play and should be welcomed into the community for a lot of positive reasons. Is it for everyone? No, but that's something else I've said from the beginning. If it fits, sure. But if it doesn't, then there are solutions that offer some of the same benefits of open source, with their own distinct set of other benefits. The choice is yours, and ultimately, you'll decide what is right for your organization.

So bottom line, rest easy. Open source is alive and well, and while I'm switching gears slightly, I'll still be a strong believer. My decision is absolutely no reflection on the viability of open source, companies that back open source, or the role of open source in the library community. It does reflect the belief that for some organizations to get the benefits of openness, they need it paired with solutions that utilize the best of both proprietary and open-source solutions--a slight shift from where I was, but not a major one. The very fact that one leading company is moving in that direction makes me feel like open source has achieved something else of great benefit to libraries. I'm proud to be a part of it all.

Finally, I think it's also important to mention that while my commitment to open source was a major first hurdle to clear in my decision process about taking the Ex Libris position, personal reasons also played heavily into this decision. The Ex Libris North American offices are in Chicago, the city where our son lives. Living in the southeastern part of the country, we don't get to see him nearly as much as we'd like (although I understand that he might not share this opinion!), but this will make it more probable that we can close that gap. Chicago is also closer to where my aging parents live (St. Louis), making it much easier for us to get to their side when our assistance is needed. Finally, my wife travels weekly in her work, so being near one of the largest airports in the country put a smile on her face. So, that may be more info than you wanted to know, but jobs are filled by people and people have lives outside of work and so do I. So all these factors weighed into our decision. No, it wasn't easy to leave behind the small but growing company we were building. But we've found other companies to take over the contracts and business we built, and those companies are run by very good people in the open-source community. So we feel comfortable knowing we've left our customers in good care ;-) Of course, we want to thank all of you who did business with CARE--your business was appreciated, and I'd love to do business with all of you again should your needs and the Ex Libris offerings match.