Thursday, July 16, 2009

Collaboration with Choice

Ex Libris unveiled a new ad at ALA (pictured to the right). The ad highlights what I believe is an important message for the profession of librarianship: “Collaboration with Choice”. The ad lightheartedly conveys the point that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to libraries.

Why do I believe this is important? Because recent product announcements by some vendors and cooperative organizations are trying to reduce choices for libraries and forcing them to take a set of lowest-common-denominator solutions. This can ultimately be a real setback for libraries.

You may have seen a recent “web scale” ILS product announcement. Not unlike the global catalog around which it is built, the product offers limited openness, unclear levels of customization and truly generic approaches to meeting institutional and end-user needs. Yet another vendor is now offering a “web scale” -- (clearly the new buzz term!) -- discovery tool that it is saying “provides instant access to the breadth of authoritative content… No need to broadcast searches to other databases”. Of course, what they’re really telling you is that if your content provider does not agree to load its proprietary metadata into the vendor’s index, that database will no longer be easily available for your users to search--because the vendor only supports one type of search. How is that providing better service to end users? Undoubtedly this is slick marketing and a spin of the facts but it’s little more than that. Your library deserves, and should reserve, the right to real choices.

What is most disturbing about all of this is that generic, one-size-fits-all solutions are definitely not what collaboration is about. I’m sure we can all agree that Web 2.0, social networks and open source are all testimonies to the power of collaboration. But whereas those examples bring the benefits of collaboration all the way to your desktop, we’re seeing library vendors and cooperative organizations offering libraries something less, something shared and something
defined before reaching the desktop. Your library deserves unbridled collaboration.

The approach we’ve taken at Ex Libris reflects the following beliefs:
  • Libraries need their systems to meet the needs of their users not the other way around.
  • There should be no restrictions imposed by your vendor.
  • You should know that your vendor is not owned or biased towards any one content vendor (i.e. the vendor should be “content-neutral”). After all, that’s what users expect from libraries–non-sponsored, or otherwise favored content, but neutral, totally unbiased access.
  • You should have collaboration and choice.
We give libraries the tools they need to meet end-user needs. That includes a variety of search tools and methodologies that can reach as far as necessary to bring back a more comprehensive result set. We also provide libraries with options to freely select, and load, the databases they feel their end users will want to search. Furthermore, we enable Primo to interface with other systems via programs that customers can develop (and place in an open source environment if they so desire).

The bottom line is that libraries don’t need to compromise or settle for one-size-fits-all, in order to benefit from collaboration. So, why would you ever want to limit the choices your organization has? Libraries should and must provide both the benefits of collaboration AND the ability to preserve the uniqueness of their offerings in order for them to meet the needs of their users. Choose collaboration. Choose choice. Demand that they be served together so you can preserve what is special about your library services.