‘Open Edge’: open library systems

Momentum (noun):
The impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events” (Oxford English Dictionary)

Momentum seems the right word to use in connection with the ‘Open Edge – Open Source in Libraries’ event that took place in Edinburgh over two days (25 – 26th January, 2011).

Part of the Mashed Library series of events the two day workshop was supported by JISC and SCONUL.  Day one  focused on developers and those projects and individuals that wanted to demonstrate and showcase some of the technical work that had occurred in this space.  The second day covered broader issues, in particular how capacity might be built to enable open source solutions to flourish in HE and FE Libraries.

The image below (from the presentation by PTFS Europe) demonstrates the capacity that is being built worldwide with open source library systems.


However, I don’t want to spend too much time detailing the content of the presentations that were given at the event, as these have been documented elsewhere (a particularly comprehensive one comes from Nicola Osbourne’s blog).

Instead what I want to focus on is the impact of the event (specifically day two, as I was unable to attend the first day), and some of the thoughts and changes I think can occur as a result of the two days.

Challenges and Issues

Supporting  community(s)

  • The event hasn’t resulted in a fully-formed community (we probably shouldn’t be thinking in terms of a single homogeneous group anyway). How do we nurture this nascent community, and ensure it is done from the bottom up?
  • How do we tap into existing communities and their support structures? John Norman (CARET) made a compelling argument for not only the advantages of OS (assuming it meets your requirements) but also for learning from and exploiting the knowledge of OS communities.  Indeed, the event itself used the existing mashed libraries community as a way to harness an existing community of interested individuals.

Skills and capacity

  • Building capacity and skills: open source allows rapid innovation – but what support is required to help develop the skills across the sector regarding open software.  What role can JISC projects and events, such as DEV8D and DEVCSI play, and how can we leverage these projects to help support this interest in open library systems?
  • Mark Hughes’ presentation made it clear the impact that projects can have in developing the skills of those involved (especially the skills of the developers).  JISClms has captured some of the issues and challenges Mark’s project faced and overcame, and can serve to support and reassure other institutions.  But how do we go further, making these case studies and projects into more of a support ‘tool kit’, where advice and support can be accessed when needed, and for specific issues.

Institutional engagement

  • What about supporting senior managers in their decision and procurement processes? There is a wider issue that was made clear in David Parkes’ presentation about their implementation of koha at Staffordshire.   We mustn’t forget about supporting those individuals who make strategic decisions, or have to make an argument for change.  OSSWatch, for example, can provide procurement advice to ensure that tenders don’t exclude OS alternatives.
  • It is possible that  library systems will be a mixture of open and commercial components: open source resource discovery interfaces, commercial indexes, for example, and there will be attending hybrid business and support models (PTFS and IndexData both presented at the event).  We need to be able to have the arguments and evidence that allows the optimum solution constructed from those constituent parts.

These are just a few of the challenges and issues that emerged from the event, but these are some that have stayed with me.  Building on JISC programmes such as the library management programme and open bibliography data, for example, may be one way in which some of these issues can be explored further, and the skills of the community utilised.

Sustaining momentum…

So what’s happened since the event?

There is now a mailing list for anyone interested in Open Source Library solutions.

As an output of the event Ken Chad will be developing the HElibtech wiki to include pages on Open Source library solutions, and some of the issues that emerged from the event.

Within open library systems we definitely seem to be on the edge of something transformative.

Like a first birthday, this seems to be an important milestone.

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