Pascal’s place


Views on technology and libraries

Indiana Linux Festival 2011

We’ve just finished up the inaugural Indiana Linux Festival this past weekend, held at the Wyndham airport down in Indianapolis, and for a first Linux conf, I think this was a success overall.

This was my first experience as an Event Owner, responsible for organizing Fedora’s presence at the show, and I learned a fair amount. I’ve organized multi-day conferences and workshops before in my $DAYJOB, but the organizational culture and set of norms is different in every community, so there are always things to learn.

Ben Williams from Virginia Tech and I were the Ambassadors responsible for the Fedora Booth at ILF this year, and I was very pleased and thankful to have Ben’s presence this year, since it has been about 18 months since I last worked a Fedora booth at the Ohio Linux Fest 2009. Ben arrived Thursday night, and I drove down from South Bend Friday morning.

First off, I continue to be impressed with the help that the Fedora Ambassador team has for these events. I was able to request both the Fedora Event banners and one of the four North American EventBoxen easily with a TRAC request, both shipped to my home via UPS. The EventBox holds all the essentials that an Ambassador needs for a Fedora booth at a conference:

  • OLPC XO-1 and HP netbook with Sugar and Fedora 14, respectively
  • lots of the latest release media, in 32-bit DVD, 64-bit DVD, and 32-bit Live CDs
  • t-shirts to give away
  • pens and pins
  • temporary tattoos, case badges, stickers, and the new windows keyboard button sticker

We did find that we needed to add a multi-outlet surge protector aka “FriendFinder” and a pair of scissors, which Ben and I procured Friday at good ole K-Mart. We also updated the HP mini to have the latest Fedora 14 install on it, replacing some of the live-bootable images on the netbook. Friday was also an InstallFest day, so we headed in to the Wyndham after returning from Wal-Mart and met Dru Lavigne, the new Community Manager for BSD-PC, based out of Ottawa, Canada. It was nice to meet another distro community manager, and we swapped details on the state of hardware driver support in BDS-PC and Fedora a bit. We had one chap, Tom, visit us and ask to get some help on installing Fedora on his older Windows XP PC. Tom, a adjunct faculty member at the local Ivy Tech community college, brought back the deskside unit with two LCD monitors shortly before we were to close up the InstallFest room for the day, and so we moved to the vendor exhibit area and commandeered a table to get Tom started. Booting off a USB stick with Fedora 14 64-bit, we ran into a bit of weirdness when Fedora installed the bootloader on sda1 (as expected), but which was actually on the USB stick and not the internal drive. We backed out of that and I headed up to our hotel room to grab a F14 64-bit DVD, which did the trick. Tom took copious notes while Ben was installing F14 in a dual-boot setup so he could retain his Windows XP partition. Tom left happy and enthusiastic about making the switch to free software as his spring schedule permitted. Success!

Saturday was the main conference day, and Ben and I headed down to the vendor exhibit area around 7:30 am to set the booth up. We were a bit groggy, as we’d been up until midnight watching the VCU-Florida State Men’s NCAA game, which resulted in a thrilling win for VCU, heading to its first NCAA final four! I’m usually a breakfast person, but this morning I was fine with a Starbuck’s from the hotel and an apple I’d brought along with me. The Fedora banners set up easily, although I was a bit vertically challenged to hook them at the top of the banner pole; I’ll need to use a chair if I ever have to set these up myself! 🙂 We were able to negotiate a different table than the organizers had originally assigned us to so that we were less squeezed in and the banners wouldn’t block traffic flow in the room. We ended up next to the good folks from <a href=";Dual Core, in from Cincinnati, and who were going to perform at the after party Saturday night. Some of the other sponsors at the fest included, where we met Fedora Board member David Nalley who had some pretty cool CBGBs-inspired t-shirts, the good folks from Ohio Linux Fest, which was the inspiration for ILF, BeagleBoard, BSD-PC, the husband and wife team from Linux in the Ham Shack, who did some interviews at the Fest, as well as some local IT consulting firms. It was also great to see Brian Pepple, who drove over from Columbus for ILF. Brian, a former Fedora Engineering Steering Committee chair and active Gnome contributor and packager is an old friend from OLF and Ben and I joined him for lunch on Saturday to catch up on news, Fedora and otherwise.

The crowd at ILF was about what one expects at a Linux festival, the majority of the crowd is 18-25, with a significant 40+ demographic as well. There were 250 pre-registrants for ILF, which is a good number for a first year conf. We handed out plenty of media, trying to get these in the hands of users before Fedora 15’s mid-May release date that is steadily approaching. There are always a few families that also come together, and the kids always gravitate to the OLPC XO to explore that. We face theis and the netbook out to the crowd with the webcam turned on, which always draws people in, and they continue to be amazed that Fedora-based Sugar runs the XOs.

Fedora has an excellent reputation for supporting the Linux community, and many people remarked to us at the booth that Fedora seems to “be everywhere” at Linux conferences nationwide. Indeed, we do try to have a presence at as many events as we are able. There was a Indiana Ubuntu community booth across from us at the meeting, but it was unmanned, with media on the table and a couple issues of Ubuntu Magazine. Attendees appreciate having people at a booth who can answer questions and help troubleshoot issues they may be having.

After a full day on the exhibit floor, we packed up the banners and the EventBox, now much lighter than we brought it in at. Overall a great linux festival. The hotel was nice, with generally good free wireless, a great location that was easy to get to, and a good community that came out to participate in the very good series of talks and birds of a feather events around the meeting.


Filed under: fedora, travel reports,

Visit with School of Information Science and Technology, East China Normal University

On Friday we visited faculty of the School of Information Science and Technology, East China Normal University as well as several staff of the University Library.

Established in 2001, the School of Information Science and Technology Institute includes the departments of Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Technology and the Communication Engineering and Computer Center.

Within the research academy of engineering, they focus on establishing a science research and teaching system in the field of information and technology; forming a graduate education base; becoming a research link from basic theory; software and hardware design; application to product development; building an interdisciplinary group network, including new material; functional devices; communication and information; computer software; chip design; and complex systems.

This was the largest group we’ve met during the delegation, with seven members from the Library and another three from the School. I personally got the most relevant to my areas of interest with this meeting out of any of the delegation meetings.

The session started with an overview of the Library, after we finished introductions and some general discussion of the delegation’s areas of interest. The Library is a large one, with 143 staff, collections in excess of 4 million printed volumes, 1.3 million e-books, 1 million e-dissertations, and a suite of sophisticated web-based services spanning their III Millennium ILS, a federated search system, citation linking, and significant resource discovery and digitization programs.

I learned definitively that there is no credentialing system in place for those professionals who work in academic (and other) libraries in China, and that orientation to the profession and practices of library work is highly localized, with each library being responsible for this following a new hire. A Director of the Systems Division for the Library attended this meeting, and so I established a contact that I can follow up with for more information on the staff in his Division. Generally speaking, the Division there and in Systems divisions in libraries hires staff trained in computer science, information technology and information management.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Beijing Cultural Day: visit to Tian’an Men Square, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall of China

This past Wednesday was our cultural day for seeing some of the significant cultural sites in and around Beijing. The bus first left us off adjacent to Tian’an Men Square (yes, it is officially this and not the Tiananmen Square as we know it in the West), the world’s largest square which can hold more than one million people. I had hoped to be able to visit the mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong, which is also on the Square, but in recent years one needs to bring official documentation (in our case, passports) and queue up several hours to file past Mao’s body, so we had to miss this unfortunately. The Chinese people still revere Mao for his leadership and accomplishments, and on this morning there were many people obviously from the rural areas in Beijing to see Mao’s embalmed body. We did get a group photo on the Square, which I will digitize and update this post when I get back home to Indiana.

From here, we walked across the remainder of the Square and towards the gates of the Forbidden City, which from the fifteenth century until 1911 was the exclusive residence of the Emperor of China and his thousands of concubines, eunuchs and senior staff. The nearly 9,000 buildings in the Forbidden City are slowly being restored to their former glory after being neglected from 1911 to sometime in the 1970s when the Chinese government recognized the value of the City as a tourist destination and cultural heritage gem. The Forbidden City these days is known as the Palace Museum, open to everyone and chronicling this most important of Imperial China’s splendour. We walked through the Gates of Heaven and succeeding gates through to the places immortalized in Bertolucci’s wonderful film, The Last Emperor. I was in absolute awe. I never had thought that I’d ever see this in person, and was absolutely delighted with the experience. The scale, grandeur and extreme sophistication of the buildings we toured was breathtaking. I understand about 500 of the nearly 9,000 buildings have been restored to date, and as I thought about the need for whole new specializations in architectural antiquity preservation and restoration I realized what a daunting task this was. We only got to spend about 2.5 hours in the Forbidden City, and if I ever come back here, I’ll set aside a couple days to explore the huge compound.

For lunch, we went to one of Beijing’s Friendship Stores upstairs to have lunch. After lunch, we had some time for shopping in the state-run large store, mostly of Chinese cultural souvenirs, artwork and jewellery. I picked up a few things, and then we were off to the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. Several miles outside of northwest Beijing, this was the section of the wall that President Barack Obama visited in a 2009 visit of China. There are actually two paths one can take at this section of the wall, an easy route and a hard route. I and another delegate chose the easy route, and started our trek up the wall.

After walking a few minutes on this, I was thoroughly winded. This section of the wall was about 10-12 feet wide, and follows the contours of the geography that it goes over, with extreme inclines and descents as one might expect in this part of China’s mountainous regions. The width of the wall would make a possible military highway for Chinese imperial troops, but boy would this be hard work moving men and supplies for very long. Added to this, along the wall are battlements every few hundred meters or so, and these only allow enough space for an average man to pass through. So why then did they make the Wall so wide? The wall is an average of 3-4 metres high at least in this section of it, and this was the main disincentive for troops outside of China’s northern borders for getting in. Approximately 5,500 miles in length, the Wall was not usually manned except in particular sections that had active battles/skirmishes ongoing. So we got to the third battlement, and the next section looked incredibly gruelling, so we decided to stop, take photographs and enjoy the scenery for a few minutes before heading back.

We headed back to the hotel after this thoroughly enjoyable day. Dinner was at a nearby restaurant with reasonable prices, excellent service and decor and good food although somewhat bland to my taste. I prefer fiery Sichuan, and there was none to be had on this menu, unfortunately.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Information control in China: some observations

This past Wednesday, a national day of mourning was observed for the 2800 dead in the recent earthquakes in western China. At 10:00 am China time (there is one time zone for the entire country), three minutes of reflection were held nationwide, which also encouraged people in cars to honk their horns and otherwise make much noise in the observance of this. Most interestingly, for the entire day the government decreed that all entertainment of any kind should not be held — no movies, no arts & culture or popular performances, no televised entertainment, and, very interestingly, no internet entertainment!

Turning on HBO and CineMax in our Beijing hotel room on Wednesday brought up a notice that programming was not available in observance of the national day of mourning. BBC World News was still available, as was CNN, but other television channels of the CCTV (Chinese government television service) all had the same programming on, covering memorial services around the country and later a ‘telethon’ event that raised over 2.2 billion yuan (approximately US$275 million) over the course of the day, pledged by Chinese throughout the country. Stories of workers donating their wages for the day to the relief and reconstruction effort were reported in the newspapers the following day.

It was interesting to observe the singular national focus on this and the solidarity the Chinese people felt for their fellow citizens suffering from the devestation in western China. It was also amazing how the government could fairly easily control news media throughout the country and even block satellite content from outside China as well as internet sites and services that constituted entertainment.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others are blocked here in China (these blog posts are posted automatically to my Facebook profile page, which is why those of you discovering them from Facebook can see these). Google’s site redirects to Google’s site in Hong Kong. There are conspicuous surveillance cameras wherever one goes. It strikes one as a fairly controlled society in some things, and in others it seems very much like an open capitalist country with flourishing commerce. It doesn’t quite feel like the paternalism that we see in Singapore, but it is, as our guide mentioned, “socialist centralism” (as it is now officially known in China) in terms of political and social environment.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Meetings with China Science and Technology Information Institute and College of Information Science and Technology, Beijing Normal University

On Tuesday, we had two meetings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. We first met with the China Science and Technology Information Institute. Founded in 1956, the China Science and Technology Information Institute is a state-level nonprofit research institution directly under the Ministry of National Science and Technology.

The institute is mainly engaged in information analysis; providing scientific and technological information services; promoting and developing new technology; personal training and continuing education, etc. Within the last 50 years, the China Science and Technology Information Institute has made great contributions to S&T information business, and have received several awards.

Interestingly, the Institute also has graduate and post-graduate programs in Information Science, something that we do not typically see in the west for scientific institutes. They sponsor faculty and students for foreign study exchanges also, and host students and faculty from outside of China to teach and study at the Institute as well. They also have a publications division that publishes and is responsible for several academic journals, meeting proceedings and other publications in the area of information and library science.

This meeting was quite different from our meeting at the library of the CAS on Monday in that almost all of the communication was performed through an interpreter. We found out later that the staff there had good facility in English but that because they were officially representing the government of China they communicated in Chinese.

In the afternoon, we visited the Beijing Normal University’s College of Information Science and Technology. The predecessor of the Information Science and Technology School of Beijing Normal University is the wireless electronics subject in the Physics Department, which has recruited students since 1964. The Wireless Electronics Department was established in 1980, and over the next several years also included education technology and computer science; and the School of Information Science and Technology soon followed. Throughout these changes, the curriculum evolved as well.

Currently the College of Information Science and Technology consists of two departments and many science research centers, specifically the electronics science and technology and the computer science and technology department. Students can receive a Bachelor’s degree in either Electronics Science or Computer Science or a Master’s in Communication and Information Systems, Signal and Information Processing, Computer Software and Theory, Computer Applied Technology, Computer Architecture, and Pattern Recognition and Intelligent Systems. There are 433 undergraduate and 170 graduate students currently enrolled.

The school encourages the students to actively participate in scientific research and innovation activities, as well as various competitions. In recent years, students have published more than 130 academic articles and have won over 90 internal and external awards, but participating in contests including; the National Undergraduate Electronic Design contest; Mathematical Modeling and Computer Application Competition; English Contests; and the Students Entrepreneurship Contest.

This was our first visit to an LIS school, and we met with two faculty members and one student who was in his second year of a Master’s level program at the College. Interestingly, most of the focus here was on undergraduate education, with many of the students having strong computer programming components of the curriculum, information management/engineering, and what we would consider non-traditional library areas in North America. Many of their students after graduation work in the private sector for search engine companies such as Baidu, which has a much larger visibility and usage in China than Google does. I exchanged cards with the faculty members and look forward to finding out more about their course offerings at the College. They do have graduate programs in information science and library science both. It seems that positions at academic libraries are highly sought after in China, so often students with advanced subject degrees are selected for subject librarian positions. There is no established credential for working as a ‘librarian’ in China, and new employees go through a training program in their new position to contextualize the work for the new employee, including teaching them what they may need to know about the work of libraries.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Meeting summary: Chinese Academy of Sciences Library

Today we had meetings with the executive staff of the National Science Library of China (NSLC), Chinese Academy of Sciences library, in Beijing. NSLC is the public library service system of CAS, as well as the National Library of Sciences in the Chinese National Sciences and Technology Libraries (NSTL) system. Under a Board of Trustees appointed by CAS, NSLC consists of a Main Library (based in Beijing, formerly the Library of CAS) and three branch libraries.

NSLC functions as the key library nationally, for collecting information resources and providing information services in natural sciences, inter-disciplinary fields, and high tech fields, to researchers and students of CAS and for researchers around the country. It also conducts services such as information analysis, digital library system development, scientific publication (with its 14 journals), and promotion of sciences. It also operates the Archives of CAS.

NSLC has a staff over 370, and a collection of about 11.5 million items. In recent years, it has acquired or developed more than 30 databases, covering over 5,000 foreign STM full text journals, 11,000 Chinese full text journals, 80,000 foreign theses and dissertations, 180,000 e-books, and an increasing numbers of full text proceedings and reference books, all of which are accessible from 108 CAS Institutes in over 32 cities in China. NSLC provides an interlibrary loan system, connecting every CAS institute, as well as connecting to NSTL and major academic libraries. In addition, NSLC has developed many innovative services and tools, such as cross-database searching, integrated journal browsing, online reference, subject portals, remote and mobile authentication, and the ScienceChina system, that incorporates abstracts, citations, and full text of key Chinese scientific literature.

There were a number of striking things with this meeting. First, the Executive Director of the NSLC was completely fluent in English, having been educated with an MLS and Ph.D. at Columbia University’s library school back in the late 1980s. He gave an excellent presentation on “Toward Knowledge-Based Information Professionals”, which outlined the NSLC’s programmes and capability in two periods, first from 2001-2006 and second, since that time. The NSLC supports 30,000 scientists and 40,000 graduate students in the areas of basic sciences, life sciences, geologic science, and technology, and provides a sophisticated suite of services to these clientele. They build scientometric analysis systems and services, current awareness, federated searching, a union catalog representing over 500 libraries in China, embedded library services and librarians (although these subject librarians do not have library science credentials) in China’s many scientific institutes, and a number of sophisticated desktop integration and other user point-of-need systems and services.

I was very impressed with the breadth and sophistication of the services offered, and it was interesting that they are very focused and intentional in serving the needs of scientists with the goal of helping them identify and innovate in new areas of research across these disciplines. They have both subject specialists as well as information analysts, and 93% of their subject specialists have science/technology/medicine (STM) backgrounds,with over 70% of them having Masters or Ph.D. subject degrees, and an even higher percentage of these for the information analysts. The one major difference these have from North American research libraries is the fact that these subject librarians and information analysts are not required to have library science degrees. It seems in North American academic libraries, we are much more concerned with having the library science credential and people socialized into the profession, and here in China they are much more outcomes oriented in terms of maximizing the contribution and sophistication of service that these subject specialists have on the research enterprise. I sometimes wonder if academic librarians in our institutions would be more credible if we had advanced subject degrees; it seems like here they can and are, so the question to ask is for some of our subject disciplines that are particularly complex, should an MLS be required over a candidate who has advanced subject degrees and still some socialization into the library profession?

The NSLC also is very outcomes oriented, which surprised me. Merit increases are tied to the success of the scientists that the subject specialists/information analysts serve,and if goals are not met, then their job isnot thought to be complete, and they must continue to work on this.

All of this has compelling implications for innovation in science & technology for China. It is interesting that these resources are being focused on enabling research outcomes.I think that our national science libraries focus more on collecting scholarly and research resources and providing access to them. The National Library here has this but focuses on making science happen much more intentionally. The thought of a nation of 1 billion focused on scientific innovation outcomes will pose a significant challenges to the more developed G8 nations, I can imagine.

We also spent time in discussing future collaboration between the NSLC and ASIS&T (Nancy Roderer is a Past President of ASIS&T) and SLA (one of our delegates is current President of SLA), and of staff exchanges between China and the United States. Some wonderful opportunities here for US libraries to host Chinese professionals!

Tomorrow we have two visits: the China Science & Technology Information Institute in the morning, and the College of Information Science & Technology at Beijing Normal University in the afternoon.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

Finally in Beijing!

We finally arrived in Beijing after an 11 hour 20 minute flight from San Francisco on one of United’s 747s. It actually went faster than I thought it might, although I am pretty close to zombiehood right now, with my body being up for going on 19 hours. Maybe its also the ozone I’ve been sucking in since arrival. The Beijing airport is impressive, hugely impressive, even. On the plane was an interesting Discovery Channel segment on a massive 3,340 ft bridge completed about a year ago in Hong Kong, called the Stonecutter’s Bridge. China seems to really revel in engineering feats. This bridge is one example; the massive Beijing airport, which is apparently the world’s largest by some measure, is another. Beijing has a population of 18 million with four million cars (hence the pollution), and Shanghai has 19 million. Next week in Shanghai, we’ll be stopping by the Shanghai 2010 Expo grounds, which open May 1st.

For now, I sip my Tsingtao and contemplate a nap before dinner.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

People to People delegation on “Educating the Information Professions” in China

So, last October I received a letter inviting me to be a part of a delegation of library and information science practitioners and teaching faculty that would be visiting with colleagues in China to discuss “educating the information professions” in our respective countries. This was proposed and being led by Nancy Roderer, Director of the Welch Biomedical Library at Johns Hopkins University, who happens to be my first mentor and Director that I worked for (at Yale’s medical library, back in 1995-1997), fresh out of library school. Wow, what an opportunity, but how to come up with the money for this in a short time frame?

So I wrote a grant proposal to the in-house grant program that we have at the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame, which provides funding for research in librarianship for its library faculty. I proposed to study and contrast the formal and informal education of systems librarians in the United States and Canada with those of China. Those of us in the sub-discipline of systems librarianship know how much of an ad-hoc process it can be to actually get into this role in libraries, and despite more technology focus than ever before in LIS programs, we still talk much about the ‘accidental systems librarian’, one who through a confluence of technical skills, learning ability, intellectual curiosity and need, gravitates towards roles in providing support for library computing infrastructure in the institutions in which we serve. I’m intrigued whether this has been formalized any more in professional programs than when I went through my studies (McGill MLIS ’95). I’ve also been reading up on the idea of ‘communities of practice’, and I think there are some excellent examples of where communities within the sub-discipline of systems librarianship come together and organically form themselves into an intentional community of practice, where the informal education along with a group of peers bridges the gap between the formal education one receives in MLS and related programs, and the practical hard and soft skills one needs to be a successful systems librarian, for example in a higher education institution in North America.

Take the Code4Lib community, for example, a group of library computing professionals (not all degreed librarians, which is important to note) that are engaged with the possibility and practice of leveraging open source software to provide solutions for library needs. This is quite an interesting ‘community of practice’ in that it grew up organically from within systems librarianship, first with a mailing list, and IRC channel and a website, and then with a major national annual meeting that regularly sells out and has more recently spawned a whole host of regional Code4Lib meetings through the US, Canada and Europe.

So what is so interesting about all of this? Well, for one there continues to be a dearth of published research on the topic of systems librarianship. Its important to understand the role of systems librarians within the context of libraries and where they can best contribute, particularly when technology approaches in libraries seems to be accelerating. We have a handful of good books on the subject, beginning with Tom Wilson’s excellent 1998 work “The Systems Librarian: Designing Roles, Defining Skills” and Rachel Singer Gordon’s more recent “The Accidental Systems Librarian”, and then perhaps a dozen articles, but that’s pretty much it. Tom’s work posits that there have been systems librarians since the last 1960s and although they have had various titles, they have cluster of important characteristics, skills and roles within libraries, and as technology changes the titles change but the raison d’etre for the position remains largely the same: enabling the use of technology to support the mission of the library and the communities in which the library serves.

The combination of examining these questions within the context of a rapidly emergent nation such as China, and the increasingly significant state-directed information industry there seemed even more interesting to me. If we have developed some of these norms of defining what the sub-discipline of systems librarianship over the course of the past 40 years in North America, what is the experience of this like in China, where modern library and information science only began following the ‘Great Reforms’ of the 1980s in deconstructing the Cultural Revolution period (1966-1975) which severely damaged higher education institutions in China. To what extent are the roles of the equivalent of systems librarians in Chinese libraries equivalent to those of their colleagues in North America, and what is the mix of formal and informal education for successful members of these roles, and to what extent are there communities of practice around systems librarianship in China?

I’ll be exploring these issues on my visit to China with the delegation, April 17-26 in our visits to six library organizations and schools in Beijing and Shanghai. I will document and share my thoughts as much as I can here throughout this trip, and welcome your comments and insights as I do so.

Filed under: librarianship, travel reports

OLE Indiana Workshop, April 22nd

Yesterday I attended a follow-up Open Library Environment workshop for Indiana academic libraries, at IUPUI in Indianapolis. We started off our day by meeting at the Hesburgh Library at 6:30 am and arrived a few minutes before the 10:00 am start time, which was due to run until 3:00 pm that day. 28 librarians and staff were in attendance, the bulk of which represented various libraries at Indiana University Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, Purdue University Libraries sent a team, an attendee from Taylor University who was also representing the Private Academic Libraries of Indiana (PALNI) consortium, and then five of us from Notre Dame, from Library Information Systems, Digital Access & Information Architecture, Monographic Acquisitions, our Librarian-in-Residence and our Data Services Librarian.

The day started off with welcomes from the Library Directors of IUPUI and Indiana University, some introductions of all attendees, and then a presentation by Robert McDonald, Associate Dean for Library Technologies for the IU Library System.

The goal of the OLE Project ( is to specify and design, co-develop, build and implement a community source, next generation business system for libraries. In the past this has been known as the “Integrated Library System (ILS)”, which comprised the lifecycle management of physical items (books, journals, videorecordings, music, etc.) that a library typically purchases for their user community. With the explosion of electronic information that libraries have been acquiring in the last 15 years, the scope of these systems have been increasingly antiquated and less able to meet the needs for libraries to manage these effectively. This has resulted in a variety of other systems growing up around the ILS to handle these new needs, including citation linking, federated search services, electronic resource management and most recently, separate enhanced resource discovery interfaces that address some of the shortcomings with the web interface used by end users of these systems.

The library systems market is a small one globally, and the academic research library market an even smaller niche. The North American and European installed base of ILS software provided by the four main companies in this market is perhaps 4000-5000, which is tiny by most mainstream software comparisons. Two of these companies are held by private equity firms, another is family owned and privately-held. Recent consolidation within this market and the maturity of the installed current generation of software have made this a fairly flat growth market for these vendors, and McDonald guessed that the market would consolidate further down to perhaps two vendors within the next 2-3 years. The only company so far that has addressed a five year plan for coming up with a ‘next generation ILS’ thus far has been Ex Libris, so McDonald thought that they would be one of the companies that survives, but was less confident of the others.

The OLE Project has held a variety of regional workshops to engage about 350 participants from 175+ libraries in North America and Australasia, and the next part of the day was spent reviewing the OLE Reference Model and outcomes of the business process modelling activities that participants have contributed to. This, along with a two-year activity study done on the work of libraries by the National Library of Australia, has resulted in OLE to be able to define the major functional categories of business activity in academic libraries. These functions will be developed and exposed using Service Oriented Architecture, a software development approach that allows functionality to be exposed to other computer programs in a modular and granular way to allow for flexible, extensible and scalable software that can be plugable and easier to integrate with other external systems, most notably enterprise academic systems such as financials, human resources, student information, identity management and digital repository functional areas.

Ex Libris is busy defining their next generation ILS, code-named Unified Resource Management (URM) at this point, representing the vended application choice. The OLE Project represents the community and open source development along these lines.

OLE is looking to identify build partners for the second phase of their request for grant funding to Mellon, which will be due into Mellon in July 2009. This includes a commitment of up to two years from at least part of a programmer from a build participant institution, and some other cost sharing up front. With the economic downturn, Mellon is expected to be able to contribute only two years funding support instead of three, and Mellon expects the Project to be able to demonstrate that the effort is sustainable with a governance model and robust community developing around the project to see it forward into the future.

There was also some time spent on discussing the Kuali Foundation (, which develops, maintains and governs a variety of open source administrative enterprise software for higher education, and which could serve as a non-profit organizational home for the OLE Project.

We wrapped up the day with some discussion on ‘blue-skying’ opportunities and where the group thought we could stop doing some current activities and start doing new things to address the rapid change in higher education, commodity search services like Google in relation to libraries, and related issues.

The OLE Project certainly has a good deal of momentum around it, and it will be very interesting to see how the vended and community source options develop over the next two years. This will certainly be a pivotal time in library systems and services, and it is certainly good to engage in both areas to influence and educate ourselves and the institutions we work for on these developments.

Filed under: OLE, travel reports

Open Library Environment (OLE) Chicago workshop

I, along with two other colleagues from Notre Dame, attended the OLE workshop at the University of Chicago last week. Perhaps twenty-five people from 10-12 institutions were there, and OLE has been very aggressive with lots of momentum behind them in having many of these workshops.

The OLE project is a Mellon-funded project led by Duke University to build a requirements document for a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) open source ILS (sans OPAC) suitable for the academic/research market. Mellon is also funding the eXtensible Catalog project, a resource discovery environment remarkably akin to Primo. I wonder if they might next fund development of an open-source ERM to complete the library stack they are funding development on . . .

The purpose of the meeting was to collaborate on identifying areas that today’s ILSes do a good job and a less good job, and then to identify what core functionality OLE should/might consider as they build their requirements document for an open-source ILS to meet academic needs. We ended off the afternoon by doing some business process modelling in the groups we were split up in: acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, serials/ERM.

The full reports and output from the workshop are available at:

A couple things struck me about the meeting:

1) Participants were mostly concerned about building a better system with much of the same scope of functionality; there was much less discussion and focus around re engineering workflows and such compared to similar discussions at IGeLU for Ex Libris’ upcoming URM system, for example;

2) SIRSI and a surprising number of Voyager sites were fairly dissatisfied with the functionality set of their current ILSes. Perhaps Aleph does a better job in general with consortia functionality, which is the perspective I was approaching this from. I pointed out to the circulation group I was in where Aleph could handle certain functionality well where the others could not.

3) I found out an interesting metric: Equinox is reportedly supporting 270 libraries on Evergreen for a total (yes, total for all 270) of $200,000. Granted, 250 of these 270 are small publics in the state of Georgia, but that is an impressive total cost of ownership.

4) If there are many libraries that perhaps won’t be able to afford to buy/migrate to URM within the next few years due to the economy, there may be an opportunity to save some Voyager defections by offering to move them to Aleph, and for other SIRSI/Horizon, etc. customers to move them as well. I wonder if Ex Libris has done functionality gap analysis between Voyager and Aleph to any extent?

Filed under: travel reports, , , , , , , ,