Saturday, May 17, 2008

Eric S. Raymond on Proprietary ILSs

There's been a discussion going on recently on the code4lib mailing list about Innovative Interfaces' plans to remove some functionality from the terminal-based interface to Innopac/Millennium, nominally due to a security hole in that interface. The problem is that many site have written specialized programs, which interact with the terminal interface, to automate certain common operations, and those programs will no longer work. Eric Raymond, a prominent open source advocate, wrote a paper entitled The Magic Cauldron (collected in The Cathedral and the Bazaar) that directly addresses the difficulties that we are starting to become more aware of and vocal about:
Suppose you go the conventional closed-source route. If you do, then you put your firm at the mercy of a supplier monopoly—because by definition, there is only one place you can go for support, bug fixes, and enhancements. If the supplier doesn't perform, you will have no effective recourse because you are effectively locked in by your initial investment and training costs. Your supplier knows this. Under these circumstances, do you suppose the software will change to meet your needs and your business plan...or your supplier's needs and your supplier's business plan?


Contrast this with the open-source choice. If you go that route, you have the source code, and no one can take it away from you. Instead of a supplier monopoly with a chokehold on your business, you now have multiple service companies bidding for your business—and you not only get to play them against each other, you have the option of building your own captive support organization if that looks less expensive than contracting out. The market works for you. (cite)
I do think that he was overly optimistic about the marketplace providing "multiple service companies bidding" for our support business, but that is beginning to happen. And we're also starting to see the creation of the "captive support organization[s]" that he predicted as larger library systems begin to recognize that it is cheaper to build a new, or adapt an existing, open source ILS than it is to pay for even one year of a license and support contract with the larger proprietary ILSs.

I can only wonder how long it will take the large ILS vendors to recognize that the only way they can compete is by opening up their systems and simplifying access to our data, which they are merely storing. Continuing to restrict access and block innovation will only drive more libraries to systems that let librarians, and their users, be creative.

Friday, May 02, 2008

One Big Library Unconference in Toronto

The Emerging Technology Interest Group at York University Libraries is hosting an Unconference (I think that's just the academically acceptable way to refer to a barcamp) looking at idea originally voiced by Dan Chudnov Wendy Newman (updated: thanks to William Denton for correcting my misattribution) that
"It seems like there are lot of different kinds of libraries: public libraries, school libraries, university libraries, college libraries, law libraries, medical libraries, corporate libraries, special libraries, private libraries. But really there's just One Big Library, with branches all over the world."
which is certainly the way that I wish things worked when I'm using the various libraries that I have access to.

Join us in Toronto and see how close we can get to One Big Library!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

April Book A Month Challenge: Beauty

Fables: Legends in Exile. Bill Willingham, writer, et al. New York: Vertigo, 2002.
Fables: Animal Farm. Bill Willingham, writer, et al. New York: Vertigo, 2003.

Hundreds of years ago, the lands of fairy tales and fables were overrun by "The Adversary" and the characters of our favourite stories, forced into exile in the real world. The human fables live quietly in New York, ruled by King Cole, the Mayor of Fabletown, who is merely a figurehead. The true power behind the throne is Snow White, Director of Operations, who is supported by her Sheriff, Bigby (i.e. "Big B.") Wolf, transformed into human shape somehow. That is the premise of the Fables series of graphic novels, which are collections of the Vertigo comic books of the same title. Each title in the series is a complete story arc from the original books.

Legends in Exile, the first novel in the series, is a standards murder mystery, solved by the traditional means of the genre, with no dependency on the special skills of the characters (beyond the fact that Bigby can ID the crime-scene blood by smell). All the usual suspects are dragged out to solve the mystery of the murder of Snow White's estranged wild sister, Rose Red: her sometime boyfriend, Jack the Giant Killer; the wealthy and mysterious Blue Beard; Snow's ex-husband, Prince Charming; and there's even a cameo by the witch of the Black Forest, last seen dining on children in her gingerbread house. Legends is a light take on the noir hard-boiled detective genre, and Bigby doesn't disappoint, solving everything while managing to piss off everybody.

The second volume in the series, Animal Farm, is, as suggested by the name, a tale of political upheaval and revolution. In Legends, we get glimpses of a talking pig, one of the "three little" tormented by the big bad wolf in the homelands, wandering through the scenery as a bit of porcine stage business. At the beginning of Animal Farm it is revealed that Colin has escaped from "The Farm," a sanctuary for the non-human fables in upstate New York. Snow White, and Rose Red leave the city for the Farm to return Colin and to check in with the manager of the Farm. While there, they discover that many of the animals are unsatisfied with they're lives for forced seclusion and dream of returning to the Homelands to fight off The Adversary. This dissatisfaction has risen to the level that many of the animals are considering armed revolt against the human government of Fabletown merely for the chance to try to recapture the Homelands. Because of the animosity of so many animals towards Wolf, he's banned from visiting the Farm, so White and Rose are on their own in the middle of the conflict.

These stories are well-told modern tales featuring the characters we remember from childhood (with a few obscure, or more modern references to pique our curiosity). Because of a small amount of sex and slightly larger amounts of blood and violence, the books are not suitable for younger children, but should be fine for young adults (if they're watching CSI, they can read these).

Oh, and Legends in Exile opens with Snow White trying to explain to a couple why she can't help them with marriage counseling: Beauty and the Beast.