Open Library Systems and NJ: From Vision to Transformation

(This will be a rather long post, due to the nature of the discussion and presentation)

Presenters: Ann Hoang (NJIT), Ann Montanaro (Rutgers), and Kurt Wagner (William Paterson). Present on panel but not presenting: Edward Corrado (TCNJ)

 This session discussed the VALE OLS white paper presented in May 2007, discussing the possibility of a statewide, academic open-source ILS. Kurt Wagner introduced the session, discussing the timeline of the project from its inception to the present. While a lot has happened since the idea was introduced in June 2006, nothing has been decided, as there are many technical and administrative issues that need to be sorted out. The discussion began with the Vision for VALE planning retreat, and the ideas presented in a paper submitted for that retreat by Edward Corrado and Jim Robertson. The idea was that 8 libraries rejected the traditional ILS in favor of an open-source library system, which was run by a central office with its own staff.

 Ann Hoang offered a definition of open source via Wikipedia, and mentioned that in spite of the “free” nature of open source software, there are still costs associated with installation, migration, and implementation.

 Ann Montanaro mentioned the rash of mergers and acquisitions in the ILS marketplace, and how they caught many libraries off guard. There was a discussion of what vendors were providing, and whether or not we could build a system ourselves.

 Kurt Wagner took up the timeline with the announcement of Evergreen, Georgia PINES’s open-source ILS system, which was announced on Labor Day weekend in 2006. The potential of this new system for VALE was discussed, and at the 2007 VALE conference, the 4 panelists were approached to go to Georgia to investigate the new system.

 Ann Hoang talked about the visit to Georgia. The group interviewed Evergreen developers, and visited a small and large regional library to get feedback from staff and users about the new system, as compared to the old one. Users were excited about the interface, the relevancy-ranked and faceted searching, and the ability to create a Bookbag, among other things. The cataloging module also got high marks for being fast and efficient. Enhancement requests were addressed quickly, sometimes immediately. The only “bad” thing reported was too many options in the reporting module.

 Ann Montanaro was skeptical that 3 guys in a garage could write this system, and brought a list of 150 things that Rutgers University libraries in particular would need in a system. The Evergreen developers went through the list, and the list of items they would have to develop was very short.

 Ann Hoang mentioned that PINES members share the same set of circulation rules, and have the traditional public consortium arrangement of 1 card that can be used at all libraries. Certain modules are currently missing in PINES that are needed by academic libraries, Acquisitions in particular. An Acquisitions module is currently being developed by the Evergreen developers in partnership with the University of Windsor, Ontario.

 The group then discussed the need for VALE to start work on the administrative and policy issues now. VALE needs to view itself as one institution rather than many separate institutions if the move to an open-source ILS is to be successful.

 Questions were then taken from the audience. It was agreed that the technical aspects were less of an issue than the administrative and policy aspects of the project. The first question was “What local control will there be over custom parameters, and what would keep VALE from becoming the ‘evil vendor’?” Edward Corrado pointed out that a VALE OLS office would be dealing with 50 customers rather than the thousands an ILS vendor deals with, and that a good governance structure can minimize the risk of VALE becoming as bad as the vendors it will leave behind. In response to another question, Rich Sweeney mentioned that the real payoff would not be in cost savings, but in the increased resources available to faculty, staff, and students.

 Those libraries interested in participating in the VALE OLS initiative should e-mail Taras Pavlovsky at TCNJ (pavlovsk@tcnj.edu) .

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