the first of, I suspect, many ILS lawsuits

“The Queens Borough Public Library, one of the largest and busiest libraries in the United States, has filed a major lawsuit against Sirsi Corporation, which currently does business as SirsiDynix.”

You can read the complaint here. Even though it’s 193 points long, I suggest some browsing. The basic issue is that Queens Borough was looking for an ILS, got bids from both Sirsi and Dynix, chose Dynix and then because of the “merger” actually got Sirsi who were a little jerkish. The library spent a lot of time and money on this process and wound up with the product they had not chosen. I’ll be interested to see where this goes. As someone who is often privy to a lot of “we have been having nearly-legal fights with our ILS vendor” stories, I’m glad to see one break through the light of day. [gwasdin]

22 thoughts on “the first of, I suspect, many ILS lawsuits

  1. No, I think it’s normal to be excited about it. From what I have heard in the past, big ILS vendors [I’ve heard iii mentioned a lot] play hardball with libraries — and keep in mind that’s the public’s money — over stuff that is only quasi-legally enforceable and gives them substandard service and products that seem decades older than they really are. There has been very little effort to try to make ILSes into anything that approaches what libraries actually want (reliable, with data you can get out and features you can build on yourself) and a whole lot of effort and marketing into feelgood spokespeople and feature creep without improving the core product. I’m just happy there’s a library that was big enough to call them on their antics.

  2. Oh man. To say I am unsurprised by this would be a giant honking lie. I shall be watching this with interest, oh yes!

  3. Steve, it’s not wrong at all. They are a terrible, terrible company – awful to both employees and (more importantly) customers. I hope they sue them out of existence.

  4. Excellent. *polishes pitchfork*

    So when they get sued into oblivion, what happens to my local public library’s catalog? They run it for a while as-is (unsupported) until they manage to hire the staff to maintain an open-source catalog? Or they are forced to go running into the arms of III (who has a better product, but a reputation for insane pricing)?

  5. Steve: It’s not an either-or scenario. You also have the option of engaging with a support vendor for an open-source system, who can do everything from just giving you casual support, if you need it, to a full migration + hosted service. Both Koha and Evergreen have commercial support options; for example, Koha has vendors like Bywater Solutions, Catalyst, and PTFS, and Evergreen has vendors like Equinox, Bywater Solutions (again!), and PTFS-Europe. We have a support contract with Equinox, for example, and it’s really refreshing to see a company respond quickly and authoritatively to a support request.

  6. I’m not a big fan of the current Sirsi company management, but this is unfair:

    There has been very little effort to try to make ILSes into anything that approaches what libraries actually want (reliable, with data you can get out and features you can build on yourself)

    Sirsi Unicorn (or Symphony, as they renamed it to appease Dynix customers) is extremely reliable at the core, you can get your data out and you can change stuff and build on features yourself. It just takes a lot of unix knowledge to do so. And a lot of time. And institutional support. All of which are in short supply in public libraries.

    That ILS software feels 20 years out of date is fair. Of course it does. The core of Unicorn is 20 years old, and other vendors aren’t doing any better. The problem that Queens Borough has with Sirsi is with sales and marketing, not with the software.

    It’d be great if the open source ILSes force the traditional ILS vendors into improving, but the ILS market is a lot broader, with needs that vary far more than most people realize. The library in Buckland, MA has very different needs than the library at the World Bank.

  7. I get what you’re saying Lissa — but I think until there’s some sort of a simple export for data it’s fair to say that this isn’t really a feature that the ILS offers. I’ll concede I may have been hyperbolic on the reliability factor, but not having a big red EXPORT button seems to be more of a case of ill-intent than the fact that this isn’t a feature libraries have been clamoring for for decades. It’s like, to me, cable TV. If there really were a market-driven set of economic factors affecting cable tv, we’d all have a la carte pricing. We don’t and I think it’s more because it affects the cable companies’ bottom line, not that it’s difficult or even expensive to provide this option.

    That said, yeah QBPL is mostly arguing that claims were made that were not followed through on, so it will be interesting to see how that goes in its own right.

  8. I have to ask what you want this “big red EXPORT button” to do? Our library is in the process of migrating to a new ILS and I haven’t had any trouble exporting anything (currently on Horizon). I didn’t have much difficulty exporting when I was on Unicorn (though I did have API training).

    The problem is often importing on the other side and doing the scripting work necessary to put it into a format that the new vendor (or open source software) can make use of. As well, the problem can be that you often need detailed knowledge of your underlying data structure to extract your data properly.

    I’d question whether data extraction (and importation) can ever be easy since only bibliographic records have a true standard.

  9. Well, there is a big red export button for bibliographic data, the MARC Export Wizard. On the Util toolbar, been there for at least 8 versions. Getting patron data out requires API training (and then it is trivial).

    I do think you’ve hit the hammer on the head with the pricing issue, though. Libraries just don’t have enough money to sling around to get what we all claim we want. That, or we’re all willing to settle.

    People talk about III, which stuffs its data into a proprietary format. Unicorn doesn’t. It uses Oracle or CISAM. Both are well-documented. Sirsi doesn’t get credit for this, and they should. It is a very unixish system.

    It will be interesting to see what happens. I just wish the case had been filed by someone with a stronger case, better lawyers and without a terminal case of St. Dynix Syndrome.

  10. there is a very simple and reliable “export” button in sirsidynix’s online “director’s station.” it’s not as powerful as API, but it’s a lot easier to use. it is also a very expensive “add-on.”

  11. Having never actually used Dynix products as a librarian, I can’t speak for how good or bad the product is. Queens seems to think that the ILS can do everything but sing “God bless America”.

    From what I heard Dynix wasn’t that great. Someone at Queens should have checked references and listservs before signing. My boss says that he would send anyone asking for Dynix references his Dynix problem file (all 275 pages).

    I knew when I heard the news of the merger that the Dynix software was going to disappear. If it was that obvious to me, a reference librarian from Montana, it should have been obvious to all those high powered librarians in New York.

  12. I’m not surprise this was the result of an RFP process. I expect it was a large one, requiring quite some investment from the vendors.

    Is the outdated RFP/ITT model instead of a validation/feasibility model a large reason for the stagnation and oilgopolisation of the LMS marketplace?

    Sometimes, vendors are even asked to buy some essential documents for the RFP, which is another roadblock unrelated to the LMS quality. I suspect that deters many common-ownership vendors from making proposals and if private-sector vendors are made to gamble with higher stakes, they’ll plan to extract a higher return if they win. That’s how gambling usually works, isn’t it?

    Nevertheless, QBPL do appear to have been treated particularly badly according to that statement. I wonder what the return fire will look like.

  13. I’m going to get an extra-large drum of holiday popcorn – you know, carmel corn, butter, and cheese in 3 sections – and settle back and watch the show. I expect to be vastly entertained.

  14. I think what product is superior depends on what you need it to do, and that differs by library and department. I’m currently stuck using III, and frankly, it’s godawful for reference functions. We can’t find where the hell items are without using bizarre combinations of the staff module and the OPAC because neither one has all the features we need, and when I brought a list of our concerns to III, their response was, “Well, why don’t you use the OPAC for that?” Our response was, “Because it takes about eight clicks to do that and I’d have to sign in and out as each patron, so it would be a ridiculous waste of my time. Oh, and it won’t separate out the children’s materials. Why don’t you design a workable reference module?” They just said, “Well, you can send those in as suggestions, I guess…”

    In the meantime, when it takes me four tries to find the right title for a patron because you cannot bleeping SORT after a search, I smile at the patron, apologize, and explain that our system was developed by blind, isolated monks who hate librarians.

  15. Great conversation, guys! My partner & I were just talking about a crappy public library OPAC the other day, and I said it was probably Sirsi… I’ve been spoiled.

    I’d like to point out, though, that Lynn (#12) states that “only bibliographic records have a true standard” — well, yes, but — last time I checked, even academic libraries were dropping catalogers like leaves from a maple tree in October. Just who is going to maintain those standards? Some dude or dudette in Bangladesh, who provides the cheapest outsourcing service to B&T?

    We are so toasted.

  16. This lawsuit makes me extremely happy. SiriDynix is a terrible company with a terrible product. My library recently converted from Horizon (which wasn’t that great) to the “new and improved” Symphony. Symphony is a nightmare and a system that clearly did not have librarian involvement in its design (if it did, SiriDynix promptly ignored all librarian input.) I find it remarkable that a company like SirsiDynix has Stephen Abram as their vice president of innovation, yet are completely incapable of turning out a remotely innovative product.

    I really wish that librarians would just step up to the plate and design their own damn ILS’s. I know that it has happened infrequently at various places around the country, but it really needs to happen on a massive scale. I am hoping that OCLC’s new ILS will give company’s like Innovative and SirsiDynix a run for their money, but I’m not holding my breath.

  17. Very Interesting reading. $5 million smackers eh?

    Remember, All roads lead to Rome.

    *bows head to mourn the fall of Rome*

    PS My library switched to Evergreen. Never been happier

  18. It’s going to be interesting how this plays out. $5 million is a ton though. Unbelievable.

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