why don’t vendors care about us?

Jenny has a very astute post wondering why our OPAC vendors don’t care about us in relation to the “my checkout list as an RSS feed” meme that has been going around. I, too, have been staggered by the lack of responsiveness I have gotten from vendors about even basic functionalities like Netscape compatibility [Sirsi doesn’t have it], or customizability [changing the colors on your OPAC should be stupidly easy, not maddeningly hard] to say nothing of more complex features like using CSS for layout, or RSS for content richness.

For me, this just drives home the true nature of the buyer/seller relationship and the OPAC lock-in. Support is expensive, and if it doesn’t lead to more sales it’s just barely worth the money of the vendor because where else is your library going to go? Do you really have the time, energy, or money to shift all of your records to a new vendor who probably doesn’t have a better track record than your current one? Does your systems librarian need more work to do? Can you be allayed with promises that the next version is going to fix the problems in the current version, and ignore the fact that a new version will probably break as many things as it fixes?

For every librarian like Jenny who is going to bust some heads — and more power to her — there are ten librarians who can just barely keep their OPAC running, much less customize it to suit their specific needs. Don’t believe me? See how many people running our current OPAC haven’t customized the interface nearly at all besides entering the name of their library. I know how hard it is to customize the damned thing, I congratulate them for even being able to do that. While we’re contemplating why they don’t give us RSS, let’s also be remembering that they don’t give us much else either, particularly for libraries less tech-savvy than Jenny’s. We’ve gotten over marvelling at the fact that the OPACs work, now I for one would like to see them working well. I bet they have RSS feeds planned for the next roll-out, but they’ll probably try to sell them to us. [update: catalogablog puts up some links to open source options you can manage yourself, and don’t forget oss4lib]