Evergreen/Sitka in practice, practically

Before I went and gave my endnote talk at the Prairie Partnerships conference in Regina Saskatchewan, I got to pop in and see a talk about British Columbia’s Evergreen/Sitka project. The talk was split into explanation of how the project came about and then some actual demo-ing of the back end of their customized install of Evergreen. It was a great presentation. Not only was it packed with the sort of numbers and data you could take back to your director, but it made an open source ILS seem like a totally sensible and practical approach to system-wide ILSes which, of course, it is.

The BC libraries were doing a combination of some of their own modifications and working with Equinox to provide additional support and services. BC Libraries have a few computer science types on staff doing a lot of local coding. Their system runs on a single server [no big servers in every library basement!] and remote libraries connect to it via the internet without any significant lag at top load of almost 550 circs a minute!

Sharon Herbert and Sabina Iseli-Otto gave the presentation and here are just a few things I have from my notes.

  • Link to the Sitka project page. They rebranded the project SITKA from BC Pines to give it a more local BC flavor. This is just a small point but one that bears repeating, you can call your ILS anything you want. You don’t have to tell your patrons “Hey look it up in the web opac bistro portal…”
  • In addition, each separate library that is using the system will have their OPAC have its own “skin” so that it looks the library it’s a part of. You can see the skins here: Fort Nelson, Prince Rupert, Powell River. This is not big stuff but it can definitely make an online catalog
  • Searchable version of the catalogue.
  • The women on the panel recommended people read Marshall Breeding’s Library Technology report about Next Generation Library catalogs where he says that the numbers are indicating that libraries currently have “more uncertainly than trust in their library vendors”
  • The OPAC project is just part of the general strategic plan that BC Libraries are doing which includes a One Card program a build-a-website using Plone, chat reference and other features.
  • One of the fear-allaying things that they talked about was the age old “what if the internet is down?” problem. While I feel that, in 2008, making plans about what do do when your library has no internet is a little like making plans for having no electricity, it does happen and it’s useful if an OPAC can function somewhat and also gracefully recover. According to Sharon Hebert, Sitka’s ability to do this is actually fairly impressive.
  • The women stressed “gap analysis” as part of the project rollout, evaluating what is missing from what they have, and making plans to build or buy it. Apparently a known downside to Evergreen is its inability to do something (can’t recall) with serials? Not only is the BC team going to identify and try to rectify this problem, but the joy of open source means they’ll be fixing it for everyone.
  • They estimated that BC libraries spend upwards of 750K in “operating and licensing” costs for existing OPACs. With licensing down to, well, zero, this frees up a lot of cash to pay programmers and support servers and other infrastructure. The goal is to have no libraries be paying more for Sitka than they pay for their existing ILSes.

The big elegant point where was one of competence and capability. As they said “As we demonstrate successes, others come around.” This was clearly a presentation designed to show the possibilities and the capabilities of something that to many seems like far off fantasy-land ideas but they’ve made it very real and very practical. I’m glad I got the time to see this before my talk.

Harvard’s Theatrum Catalogorum

A few people from the Early Modern Studies Group at Harvard have created the Theatrum Catalogorum which collates “library catalogs from every major European country” The next version should countain North American catalogs as well. Of particular interest is the fact that these catalogs are not just linked, they are annotated somewhat. While most of these notes are jus tinformation for English speakers on how to search the catalogs, library geeks will enjoy some of the meta-commentary such as “Many early modern holdings probably lost in an eighteenth-century fire.” or “Don’t bother looking in 1930-1991 or 1992-present catalogs.” [thanks pk]

Hello Wall Street Journal readers!

Or, if you don’t know what I’m taking about, go read this story: Discord Over Dewey. It’s loosely about the Arizona library that decided to get rid of Dewey and make the shelves more bookstore-like, you know the one, but it gets bigger. To quote the article

[T]he debate, say many librarians, is about more than one branch’s organizational system. It feeds into a broader, increasingly urgent discussion about libraries, where a growing number of patrons, used to Google and Yahoo, simply don’t look for books and information the way they used to. Some are drawing on cues from the Internet in proposals for overhauls of cataloging systems, but others are more hesitant, saying that the Web’s tendency to provide thousands of somewhat-relevant results flies in the face of the carefully tailored research libraries pride themselves on.

And if the Wall Street Journal can end a sentence with a preposition, we know the times are changing, right? I’m quoted a little in the article. I had a nice long chat with the writer — as with the NYT piece — and just a tiny bit of it got quoted which I think confuses a few issues, but hey it links here so I can spell them out now in more detail.

  1. The difference between research and looking for information for other purposes. There are much stricter requirements for research — what’s citeable, what’s a good source, what’s authoritative — and a lot of the agitation has been about less-authoritative sites being used more and more not just for people looking up things that interest them, but also for research or attempted research. Is it okay to cite Wikipedia as long as you can prove that you understand that it’s not authoritative? Isn’t there research value to saying that some fact is in Wikipedia, even if it’s not necessarily the same value as that thing being true?
  2. The age gap. People not raised with Google are often more okay with their searches being iterative processes that take longer. Some aren’t. Similarly, younger users are often impatient with iterative searching or the very familiar “try these sources and let me know if they’re okay and if not we can find some others” approach.
  3. Google slicing. I was making a point that because Google is so popular, people forget that information can be indexed by different things than Google decides to index it under. So, searching for content by filesize, by “most recently added to the catalog”, by date added, these are all things Google could do but doesn’t. The problem is that we are forgetting that there are other ways to determine relevance, or relevance to US.

In any case, I liked the article and it had good quotes from a lot of people, some you will recognize and a few you may not. They end the bit with a good line from Michael Casey “Librarians like to think that we’re indispensable,” he said. “While I think that is true to a point, I don’t think we should continue to propagate the idea that we’re indispensable by keeping a complicated cataloging system.”

Announcing Open Library

Someone asked me during one of my talks if I knew of any projects that were actually trying to open source cataloging records and the idea of authority records. I said I didn’t, not really. It’s a weird juxtaposition, the idea of authority and the idea of a collaborative project that anyone can work on and modify. I knew there were some folks at the Internet Archive working on something along those lines, but the project was under wraps for quite some time. Now, it’s not. Its called Open Library and it’s in demo mode. You can examine it and I encourage you to do that and give lots of feedback to the developers. Make sure to check the “about the librarianship” page

Imagine a library that collected all the world’s information about all the world’s books and made it available for everyone to view and update. We’re building that library.