The Presidents’ Panel

Perhaps I was a little harsh yesterday on the Twitter, when I was at the RMG Presidents’ Panel. Maybe I shouldn’t have said the Innovative rep was being petulant. Maybe that wasn’t very professional of me, but you know what? It was really unprofessional of him. I guess ILS vendors and their reluctance to provide services libraries really want is my big pet peeve in library land, and sometimes I can’t hold back my disdain.

The thing is, most ILSs were designed 30 years ago, and they simply have not been updated to take advantage of new technologies and new capabilities. They do not provide us what we really need to allow us to continue to grow and adapt and remain relevant. And they don’t seem to have much interest in doing so. ILS vendors remind me of most of the publishing industry: entrenched and bloated and standing at the precipice of change, too afraid to take a leap. And it drives me crazy.

The fact is, OCLC had a great idea. A truly innovative idea for libraries, in moving toward web-scale management, in changing completely how library systems work. Web-scale management isn’t about “the cloud.” It isn’t about relinquishing our hardware. It isn’t about clients that operate over the web. It’s about all libraries coming together, sharing our data in truly new ways, and becoming truly web-scale. It’s about libraries uniting to offer a real, meaningful challenge to our competitors in the digital age: Amazon, Google, Wikipedia. It’s about positioning ourselves as a meaningful entity in a world where web-scale is increasingly all that matters. It’s about cooperation, openness, sharing.

And ILS vendors are no freaking good at cooperation, openness, or sharing.

The thing is, libraries need something else. We need to be able to work together. Our current systems keep us in separate silos, creating our own individual records, replicating work, replicating knowledge. It’s old. It doesn’t work for us anymore, and ILS vendors just don’t seem to want to recognize this. They don’t want to make the massive changes we need, and maybe they aren’t capable of it. We need flexibility, and maybe they are just too bulky and cumbersome to be flexible. I don’t want to see companies fail, I never want to see that. But if they can’t adapt, they will, and I have no patience for people who sit around bemoaning change and how they’re being left behind.

So Innovative President guy, I’m sorry if I was rude, but when you sit at a panel and complain, rather than take the opportunity to explore new ideas, I have no sympathy. You position yourself against libraries, rather than with us, and I, for one, am sick of working like that. None of us can sustain ourselves that way. We have a unique opportunity right now to reshape how libraries work, how our systems and workflows operate, and what we are truly capable of. And I can’t help but feel that the ILS vendors are throwing that away because they are afraid of change.

I’m a new librarian, and there are still a lot of things I don’t know about how the massive organism that is Libraries work. But I can guarantee you that I’m not the only new librarian who feels this way. And one day, we’re going to be the people making decisions. We aren’t willing to settle for the crumbs you give us (and very expensive crumbs at that). We aren’t against you, we want to work with you, to build the best libraries we can. You have to want to work with us, too.

One thought on “The Presidents’ Panel

  1. Al Cornish


    Thank you for this post and the informative tweets that you sent out from the session.

    I do see a set of vendors at least attempting to integrate new technologies and capabilities into their products, albeit in different ways: Ex Libris (URM and Alma); OCLC (WMS and the planned Cooperative Platform); and, Equinox, with its support for open source Evergreen software. With all three of these vendors and products, a local library would have, at least theoretically, the ability to shape its workflows and services more flexibly than is possible with the traditional ILS products.


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