I know that I am a little late to the game, but I’ve been traveling and just now had the time to read over Stephen Abrams’ “Integrated Library System Platforms on Open Source” (pdf) white paper. Really, from all of the tweets I saw about it, I thought it would be much worse. Yes, there is a good bit of FUD in it, but what else would you expect? If they wrote a position paper about Ex Libris or III there would be as well. Certainly there are problems of un-cited quotes that may or may not have been used out of context. Yes, as Abrams says when asked about it, they are attributed, but when and where they were said has been left out and that is important to their understanding. If someone testing a new software product said it was bad in alpha or beta stage of development that has no bearing now. If someone said it is stupid to create a new ILS before it was finished, now that it is finished and is successful, it doesn’t mean much except maybe the person who said it was wrong with his prediction. The question is what is the situation now and that is why citations are important in these types of things. By not offer citations when asked, it makes me believe Abrams knows his use of Clifford Lynch’s view on Open Source ILS is either taken out of context or is dated.
Abrams tries to say that the US Military restricts the use of Open Source because it is insecure. The fact is, they not only use Open Source, they have also developed Open Source. Yes, they have an approval process, but that applies to all software. An Open Source ILS is not a terrorist threat. Abrams says “SirsiDynix has a long tradition of using open source in our solutions…” but if we are to believe his FUD, open source is a threat. So, If Open Source was such a threat, then why do they use it in their products? Abrams wants his cake and wants to eat it too.
A few other things that jump out to me from Abrams paper which are not directly related to Open Source. First Abram writes that “Open source software developers are spending the majority of their time and resources on getting the back room operations right, 30 years after we already completed the process.” If I were Abrams, I wouldn’t think this is a good thing to rest your laurels on. This is exactly one reason why OLE is being developed. Libraries need systems that weren’t based in the 1970’s. Ex Libris, one of SirsiDynix’s proprietary competitors, realizes this and this is why they are creating the URM. Libraries can no longer afford to operate on 30-year old technology.
The second quote that jumped out is that using Open Source might involve “hiring an expensive consultant.” I can just as easily say that getting an ILS from SirsiDynix might mean signing an expensive contract. When it comes down to it an Open Source product is neither bad or good for a particular organization just because it is Open Source. Yes, I believe that the Open Source method can, and often does, make better software, often has a lower TCO, and that it has many benefits over proprietary methods both in practice and in theory. I also believe Open Source is a good fit for libraries because the philosophies complement each other (both librarians and Open Source supporters, want to give information away to make the world a better place). That said, each software acquisition decision needs to be evaluated on its own merits. There may be different things involved in the evaluation and different conclusions based on the type of library, the staffing of the library, the budget of the library, etc. What works for my library may not work for yours. Where I work we have a wide range of products we use. Some are locally hosted Open Source; some are local hosted proprietary products; some are hosted proprietary products. Each one of these methods works for us in our situation and we are happy with our choices (well, as happy as one can ever be). We considered the options with an open mind and depending on the project, staffing available, the financials, etc. we have come to different conclusions for different applications. If you are considering any significant software acquisition I’d encourage you to evaluate all the viable options and let the best solution win. Sometimes it will be proprietary. Sometimes it will be Open Source. My guess is that in the future the decisions will increasingly become to go with an Open Source solution, but time will tell.
Abrams says that he would like “a Respectful Discussion” but that is not what his white paper offered. Using the “T” word (terrorist) and quotes calling the creation of an Open Source ILS stupid are not ways to begin a successful dialogue on Open Source in Libraries. Let us hope we can move forward from here with a respectful, and truthful, dialogue.