Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Breaking the barriers

Yesterday I attended the  ‘Breaking the barriers‘ conference, organised by PTFS Europe and Ken Chad. It was an excellent conference, so many thanks to the organisers. It covered all aspects of Open Source within libraries, from full-scale LMS to catalogue enhancements, from a wide range of perspectives including conventional suppliers, developers and customers. The mark of a good conference is when the attendees go away excited and inspired by what they’ve seen, and from the people I spoke to yesterday that was certainly the case. I understand the Powerpoint slides should be available soon on Slideshare for those who couldn’t make it.

It demonstrated how Open Source is emerging within libraries, with or without encouragement from conventional suppliers and institutional management. There was a paper from Bob Molyneaux of Equinox which showed how OS LMS have become an accepted part of the LMS market in the US, and are now customarily considered during the initial market survey during the procurement procedure. I think we’re lagging behind slightly in the UK on this, as demonstrated by the supplier presence at the conference. Ex Libris and Talis both gave presentations – very different ones reflecting their different approaches – but both demonstrating committment to this new way of doing things. The old supplier-customer relationship is already dying, with some suppliers cutting back their support desk facilities at a time when customers need more support than ever.  Other LMS suppliers were conspicuously absent – I won’t name anybody, you know who you are…..

The keynote was given by Charles Leadbeater, of ‘We-think’. He gave his usual inspirational talk, pointing out how Web 2.0 is going to change most businesses (read libraries) over the next 5 years, but we don’t really know how. He pointed out that his 9 year old son, ie an emerging user, wants 3 things: to enjoy, to communicate, and to do, and all of them at times of his own choosing. We need to meet these needs, and to my mind Open Source is a way of doing so while avoiding the stagnancy which has crept into some corners of the library market. Things are already changing, witness the sudden appearance of link resolvers, federated searching and catalogue interactivity in the last seven or eight years, and the pace of this change is only going to accelerate. Conventional proprietary software looks like it may not always be the best way to solve the challenges facing us.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Libraries | , , , | 3 Comments

We think

I’ve been reading the latest book which has the blogs all a-twitter, We-think by Charles Leadbetter. Leadbetter is a management guru who looks primarily at innovation, and here he examines the impact of the Internet on society as a whole. He points out the way the Internet facilitates the sharing of information, and how this less competitive attitude is already changing society. In his view people primarily want recognition for their ideas, and the easy sharing of these ideas that the Internet can give is leading to a more egalitarian and cooperative way of doing things: being creative en-masse. Linux, created by the then-student Linus Torvalds and developed initially by volunteers is one example. The book itself is another: he points out that 257 other people contributed ideas for it and edited the drafts on his wiki.

It is well worth reading, and quite inspiring at points, but I don’t fully share Leadbetter’s optimism. The last chapter talks about how ‘we-think’ could co-exist with the private ownership of ideas for financial gain, and I think this is where his theories have their weaknesses. I’d like to say that people are prepared to share for the common good, but I don’t always see this in my workplace or in the world around me. Perhaps the power hierarchies and fierce protection of copyright are the signs of a system under threat, but the recent government statistics indicating that in the UK we’re rapidly becoming a more diversified society are not evidence that we are becoming more inclined to share and cooperate for the greater good.

Perhaps this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in operation, and simply means that some people’s lower-level needs are greater than others, or maybe it is just Darwinian survival of the fittest?  It does reflect that the Internet is changing society in ways we can only speculate upon. My hope is that the world of 2050 is closer to that of We-think than a cyberpunk dystopia, but it is good that influential thinkers like Leadbetter are raising possibilities – both in the minds of our powerful decision-makers and those of us who influence them through We-think.

August 1, 2008 Posted by | General | , , | Leave a comment