Friday, July 30, 2010

SkyRiver & III Suing OCLC: Traditional (Read: Broken) ILS Vendors are Pissed

Innovative Interfaces (known in LibraryLand as III) and SkyRiver are suing OCLC under anti-trust laws. You can read the full complaint here, and I recommend you do so. It's not an awfully long read, but it certainly is enlightening.

K.G. Schneider addressed it so well, you should read her blog post about the situation, which gets right to the heart of what makes this complaint stink.

At the risk of being a Ranty McRantypants, I would like to note that if you read the suit, III & SkyRiver are complaining that OCLC's innovation hurts them. Which is fascinating, since librarians have been *begging* III and other traditional ILS vendors to innovate - and making recommendations on how they could do so to fit our changing workflows and services - for decades. Now that they've found themselves behind the curve they want free access to what librarians & OCLC have built over decades.

Full disclosure: if you've read my blog, you know that my library's a development partner for the OCLC WMS. We are already seeing how we can save immense amounts of staff time in Acquisitions/Materials processing and Access with not having to duplicate work in multiple systems, as well as a better patron-side experience. And the thing isn't even fully built yet.

I've worked with 3 traditional ILS systems (VTLS, Sirsi, & Voyager), and the development cycles, responses to feedback, and customer service when things break have all been abysmal. Across the board. This looks a whole lot like those folks running scared of something that will meet libraries' needs. And complaining that OCLC is entering the traditional ILS world is flatly untrue. OCLC has cloudware. Muy diferente. How many of us have hobbled along with our traditional ILS systems that can't do everything through that software, so we order in one thing, receive in another, and do quite a bit of duplicate work simply because our systems won't talk to each other?

I see you back there. RAISE YOUR HAND.

Yes, OCLC is a behemoth and there are issues with pricing, with ownership of records, and the Michigan pricing thing was a complete hash. But I haven't heard of any librarian who doesn't understand how valuable OCLC has been for us.

What III fails to state in their paperwork is that they ALSO bilk libraries out of huge sums every year via lock-in contracts, except they request no input from clients nor do they respond to rapidly changing needs. That they frame OCLC asking members to participate in development of products as a bad thing boggles me. Yes, how dare they inquire as to how their products might impact our workflows and make themselves, um, useful. FOR SHAME.

Yes, I want a say in the systems I use. I want prompt response time, a development cycle that moves faster than a broken-legged sloth, and the opportunity to provide feedback that is taken seriously. The fact that companies failed to change systems they designed years ago to keep up with technology - and are now feeling the bite of it - does not impress me.

I keep hoping they'll televise the court proceedings for this. Librarians would be all over it. Like the O.J. trial, only for nerds.

The New Math: UT System Funding Model to Hold Schools Accountable for Student Success

In an interesting (and long-awaited) move by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (unaffectionately known as T-HEC), Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that "state universities and colleges will no longer be rewarded for just getting students in the door and will be forced to improve student outcomes if they want state support".

In effect, what this means to me is that front-loading the university with unsuspecting and ill-prepared students to meet enrollment goals (and, by extension, funding goals), will hopefully no longer be common practice. The law will likely produce some serious challenges, but it also offers a number of benefits compared to the current system. First, another quote from the Chattanooga Times Free Press article on how the funding model impacts UTC:

"Twenty-five percent of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s future funding will be linked to the number of bachelor degrees produced. Another 10 percent will be tied to both the six-year graduation rate and the number of degrees per 100 full-time students, according to commission documents."

Obvious challenges. UTC's retention rate has hovered around a limp-tastic 60%, occasionally dipping into the high 50% range. In order to maximize the funding formula for an already bootstrapped campus, this is going to have to change drastically. On the bright side, UTC has been trying to deal with retention issues and has some programs already in place, such as the FAST program, as described by the University paper.

This may also make the University look twice at entering freshmen. In recent years, UTC has allowed entrance to students with serious deficiencies in writing and math, creating a situation where a student's first term or two might be completely taken up with remedial courses not eligible to count towards degree requirements. While this appeared in line with reducing barriers to a college education, particularly since our campus serves a high percentage of first-generation college students [edit: debunked - as pointed out by Ralph in the comments - turns out the Uni often said that without actual data; actual data does not support that claim], it also creates a situation where students are admitted to a university completely unprepared for university-level education. This saps resources, as faculty, space, and other resources are spent on teaching sub-level courses to the detriment of the actual university curriculum.

I firmly believe that we should help students succeed, and if they need remedial classes, so be it. I do not, however, believe we should be charging students university-level tuition for courses they take which will not have any bearing on the credits required for their degree. I also think it is a convenient camouflage for a problematic K-12 system that a university should need to essentially also become a second shot at high school - we're not equipped for it, and we're not funded for it. Yes, remedial program should exist so that these folks can get an undergraduate degree, absolutely. That should not, however, be at the expense of existing academic programs or at the expense of treatment of students fully capable of pursuing college-level coursework. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens.

Betting the funding farm on huge incoming classes is problematic in terms of infrastructure as well. When you expand faster than your facilities - your parking, your dormitories, your classrooms, your libraries, and your faculty, you are inevitably diluting the educational (and, let's face it, physical) experience of education. Not only will you start seeing more 300-student classes (something I happily managed to avoid during my extremely extended educational career), you don't have enough parking to allow those students to get there on time. Nor, in fact, do you have anywhere for those sized classes to meet, if you're chasing the funding by enrollment numbers and not planning your infrastructure around measured growth. And riddle me this: if your campus network infrastructure struggles under the weight of 10,000FTE - - how on earth will you support 13,000 FTE and the concomitant support staff that comes with that sort of an increase?

In any case, I think it's an important shift in funding, though I imagine the impact in the first few years will be rough, particularly as our University continues to try to improve our student retention and graduation rates, and handled underprepared freshmen. Still, I think it's promising that higher education is realizing that more butts in seats does not necessarily translate into deserving of more state dollars.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

UTC Library Mentioned as OCLC WMS Early Adopter

Library Journal has picked up UTC's early adoption of the OCLC WMS. (As a fun aside, they also linked to both my & griffey's initial posts on the topic, which made me smile.)

We are going like gangbusters, with our ILS administrator running on popcorn and donuts as she does dark-hoodoo data munging, Griffey managing various aspects of this enormous project, various smaller area-driven implementation teams handling their business/planning and reporting out both to the larger implementation team and the library at large, cleaning data, and more.

I've been able to get my hands - or, more accurately, brain - into some areas I've never fiddled with before. Circ and lending policy matrices for the wireframe; not only which patron records we actually want to move over, but which *parts* of the records, and trying to standardize freeform notes; dealing with home locations, shelving locations, temp locations, and more; trying to reduce the number of patron-types we have; the dark mostly-unused corners of things we'll need to test. How I would integrate services and accounts and information if I could blue-sky things. Thinking about things from the user-side in terms of accounts and information. Chairing the circulation & course reserves implementation team has me waking up at odd hours thinking "OMG did we think of that??" - which someone inevitably has, or "Ooh, what about scenario Q sub-point four?" which always sparks interesting discussion.

Random thoughts: after looking at our free form notes fields to date, the idea of trying to run a report or munge data out of free-form makes me want to barf. Misspellings, word-order issues, synonymetry...humans - and circ staff - are nowhere near robotic enough to make that work well. Get to know the preferred pastry poison of your ILS administrator/IT team - it'll make you feel better when you can't change their Access database files into XML, but can give them an icing-filled donut. "WMS" is not sexy or fun - OCLC should name the cloudware something spiffy and give it a fun icon. There's an edge case for everything you can think of.

Everyone is running around crazy, but there's no panic-feeling (or at least not as much 'frantic' as you'd expect for a 30-day implementation of an untested library system). Getting into this sort of crazy with a bunch of folks who have a good sense of humor, common paradigm for service, generous spirits toward each other and an appreciation for the work others do - even if they know little about it - probably makes a hell of a difference.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

30 Days to Cloudware? Moving to OCLC’s Webscale Management System

Oh, yes. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's library is implementing the OCLC Webscale Management System, and if all goes according to plan, we will have it up and running in 30 days.

You read that right. My library team is implementing a full-scale, whole-hog library system migration to a heretofore unknown system. We’re making The Big Jump. We’re going to live in the cloud (it’s okay, we promise to write). We are divorcing the traditional ILS, taking the kids, and striking out on our own.

We are stepping into the future. And we’re doing it in a grand total of... thirty days.

Our Library has been batting around an ILS migration for years. We looked at the various vendors and decided that while our current workflows would likely conform just fine to another traditional ILS, it wouldn’t really be changing anything. We’d just get something similar that actually, most of the time, hopefully, would work, and with (again, hopefully) better response to service calls. There were a number of other factors, cost and budget of course among them. We also debated the wisdom of falling further under OCLC thrall.

But there was also the consideration of what this opportunity might mean. A chance to be in on the ground floor of building the sort of library system everyone bitches that we want but don’t have. A way to challenge traditional ILS vendors to do something more than patching their 1980s software, to build something that takes advantage of new technologies, new ideas, and isn’t just a giant workaround-enabler.

I’ve heard the argument against it, about OCLC hegemony, and the danger to our local holdings, but I posit this: If our users can’t *find* our local holdings – which in the case of our soon-to-be-former OPAC they can’t - those records may as well belong to someone else anyway. In fact, they may as well not exist for all the good they do.

And essentially, that’s what it boiled down to, in the end, which is why I love working here. It was not “Is this the most shiny toy?” It was not a matter of “This will be easy” or “we will be first.” We did not ask “Does this sound like too much work?”, although we did consider whether we had the capacity to do the work required. Our first consideration, the specter at the table at every meeting, and our last consideration was: “Will this move be the best way to serve our user community?” And because the answer was yes, we took the leap.

The leap was assisted by the fact that during the demo of WebScale, I kept breathing, “Ooh, that is sexy.” About a web interface. About a web interface intended to run a library. When was the last time your poor old ILS helped you out with your work so well, or got dressed up enough for you to call it sexy?

Yeah, us too. And so, we’ve told poor old ILS that we’re leaving, and we’re taking the kids.

[Sidenote: I will add that the fact that our decisionmaking in this library is primarily driven by the question above - “Will this move be the best way to serve our user community?” - is also the very reason I choose to work here. It’s not the party line – it’s practice.]

Oh yes, we’re crazy. Our IT team is crazy to take this on, but Head of IT Jason Griffey and ILS administrator Andrea Schurr are just badass enough to make it work, and are already hard at work wrangling data. Our Head of Materials Processing, Mike Bell, is crazy for taking on the massive amount of records work that needs to be done by his department. I’m crazy for throwing Access Services into a system that’s not quite fully built and demanding that we provide excellent service while the Library monkeys with it and help OCLC design what we think a working library system looks like. All of us are going to be (if we’re not already) insanely busy, breaking down all our processes, figuring out how existing workflows will be impacted, and working in tight, small implementation groups to ensure that the only impact our users feel is a positive one and that our change is an agile one.

And we know we’ll be impacted in ways we probably can’t predict right now. I’m not a technical services person, but from what I *do* know of technical services, OCLC’s WebScale seems to be a massive sea change in the time, number of steps, and ease of doing tech services business, and I expect that this – as well as a number of other new ways of looking at library systems as a whole – will allow us to evolve as we were meant to, without being shackled to software we pay a mint for and have very little input into making changes in. Our needs are not the same as they were fifteen years ago, nor are our collections, our technological capabilities, or our staff’s skill-sets. So why are we married to software that works the same way it did that long ago?

Because we haven’t had a choice. And while we’re still a number of weeks away from full implementation, the energy in the library is palpable. We aren’t just hoping this works, we are DEMANDING that this works. We are refusing to accept the old library and ILS excuse of “but this is the way we’ve always done it,” and are working hard to chart this new path. I hope it goes somewhere pleasant.

I think this is an exciting time to be looking at how we run our libraries, in light of OCLC attempting to develop the product libraries have been asking for, and as we wait to see what will come of the Open Library Environment (OLE) product over the next few years. Expect to see much more about this project here, as well as at Griffey's blog in the coming weeks as we kick the tires, find gaps, and test OCLC's commitment to service (as well as our own mettle).

You can read more about Webscale in Andrew Pace's archive of web-scale category posts, some discussion on OCLC's page on web-scale here, and at OCLC's official Webscale Management System page.

Old Spice to Libraries: "Stop Throwing Pigeons. Jump on that Giraffe"

Taking hysterical advantage of Old Spice's invitation for twitter queries (capitalizing on their recent hit commercial), Andy Woodworth jumped on the internet meme, rallied the Library Twitterati, and asked the Old Spice guy to say something about libraries.

And don'tcha know...he did. And it is The Big Awesome.

It is impossible for me to see that video without laughing. Andy himself posts about the reaction to the video, about how it got tossed around the internet like a giant beach ball by librarians, library fans, amused writers, and any number of other folks.

It was fun to watch. It was fun to be included - it reminded me a lot of how we used to be able to send our names into the Romper Room show, and at the end, the lady would look into her magic mirror and names some kids she could see. It was always exciting to sit and hope she might say my name. This worked the same way - Old Spice certainly couldn't catch the tons of requests they received, but the fact that they worked so diligently - and quickly! - to respond personally was very fun to watch.

What are we doing that compares for our local communities?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In the Win Column: Why I Do What I Do

Today I came home later than usual from work with my brain whirring with ideas, making notes about things to remember to send out to my department and to ask the Keepers of the Data. I absentmindedly microwaved and ate a quick dinner that tasted like a tired gym sock because I was busy churning at a Google doc of things to jump on tomorrow, or Friday, or next week, depending on the project.

I did NOT: stressbarf, bake and eat a stresscake, search for new jobs, or generally feel ill about my place in the world. I DID: get excited about my work, get focused on my users, think about the impact of upcoming work on my staff, think about connecting services in new ways, and become excited that I have smart, dedicated colleagues to share this experience with.

And tonight while discussing work with a close friend and fellow librarian, I had a striking moment of this is why I do what I do. Because I love it. Because I am *good* at it. Because given the right mix of colleagues, resources, and circumstances, I could never imagine doing anything else for a living.

Many people gave me the hairy eyeball when I decided to jump ship for this position, as my last three jobs have been for fewer than two years each. To them, I say:

"But, look. My road has taken me here. And can you see how happy I am? I can."

Sometimes, when you ask for ponies, you get them. You may, however, have to chase them a bit further than anticipated.

Shout Out to the IT Fixers-of-Things

It is a hell of a thing to get to work with people who love their jobs, truly believe in the mission of their organization, and strive to exemplify service. If you're very, very lucky, know your Ranganathan and read your Arlene Taylor diligently, and do your weeding with one eye on your collection development policy like a good librarian, some of these those people live in your IT department.

Sometimes we don't know how lucky we are until things break. I am very, very lucky.

It is even more of a hell of a thing to work with people (*cough* Griffey *cough*) who face technological failure (oh, server migration and client update, ye bitches!) with grace, communicating issues and plans for fixes for an essential library service. Add to this that whatever failures are occurring are not within his power to control or fix. And he *still* hasn't kicked or smacked me for occasionally giving him the Query Eyebrow in an attempt to ask what's going on without nagging.

So yes, today I use my blog as a platform to send the stressed Griffey, who shares some serious project monstrobsities on his plate with his staff, a thank you. Because I know not just that something is broken, but how and why it is broken, the multiple plans he & his staff have implemented for fixing the brokenness, circumstances causing holdups, and what the backup plans are.

It's not every day you find someone so open with solutions, process, and general communication. Particularly when you consider that discussion delving deep into .asp something-or-others, virtual servers, and database backups make my eyes glaze over pretty quickly.

So, a thank you to Griffey and his staff of fixers-of-things. And a recommendation to IT librarians far and wide to trust us with information we need to make decisions about library services. And an earnest wish that all of the fabulous, hardworking librarians out there get rewarded by The Great Dewey in the Sky with an IT guy like mine.

Except not mine, because you can't have him. Back away.


ESRB Privacy Gaffe Responding to Real ID Complaints

The Entertainment Software Rating Board likely received hundreds, if not thousands of emails regarding the recent talk of Blizzard implementing Real ID, and the discovery that friends of friends could see your real identity whether you had approved them or not (among other concerns).

As a former WoW geek (with aspirations of returning), I saw both sides of this argument - how a good implementation could reduce trolling, but also how it could compromise folks who strongly prefer (and in some cases, need) to keep their online and IRL identities separate. I added my voice to the chorus with an email to the ESRB cautioning them to take a good look at the proposed implementation to ensure fairness and that important parts of privacy were maintained while increasing transparency to improve gameplay and forums.

The ESRB sent me a nice canned response, which I (correctly) assumed was due to the volume of contact they had about this one issue. Unfortunately, the privacy watchdog...forgot to use the BCC field.

Oh, yes. Sweet irony. And so any number of complainants could see any number of other complainants' email addresses.


The email from the ESRB below, in its entirety (emphasis mine):

"Yesterday we sent an e-mail to a number of consumers who wrote to us in recent days expressing their concern with respect to Blizzard's Real ID program. Given the large number of messages we received, we decided to respond with a mass e-mail so those who'd written us would receive our response as quickly as possible - rather than responding to each message individually, as is our usual practice.

"Through an unfortunate error by one of our employees, some recipients were able to see the e-mail addresses of others who wrote on the same issue. Needless to say, it was never our intention to reveal this information and for that we are genuinely sorry. Those who write to ESRB to express their views expect and deserve to have their contact and personal information protected. In this case, we failed to do so and are doing everything we can to ensure it will not happen again in the future.

"The fact that our message addressed individuals' concerns with respect to their privacy underscores how truly disappointing a mistake this was on our part. We work with companies to ensure they are handling people's private information with confidentiality, care and respect. It is only right that we set a good example and do no less ourselves.

"We sincerely apologize to those who were affected by this error and appreciate their understanding.


"Entertainment Software Rating Board"

Honestly? I'm impressed that they sent out such a message acknowledging the gaffe. You can bet someone's ass got lit on fire after this happened and it was brought to the ESRB's attention. And the email went out very quickly - there was a lag of not much more than a day between the original informational email and the apology email. Human error is always going to be a factor when humans are involved. Yes, it's a facepalm moment for ESRB. How many of us haven't, at some point, accidentally replied to a whole list, or forgotten to use the BCC field? The bigger point: how many other organizations or companies would be so fast to fall on their sword and admit an embarrassing error? More than in the past, perhaps, since the internet means folks can communicate about this sort of thing and make it public even if the company doesn't want it to be. (Cough cough iPhone 4 cough)

(Psst, hey, Steve Jobs. Check it out. A responsible acknowledgment of error. Getcha some.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Inanimate Love Stories: Thoughts on Product Loyalty

My parents were married for 26 years. That entire time, if you opened our medicine cabinet, you'd find two tubes of toothpaste. My dad was an Aquafresh or die man, and Mom was a Colgate consumer. Never the twain shall meet, and over 3 decades of knowing each other, and two and a half of living together, neither would compromise on their preferred brand of toothpaste.

It seems bizarre, but as I get older I notice this about myself, as well. I use one brand of toothpaste (to be fair, I tried one or two others, particularly as a broke college student, but wasn't happy.) Until last week, I've used one brand of soap for the past thirteen years. When I think about it, other than with family, I haven't had a significant relationship with a HUMAN that lasted so long. The only reason I swapped soap was because my last visit with my mother, I noticed she was traveling with a new brand, and I had forgotten to pack my own. And so, in a random hotel shower, I used her soap. And fell in love with Oil of Olay. Oh, serendipity. Sorry, Caress. We had a good run. Thirteen years - that's longer than most marriages nowadays. It's not you, it's me. I'll remember you fondly.

And so I've been thinking about product and brand loyalty, and how much of it likely stems from liking something once, growing into the habit of continuing to buy and use it, and failing to experiment with other things, which is expensive, risky, and anxiety-inducing, as an unknown.

If, as libraries, we want our users to replace something else they've been using - the iTunes store, their local bookstore, Netflix, high-cost technology training, whatever other service you can think of - with our services, how are we making the switch an attractive one? How do we lessen the opportunity cost anxiety that happens when we ask folks to move from something habitual, easy and comfortable to something unfamiliar?

We should be thinking about product loyalty - how to generate it, and how to overcome it. It can be done, but we shouldn't be waiting on serendipity. We should be actively - and loudly - generating interest and the will to try our services in strangers who only don't love us because they don't know us.

We could be somebody's Colgate. Which means their children will be raised on us, know us and love us. And so on down the generational line. Just like toothpaste, only better.