Re: rbms seminar

Posting to NGC4LIB

On Mon, 27 Jun 2011 09:20:47 -0400, Eric Lease Morgan wrote:

Last Thursday (June 23) the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ALA hosted a seminar on “next-generation” library catalogs, and there were three of us presenters:

3. myself (Notre Dame) where I asked the question “Are we there yet?” and I answered “No, not IMHO.”

Thanks for this excellent report, but I do have one point of difference: mentioning that Koha and Evergreen are “free” as in a “free kitten,” where you discover that in reality, you have taken responsibility for this kitten, which means to feed it, teach it not to tear up your furniture, spend money for the vet, etc. Freeware and open source software are not “free” in this sense either, since anybody who has undertaken such a project quickly finds out that there is maintenance of the system, you have to do lots of server maintenance, you need to defend against attacks, and so on and on.

But this is not what freeware and open source software is. Richard Stallman, the father of free software, titled his story: “Free as in Freedom”. (You can read it for free at

In my experience, this is very difficult for catalogers to really understand. Much of their training is: this is how you do this; I have done it this way for several years; now we have a new system and you no longer do it this way, you do it that way. Much of cataloging unfortunately has an “automaton” aspect to it and the advantage of freeware/open source software is that it can emancipate you from this way of thinking and working, so that you *can* say: I don’t want to do it that way, I have a better way of doing it. With open source, if you have the knowledge, you can just change things yourself, right then, without asking permission from the “owners”. If you want a link from one page to another, it only takes a minute. If you have an idea to actually have your database interoperate with another database, something more complicated, you don’t have to beg the developer to *please, please, please!* implement this, wait for him to get around to it and then pay through the nose; you can just do it yourself, or hire somebody else if you don’t have the knowledge.

Still, it is difficult to free yourself from the traditional need to adjust yourself to the system as opposed to the new need to adjust the system to yourself. Both demand some responsibilities on the part of the user base. But getting catalogers to think in these ways is difficult. They certainly can–and have done so–but for them, it is a step outside what they normally do. This is why I say that imagination is what is needed now: catalogers (and not only catalogers) need to speak out about what they don’t like in their systems, and suggest better ways, but this is much easier said than done.

An example from my own career: we had cataloged in RLIN and inserting diacritics demanded something like three key strokes; we switched to NOTIS and I needed (I think) four key strokes; we switched to Voyager and it needed something like six or eight key strokes! I remember thinking: “Man, this is going the wrong way!” and I began to experiment with MacroExpress. I remember getting it down to the same number of keystrokes as in NOTIS, and I thought: “Why not go back to RLIN?” So I did. But then I thought, “You know, I never did like doing it that way anyway. What more can I do?” I remember getting the keystrokes down to less than in RLIN, and in fact, I was even able to make a little keyboard with Russian characters that allowed students who knew Russian to input correct transliteration with no training!

I think there are lots of improvements out there just waiting for someone to give them a voice!