I’m way behind in lots of things right now but I might as well post something. The keynote on the first day of Code4Lib 2007 was by Karen Schneider who writes at Free Range Librarian, among other places. You can view a video of her presentation on google and download links should be available soon on the code4lib presentation page.

The presentation is well worth watching and I think was well received, despite a few hecklers in the crowd.

Karen began with an overview of where we are and what’s wrong. Currently we’re often giving away our collections, leasing information from vendors and publishers without actually keeping anything ourselves. This is a topic that’s come to my mind many times when we have access problems to resources. A good chunk of our collect can disappear in minutes and it’s often outside the library’s control.

A second point she made is that we are dependent on external tools as well and don’t build our own. The tools that we do have are needlessly complex and poorly marketed. I’ve had this argument with quite a few people and it’s hard to convey why the complexity is often needless. I hope more get it. I’ll probably devote more posts to this topic.

I’ll devote a separate post to this topic as I believe it’s really important but I’ll include Karen’s point that libraries don’t have lots of patrons, they have 1.5 patrons and 1.6 million hostages.

Something I need to think more about, but Karen pointed out that libraries are really in the business of memory work and that libraries often don’t recognize the business they are in. Preserve and provide access to cultural memories. This is important to keep in mind when you think back to the emergency things are in.

The 5-3-1 rule of Karen’s is to find 5 issues that are important, focus on 3 and make 1 happen. Five issues that important are standards adoption, digital preservation, crappy library software, 3rd party content and scholarly awareness of issues. The focus was preservation, software and awareness. The one thing those in the room could definitely make happen was the crappy software. Examples of some of the good things coming out were Evergreen, Umlaut, Scriblio and Solr.

Karen stressed the importance of building solutions within the library. The reasons she gave was that it restores the balance of power, reinstates the direction of the profession, puts emphasis on the memory work and sends a message that we can do it and libraries matter. Other outcomes include decoupling, re-use of external projects (wordpress, etc) and re-socialization with external parties.

The Opac is the last thing anyone but librarians want to use. Karen’s comment was that it “was easier to ask their mothers for the answer”.

Some generalizations made were that no one really cares about open source, just the experience, that ARL count has too much drive in planning, IT directors won’t take unfunded initiatives and most libraries can’t provide developers.

Directors want to know:

Directors often thing that open-source projects are lower quality, developer oriented, have no support model and are one beer-truck away from orphan software.

Projects need to keep this in mind when trying to get adoption. The current Evergreen project site was used as an example of where things could be improved. In my talking with the Evergreen crew they agree completely. I’ve also been checking out open-source library projects myself to see what’s out there and I can confirm that most of their sites convey very little useful information for someone making decisions and not actually installing it. Don’t presume people have already decided.

There was a comment about if free software was free, price vs freedom, etc which was met with some debate. I’ll leave that for another post.

Another topic I’ll probably write more on. She referred to it as biblio-creature-feep, the tendency of last-gen librarians to love systems that are needlessly complex that have to be taught to people but use comments like “our users need it”. Some ways to counter this is with analytics, usability tests, ethnographic studies, etc.

And finally, every library needs a developer. Karen points out that there was a time without ILL and reference librarians and now developers are just as important as those. Libraries should keep that in mind.