Sunday, September 7, 2008

Is OSS the Answer?

Ok, I know - It's been a long time. Too long. (Shout out to Erik the Tall!) I'm currently reading Notes to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Persuits by Samara O'Shea. While ruminating after I turned off my light last night, it occured to me that blogging is, in effect, journaling. So here goes...

A little bit of history...Georgia PINES libraries have been using Evergreen, open source software, since September of 2006. In late 2006, the original developers, employees of Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS), formed their own company, Equinox Software, Inc. They left their positions with GPLS in the Spring of 2007 to tend to their growing company.

GPLS now has a contract worth over $500,000 with Equinox for support and development of Evergreen. At the most recent PINES Executive Committee meeting, it was mentioned that their was a "no vendor rule" on PINES listserves. I asked if Equinox had access to PINES listserves and was told that they did, although it was read-only, for developmental purposes. I do not believe this was the case with our former ILS vendor.

The next day I raised the question on the PINES General Discussion List - Does this practice give Equinox the advantage in a competitive bid process?

My question was met with both positive and negative feedback. Mostly negative. GPLS defended the decision, citing that Equinox had nothing to gain financially since another bid wouldn't go out for 3 years. Huh?

Many of the negative responses were due to the fact that communication was cited at the previous day's meeting as being the #1 problem in PINES. Many felt that closing the lists to Equinox would only further hurt communication. While I agree that communication is a big problem, I don't think their presence on the listserves has helped us thus far. I think the type of communication we were receiving was the biggest problem. We always received an email when a baby was born (and please, I love babies) or when they gave a big presentation somewhere about the success of Evergreen, but we heard very little about what they were doing to benefit PINES libraries directly. Meanwhile, library staff in the field were suffering, as were the patrons.

Now - I need to say this up front. For the most part, I think Evergreen is ok. It has some nice features. For instance, I love being able to access all the functions I need right inside a patron's record. But my biggest complaint, at least with the software, is speed. We now have 3 T-1 lines and speed has improved very little. (And yes, all of our computers are new.) On a scale of 1-10, I'd give improvement of speed a 2. I was not too surprised to learn at the meeting that we were not the only library to see little or no improvement with the additional T-1 lines.

But back to the issue at hand - ethics aside, it makes me a little uncomfortable that Equinox has access to PINES listserves. A very insightful individual on the list noted that so few staff participate in listserv discussions because they are afraid of negative feedback and/or the potential of creating an adversarial relationship with Equinox. I have been the target of personal attacks - not from Equinox or GPLS - but from my fellow colleagues in the field. Maybe I'm stuck in the old model of vendor relationships - we keep them at arm's length and GPLS serves as the go-between to communicate our needs. Some say that old model doesn't apply in this situation. Some of the terms that have been thrown out there to describe open source software culture include "family" and "partnership." Sounds great, right?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have the developers of Evergreen acknowledged the slowness of the software? Is this a widespread problem?