Resource review #8: Library Technology Manifesto
Tennant, R. (2007, November 12th). Library software manifesto. Retrieved from http://techessence.info/manifesto.
To wrap up my resource reviews for my LIS644 project on the open source ILS Koha, which has turned into a kind of overview on the state of the ILS today, I thought I’d post Roy Tennant’s Library Software Manifesto, written in 2007 to address the “unhealthy” relationship between libraries and library software vendors. Tennant is one of the leading library technology voices, and although this piece is a couple of years old now, I think it’s still important and interesting.
The Manifesto lists consumer rights — such as the right to use the software you have paid for, without having to pay more for it; consumer responsibilities — such as the responsibility to realize that you’re not special, and the vendor has other clients too; and shared responsibilities — such as the responsibility of mutual respect (at least until one party does something unforgivably ridiculous). I think this kind of approach could be very productive in thinking about changes and implementations to a library’s ILS.
I admit it: I’m a library school student, and my knowledge of the ILS selection and management process is limited to a couple of talks and quite a bit of reading, so I don’t have any real experience with how this works. But there’s a fairly small selection of ILS vendors, and librarians on the whole tend to be less than completely familiar with programming and technology implementation, so some of the problems implied by this manifesto don’t surprise me at all. The overall points made by the manifesto, though — librarians have a right to use their ILS to their greatest advantage, and to have some idea of how it works; librarians have a responsibility to treat the vendors and programmers fairly and without unnecessary acrimony — seem to indicate to me one reason why open source ILS solutions like Koha have become popular in spite of their detriments. When you have full access to the source code of your software, you can use it however you want, and you’re going to have to figure out how it works. When you have to contract out or hire someone to do upgrades or added features, you have a much more direct, less bureaucratic relationship with them. Open source projects can get rid of a lot of red tape that can hinder a good working relationship.
Of course, open source solutions aren’t without flaws — the first comment on the post is from someone mentioning that he feels his experience as a software user isn’t taken seriously by open source developers. The tradeoff with open source, I suppose, is that many developers work on open source projects as a hobby, and their income isn’t affected by users’ dissatisfaction. (Companies like LibLime eliminate this problem, but add the bureaucracy back in… nothing’s perfect.) Obviously this is no way to eliminate problems with the librarian/developer relationship, so the best way forward appears to be the one implied in Tennant’s manifesto: for everyone to know a little bit more about what the other side is doing, and to acknowledge both their own and the other side’s priorities in doing so.