Give Me Libraries or Give me Amazon

Everyone is entitled to their opinions. Be they right, wrong or somewhere in between. Only caveat I would recommend is when you air an opinion you make sure that you stop and think it through. Recently someone using the username Freemarket commented on a post by Amy De Groff on Open Source – Library Life on the Bleeding Edge. I will agree with this person partially as it is true that commercial sites like Amazon have been able to provide features that library ILS or catalogs haven’t yet been able to do. However, I would like to point out that Amazon, and other commercial sites, have very different goals, missions and visions than libraries.

However, this person’s statement “I would much rather have lower taxes and no libraries than have the government steal my money and purchase books that I don’t even want. Compared to Amazon, libraries are a joke.” just didn’t sit right with me. Last time I checked the library wasn’t for one person but for all. I understand that their taxes are going to buy items perhaps that tthey don’t like, want or deem worthy. However, I’m would say there has to be at least 1 item in 262,600 titles that they care about. No one ever said that 100% of your taxes would be spent solely on programs, initiatives or things that you value. If so, then my taxes wouldn’t have gone to fund the War in Iraq and many other things that I don’t approve.

You have the right to spend your money as you see fit (purchase). You also have the right to have your taxes spent as you see fit by voting into office the people who feel as you do. You even have the right to air your opinions. However, you do not have the right to expect that 100% of your taxes will be spent on 100% of the areas that mean the most to you.

Libraries provide a lot more good to the community than Amazon does. When is the last time Amazon educated a child? helped someone recently laid off to find a job? helped a teen with homework? provide free access to all information? or many other wonderful services the library provides?

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Customer Service With a Helping of Open Source

The power of the Internet. Typing away in Google docs when Meebo pops up with a message from someone coming in through my blog. The conversation started out with a few questions about what IM client I used and turned out to be a programmer from Grooveshark.  He had read my blog post about the widget and he wanted to resolve my problems with it.

I was utterly blown away.  This is what I call customer service 2.0.  Keeping track of what is said about you on the web and addressing issues right away is fantastic.  Only other company to do that was Napster.  The programmer from Grooveshark explained that they had had some issues when they first went live (boy can I relate to that) and he wanted to know if I had created any other widgets since my first one.  I hadn’t and told him I’d give it a try.

Went on to talk a little bit about open source (they use many open source applications and hope to go with more as their software matures) and my library (which is big on open source).  He liked our web site and was impressed with how fast the pages loaded.  Thanks to our web programmer genius, Danny Bouman.

This is definitely the power of the web being used for good.  Going to go back and make a new widget as Grooveshark is becoming fast my favorite music site.

Tips for Those Going Through an ILS Migration

I suddenly feel lighter than I have in weeks. All thanks to Debra Denault of Liblime for coming to Howard County Library and helping those of us involved in our migration from SirsiDynix‘s Horizon to Koha to get a grasp on things.

This is not the first migration I’ve been a part of but certainly this one was a lot different. Last time we basically changed from one product offered by a vendor to another product. This time we were going with an open source ILS and support would come from many places (our data migration company – Liblime and the whole Koha community). I often wasn’t sure if I should submit something to the community, chat with the developers in IRC or just what was my first step. I was not only learning how Koha worked (I am creating content for the testing or discovery phase as well as helping with creating the training for staff) but I was learning a completely different way of getting answers or help.

Change can be scary for most folks but I’ve often found it interesting. Change gives me something new to focus on, play with, explore. This time, however, I’ll have to admit that I was a bit scared. This time it was a little bit out of my comfort zone. At one point this week I Twittered that I knew there was a lesson in here somewhere for me to learn but it wasn’t revealing itself to me just yet.

But that has all changed. Something clicked. Something stopped being scary. Something lightened my load. I think it was having someone, Debra, who knew the product inside and out be here to walk us through things. Debra’s calm nature (although she swears there is a Type A personality underneath), her depth of knowledge, her ability to get answers immediately from folks at Liblime was the perfect mix to calm nerves, soothe the worried SysAdmin in all of us.

Debra along with Darrell Ulm of Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library, another Koha library, helped me not only get my head around things but helped me put things in perspective.

So I’d like to pass along to you some tips for getting through a migration:

  • “That’s a bug!” is a good thing. Both Debra and my boss, Amy De Groff, have helped me to see this one. At first I felt like “Oh great, another problem.” But now I can see what they see “Oh great, we can fix it!” Lesson being that the first step to fixing any problem is recognizing what it is. Once you can do that fixing is easy.
  • Collaboration eases any burden. Many of the things we had grown to expect from previous software weren’t part of Koha. Nice thing is since it is open source anyone can contribute to the success of Koha. Better yet, find another library (or 2) that want the same functionality as you and share the cost. Collaborating not only is a great way to give back to the community (as well as have another set of eyes give you a different perspective) but it eases the burden of cost.
  • Ask, don’t assume. We all know the old adage “Don’t assume because you make an ass out of U and Me”. Ask about everything, don’t assume you know the answer or that someone will think you silly for asking. Nothing is too small or too large. If we hadn’t asked some of the questions we did we may have never figured out some of our problems were caused by us.
  • Take your time. An old boss of mine used to drill into our heads “With accuracy, comes speed”. That is true with migrating as well. Don’t hesitate to say this is going too fast. Don’t hesitate to say you want to do it right and being rushed only stresses everyone. Stressed staff make more mistakes. By stepping back and examining things we slowed down and we now feel when we roll this out it will be a really great product instead of something we just rushed out. This will be a ILS system we can be proud of.
  • Reach out. Whether you have the benefit of the open source community or a list of other libraries using your vendor – reach out to them. This one didn’t come easy to me at first. I’ve exchanged several emails with the aforementioned Darrell Ulm. He has pointed out somethings. All the experts in the world are great but talking to someone who uses the product is invaluable. He also reminded me of the next tip.
  • Stay calm. This wasn’t always easy but Darrell was right, panic never helps anything. He shared that he had his share of panic about his migration and it actually set him back at times. He said that Liblime pulled through their migration quite well. Staying calm helps to keep things in perspective. So if you need help, follow my next tip.
  • Step back every so often. I found myself getting so wrapped up in Koha that I couldn’t focus on much else. I was coming home exhausted, going to bed early and arriving the next morning no more rested than I had been the night before. I insisted one night that my husband and I turn off the tv, unplug the computer and sit outside in front of a roaring fire in our chimenea. It recharged my batteries and gave me a clear head to face things the next day. Do what you need to do to step back and recharge.

So if you are going through a migration, I hope my tips have helped. I’d love to hear some more tips that helped or are helping you to get through.

How I Got Into Blogging or Be Careful Who You Tag They May Just Tag You

Well I could blame Meredith Farkas for starting this meme or fuss at the (almost) BaldGeekinMD and Julie Strange for both tagging me. Actually I’m flattered that they both tagged me but feel maybe that Maurice is getting his revenge for the “Sisters of Irony” tag teaming him on a previous meme.

To be honest my first “dipping of my big toe in the pool” came when I participated in Maryland’s 23 Things program. I then went on to try blogging more of personal with my blog about our family vacation to the land of my husband’s birth – England. Then I tried to continue with a more personal blog about things going on in my life, Something More Than Long (taken from “My Corner of the Sky” from the Broadway musical Pippin). But I didn’t seem to keep up with it and that blog died in March of this year.

Maurice knows the answer to how my latest blog came about – peer pressure! It started during the Computers in Libraries 2008 conference. Prior to the conference, I had had the pleasure of taking an 8 week online course about online training and Maurice (and Julie too) were in the class. Finding my fellow trainer soul mate in Maurice (this man loves technology and good music as much as I do) we made plans to meet up at CIL 2008. While walking to lunch or chit-chatting between sessions Maurice had the pleasure of my outgoing personality and opinions of open source vs. proprietary software. He dubbed me “The Open Source Evangelist” but I had to tell him that title was already taken by none other than Nicole Engard of Liblime. He kept nudging me to blog.

Even after the conference when I ran into Maurice virtually he’d put in a plug for me to start blogging. But what finally got me to cave in was being tagged for another meme by Michael Sauers. It was an interesting meme – teaching the next generation about your passion (which for me was open source). The flood gates opened from there.

Although my blog isn’t always about open source, quite often it is. I try to stick to some topic that comes from my experience of working 25 years in libraryland. My current slant tends to be more technology based but I tend to include rants about fashion (Project Runway), politics, and music (help with FineTune playlist). For those that read this blog I hope I provide some insight, some fun, a bit of humor and an occasional question or two to make you think.

That’s the rest of the story…..now I want to know yours – Michael Sauers, Bobbi Newman, Joshua M. Neff, and Marianne Lenox.

Should Software Do YOUR Job?

I’ve been culling through the suggestions from our staff as to features/functions they would like to see be available (or added to) our new open source ILS, Koha.  I believe a lot of their suggestions stems from the frustration of using Horizon and how clunky it was to move around.  Also I’ve noticed that several folks get nostalgic for our old system, Dynix.

I understand that software should make your job easier not harder.  I understand that we’ve encouraged staff to contribute to building a system instead of just accepting a product given to us.  However, many of the suggestions, to me, boil down to training issues not software failure.  No product is going to be perfect.  Each one is different and it doesn’t help to compare apples with kumquats.  Is it really the role of software to do EVERYTHING for you and to anticipate what EVERY staff member needs and then provide it?

So when do you the consumer, the user take responsibility (and train your staff properly) and when is it a flaw in the software?

Shiney But With Substance

Today Google announced their latest coup d’etat – Chrome. Some have denounced it without even being to download it (this was prior to the Noon PDT launch time). To those I say that’s right up there with judging a book by it’s cover. Some equated Google with Microsoft. To those I say, HUH?! How on earth can you compare a company that is strictly proprietary to one that embraces open source with it’s latest and coolest product? Some have complained because it doesn’t have a plugin for this or that. To those I say time will tell. But if I were a gambling woman I’d put my money on Google.

For me personally, it is my browser of choice on my Windows machine at work. If they had launched it today as Linux compatible it would be my browser of choice at both work and home. I think that is a pretty good endorsement that after 30 minutes of playing with it (what a fast download that imported everything from Firefox for me lickety-split) I decided I could do without my colored tabs in Firefox (and other plugins) or my social networks in Flock.

Why you might ask would I be so willing to give up my favorite 2 browsers for Chrome which is still in beta and does have a few flaws? 2 reasons – open source and the amazing fact that if a site should crash my browser it will now ONLY crash that tab and not the whole browser. That alone is enough to make me switch. But you add to the fact that it’s an open source browser and I’m sold.

I’m sure I’ll run into something that doesn’t work just right but I’m willing to hang in there with Chrome as Google has yet to disappoint me.

Kudos to the gang at Google. They have created the next generation of browsers that everyone will be emulating in weeks, months, years to come.

Edit – and if my opinion of it isn’t enough….there is already a listing of the 7 Really Awesome Things About Chrome

Edit part II – ah, the first real problem arises.  But then every new product has to go through growing pains.  Thanks to Michael Sauers for Digg-ing this.

From This Can’t Possibly Be True File

…but sadly it is file.

In defiance of the patent that was awarded Micro$oft on August 19th of this year, I am no longer using the Page Up and Page Down buttons on my keyboard.  As a user of open source operating system (Ubuntu at home and work) I can not in all clear conscience use those buttons anymore.  Geesh, at this rate they might have to make an OS keyboard and mouse and monitor and printer and….

Guess I could just relabel those keys – Page vertical skywardly direction and Page vertical earthly direction.

Give Peace a Chance

A phrase was used the other day at a meeting that just didn’t sit right with me.  “Not to start the open source wars again….

This bothered me because I don’t see any reason or need for there to be a war, battle, skirmish, contention whatever.  Why can’t we all just get along and accept that different open source products work for different people?  So you prefer Ubuntu or Suse or Koha or Evergreen or Joomla or Drupal…I’m just happy that you are thinking about, exploring, using an open source product.  Do I care if your library prefers one of these over another?  No, and nor should you.

One of the beauties of open source is the community.  But it doesn’t help if the different factions of this community are more concerned with their product being number 1 or the best that they can’t learn from each others product of choice.  What does Product X do better than Product Y – take that idea and incorporate it into Product Y to make it better for you then share it with the rest of the community.  What works for me may not work for you and your library – that needs to be acknowledged and accepted.  Difference of opinion is beautiful when done correctly.  When you share with me your ideas (not cram down my throat or proselytize) and let me decide what works for me then true collaboration can take place.

Call me a bleeding heart liberal, call me a flower child but all I’m saying is give peace (and open source a try).

One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap for Open Source

Oh I feel so vindicated right now.  For the Doubting Thomas among you, this one’s for you.

I received an email alert “Due to incompatibility issues between the new version of Marina and Internet Explorer, please use Mozilla Firefox for your Marina requests.”  Marina is our state’s version of URSA a product provided by SirsiDynix.  SirsiDynix really seems to love Microsoft products so the irony of this is not lost on me.

I imagine libraries all over the state of Maryland are scrambling to install Firefox on their PACs so their customers can submit their interlibrary loan requests.  Ah, not at the Howard County Library.  We ONLY use Firefox and have for many years.  So for all of those customers and staff members that worried that Firefox couldn’t do what Internet Explorer could, I salute you.  You were right.  It can’t do what Internet Explorer does – it can’t install malware, spyware and the ilk, it can’t have problems with pages that are written with bad code, and it can’t not submit an ILL request through Marina.  Gosh, what a horrible browser it must be.

No More Facebook

*sigh* Guess I’ll have to stop using Facebook now. Microsoft to power Facebook search ads. Yahoo, Facebook, what next, the world?! I wasn’t so anti-Microsoft as I was open to open source. The more M$ tries to gobble up everything around it the more anti-M$ I’m becoming. *sigh*