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Will open-source solutions move OPACs past the “lipstick on a pig” metaphor? January 14, 2010

Posted by michaelpawlus in Uncategorized.
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I remember first hearing about Drupal sometime in 2006.  At first, it was all the rage around the Brooklyn neighborhood where I lived.  Then, a forward-thinking programmer was hired on to revamp the website of my then-employer and he chose to build the site on Drupal.  It was clear from the examples that I was seeing that this open-source model was far superior to anything happening in the proprietary software universe.  Drupal developers were pushing out code at an amazing clip and if any functionality didn’t exist then one could just email a developer and ask them to write some code and very often someone would.

Yet, I was surprised that our organization had gone along with this idea.  I think a lot of organizations get set in their ways.  They do not want to make drastic changes and this leads to relationships with vendors where clients don’t really threaten to cut off revenue and vendors don’t really work very hard to make their software any better.  This culture of acceptance for mediocrity led to Roy Tennant’s famous comments about how many new OPAC interfaces are really just lipstick on a pig.  Vendors were delivering small changes to their product periodically but the modifications weren’t really meeting end user needs.

That is why it was so encouraging to see that the New York Public Library had decided to migrate their site over to Drupal.  This will hopefully set an example for other libraries.  At one time, I think organizations feared working with open-source technology but now I think it is clear that they are outperforming their peers in the proprietary world and with all budgets getting slashed in this economy all libraries could benefit from the savings involved in using open-source software.

While I realize that Drupal is not an OPAC the recent news that LibLime has been acquired by PTFS may mean more open-source solutions will be become available soon for libraries.  I think the library sector needs more big name institutions to move over to using open-source technology and show smaller organizations by example that it is safe terrain.  Working with developers will bring about a culture of seeking consistent improvement. Looking at the profile for 2010 Librarian of the Year, Craig Buthod, it is clear that listening to what your users want is important but empowering yourself to deliver results that meet those needs is equally important and will become more possible as librarians begin using dynamic, flexible open-source software.