Part of the process

I am ever so glad to add my congratulations to Pillsbury Baptist College, Crossroads College and SELCO/SELS on their Go-Live Day. See the SELCO/SELS website for the story and photos.

This project has been a long time in the making . . . perhaps longer than even I am aware of. Getting 2 academic libraries online is a pretty substantial task. Even getting to the point where they were ready was not an over-night process. Implementation of a collaborative automation project began with several visionaries.

About 8 years ago when I was working at SELCO, I got a call from the Dean at then Minnesota Bible College (MBC), now Crossroads College, inquiring about getting their library online with a larger entity. I met with the librarian Dr. Mahan about the possibility. Along with other staff colleagues, we talked about possibilities, and had another meeting with the college’s technology staff. Their network infrastructure could not handle the demands an integrated library system required. Furthermore, SELCO was then in the midst of selection and ultimate migration to a new library automation system. Certainly not a good time for anyone to think about such a formidable venture. And soon it appeared that the dreams for a connected college library were not going to happen when the college was sold.

Meanwhile, Pillsbury Baptist Bible College (PBBC) was also looking to enhance and expand library service to its students through joining the regional and state library catalog. With the leadership of new librarian and visionary, Nancy McGuire, this library also was preparing to join the broader library network. PBBC had the foresight to affiliate itself with OCLC and coordinate through MINITEX a barcode schema that would eventually readily integrate into the MnLINK network. When I first met Nancy at a SELS annual meeting, she shared her wishes for the library to be integrated into a larger network, although tempered her remarks with caution that the time was not yet right for such a big step.

Over the next few years, the lines of communication stayed open and librarians from both colleges participated in regional library events. The region supplemented their interlibrary loan service and the colleges and the region collected data to use to substantiate the benefits of network integration for both libraries.

I like the biblical term “in the fullness of time” which is particularly appropriate with these religious colleges. So, in the fullness of time everything came together that the college library catalogs would be incorporated into the regional catalog, and through that into the statewide MnLINK catalog.

Jim Godsey became the new Crossroads College librarian. Through his previous experience with consortial catalogs, Jim knew the benefits his students would receive, so he made the initial phone calls to meet with SELCO Executive Director Ann Hutton and me to get the ball rolling in the summer of 2006. I had also been talking with Nancy recently, and she too had indicated that PBBC was ready for the next step in library service.

So, we submitted a grant application in early 2007 to bring the 2 college libraries into the SELCO catalog. I, along with Nancy and Jim and everyone else who had been involved were elated when the project was approved. I was really pumped and looking forward to the next year’s hard work.

And then came another career opportunity. I agonized over the possibility of not personally seeing the project to completion. In the end, I knew the plan and structure of the project was laid and strong enough to carry it through successfully. And that’s where my part of the story ended, but all went off well!

I guess the point of all this reminiscence is that all my career efforts are links in something much bigger. While I don’t always feel that ideas are going anywhere quickly enough if at all, some projects need to percolate through time and often several vestiges of leadership. I can’t bring everything to fruition, but I am honored to be part of the process. And sometimes, life moves on and somebody else gets all the fun of accomplishment – and that’s good. A military NCO I once knew used to say “one monkey doesn’t stop the circus.” But the show indeed does go on.


Sometimes I have so much to do that I do nothing. I go over and over the list of must-dos in my head so many times that I panic when I forget one (or several). I have a knot in my stomach and succumb to the paralysis of panic.

A couple months ago I found the Prioritizer from the Idea Sandbox. It’s so elementary that it’s embarrassing I couldn’t come up with this on my own. I’ve been using it for a while now, and it results in a printable, manageable list.

I just had a phone call from a friend who’s been in similar straights. I had shared my secret prioritizer weapon with her about a week ago. She said she just didn’t know why I hadn’t blogged it. So, now I share it!

So, do I have it all together and prioritized now? Well, now I’m prioritizing all the lists I’ve printed out.

Idea Sandbox: Prioritizer

Open source – why?

Once upon a time technology was an awesome mystery and we were amazed just to watch what it did. We put those geeky gods who made it work on pedestals and carried their coffee. Technology made any job that involved keeping track of stuff easier.

Libraries were particularly thankful for automated procedures that tracked the hundreds of thousands of pieces of stuff that we entrusted on loan to thousands of people. We were so mystified by how it worked and thankful that it did that once we found a program and learned how to use it (another monumental task) we didn’t want to think about picking out something different or learning new tricks to use it. Besides that, librarians are by nature collectively a cautious bunch who don’t welcome a great deal of change.

So, a few vendors developed logistics type software to manage library materials and procedures and everyone was happy. The vendors didn’t do a lot of research and development and library systems didn’t change much.

During the next 20 years, technology changed the way we managed business and lived our lives. Since I’m a late arrival librarian, I wasn’t in libraries during the early technology implementations. I was involved in automating processes in several other businesses, also related to keeping track of and assigning accountability to things. I automated processes in hospital logistics and later on in grocery store sales operations. In both cases, the end results of the processes and procedures were not so different than libraries’ implementation of technology management systems.

While technology vendors in many areas have made refinement and development a priority and the systems in use now don’t look much like the early legacy systems, library automation systems have changed not so much. While most businesses do not tolerate clunky procedures or incomplete responses, the performance and results of library automation systems does not come close to other systems. Library automation systems cannot deliver the kind of interactive performance that is standard in most other industries. Furthermore, library automation vendors do not deliver the responsiveness in customer service that libraries need to remain viable in a competitive economy that sometimes marginalizes the value of library services.

There are reasons for library automation vendors’ failure to deliver desirable performance or service. First of all, I don’t think that libraries initially asked for a lot. Furthermore, with minimal profits to be made off from libraries, I don’t think that development of library systems was very lucrative for systems developers, and there wasn’t a lot of competition out there. Effective customer support doesn’t seem to be a priority and in recent years, company mergers have resulted in fewer viable choices for libraries to go where the service is better.

Enter the realm of open source options, where “they” becomes “us.” My library’s options for automation services do not have to be driven by what my vendor offers. There are choices my organization can make where we could potentially have more influence in the development of service-point utilities. And most importantly, there are other options for my organization to consider in deciding who would really understand and respect us as a customer for their services.

MINITEX is sponsoring workshops this month to allow libraries to look at open source options for integrated library systems. At the first session this week the room was packed with library managers and system administrators. The sizes and capacities of our organizations varied considerably, but we hold in common a desire for better systems and service than legacy library vendors provides.

My friend DL did an excellent job summarizing the first session on Koha, which means I don’t have to . In his summary, he discusses the question on whether buying open-source from a vendor isn’t just another vendor. Yes, it is, but with a difference that there is a different relationship with an open-source vendor. The underlying program is as open and available as we wish it to be, constrained only by our own limitations. Indeed, my systems geek has already downloaded his own copy of Koha to experiment with and learn from.

Will all of us who are educating ourselves through the open-source workshops rush out and implement a Koha or Evergreen based ILS? Most likely not. We have varying abilities and budgets. Some have the capacity to dive right in, others will build cooperatives, others will make a decision to remain status quo. But through our discussion, we’re becoming better informed and more discerning about the potential for library automation solutions to equip us to provide the most cost-effective and best possible customer service and access.