January 15, 2005

Blogging from Boston

ALA Midwinter got underway yesterday in Boston, MA. I arrived late on Thursday (although not as late as some!) and by 11am (it took me a while to get going!) I was ready to go for what is going to be a busy schedule over the next few days.

My first meeting was RMG Consultants annual event at Midwinter - the Annual Presidents' Seminar: The View from the Top. The topic up for discussion was "THE NEW INTEGRATED LIBRARY SYSTEM: AN ENTERPRISE SOLUTION".

Ken Chad from Talis was 'up there' with the rest of them, representing our view of the world. I saw some old and not so old faces, and it was great to catch up with a few people. It was also good to see a few faces from across the pond represented - alongside Ken was Robin Murray from Fretwell-Downing and Sebastian Hammer from Index Data. A full list of panelists is available on the RMG web site.

So - how did it go? Well, a few common themes started to appear after a little while (it was a 3 hour session!).

There was some discussion of enterprise systems and ERP, but it was never really bottomed what was meant by this! But, what did become clear was how libraries need to integrate and become more outward facing. The need to provide library services and content through non-library channels did come across well from a few panelists. It was clear that the library's content and services are part of a wider organisation in a way that it has never been before, and vendors and libraries alike have to meet this challenge.

Open source and the sense of community across the library world was repeated throughout the session. This was varied, but it was emphasised that open source does not mean free - a popular misconception! However, open source in the ILS market won't evolve in the same way as it has in e-learning for example. The ILS market is mature and saturated, the e-learning market is emergent - one plays well to open source, the other not so well. However, if we talk about the problems that libraries have today, and the solutions that software or technology could provide, then maybe open source will come in to its own.

Market consolidation is inevitable - there are too many players currently. There are two ways this could come about - by merger/acquisition or by a 'best of breed' approach to the problem. There was some discussion about cross-licesning and partnering both within the industry and beyond.

Finally, libraries need to improve the way they sell themselves to their organisation. Nothing new there!

After a wander round the exhibition hall, and a chat with a few old faces, - I had my first face to face (informal!) meeting with my colleagues in the VIEWS group. It was great to put faces to names - a social meeting more than anything at the end of an interesting day.

Saturday started early - 6am, and on a Saturday too!

It was Endeavor's Digital Breakfast - a really interesting session, which apart from the great breakfast and freebies - told us about the work they've been doing to improve the usability of their product set. They've undertaken a user-centered design approach to Encompass, EJOS, Meridian, and are planning to do some work on a new version of the OPAC - that promises to be user-centered. They're clearly positioning usability as their differentiator this ALA. Elsevier have a usability team of 20 staff - what an amazing resource to have available to you!

After taking in the exhibition for an hour or so, and grabbing coffee with a former colleague, I headed off to the RUSA MARS Hot Topics Discussion Group - "Metasearch: what it is, what it could be, and how standards can help us get there!". It was a standing room only session, and a lively debate followed 2 presentations. The first presentation was by Andrew Pace from NCSU and one of the co-chairs of the NISO Metasearch Initiative which a couple of us at Talis are involved with. This was followed by a presentation from Boston College about their Metalib implementation. The subsequent discussion was primarily around the connectors used to do the metasearching itself - meaning screen scraping mainly, and vendors, information providers and librarians joined in the debate. It was interesting to hear certain vendors defend their screen scrape approach as what the customer wants, while the information providers asked why this method was being use, when they have a perfectly good Z-target. The debate will rage on - there are no easy answers to this one!

I've had a few nice chance meetings with people I've worked with on projects in the past as I've gone from meeting to meeting - that's one of the best bits of ALA - catching up with old faces!

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