22 November 2009

Fair shake of the source bottle - QULOC

The day started out overcast and warm in Brisbane as attendees from Queensland University Libraries Office of Cooperation members trooped into the Queensland College of Art at South Bank for the seminar on Open Source vs Proprietary sofware for Libraries on Friday. The event was cutely named- Fair Shake of the Source Bottle, borrowing from @KRuddPM's use of the much discussed colloquialism.

Andrew Bennett of the University of Queensland set the scene nicely with an opening presentation picking up on the history of the open source software movement. Unfortunately my notes from that session disappeared with one unwise click in Scribefire so I'm not going to elaborate, except to say that, as usual, Andrew pitched his presentation at just the right level for the audience ranging from the extremely tech-headed to the say-that-in-plain-English.

The presentations following, were organised to compare experiences with OS and proprietary software in use at QULOC member institutions, in particular, digital repositories and new generation discovery layers, but other software was also showcased.

Alan Cockerill from JCU entertained and informed us with an overview of the implementation of OpenFire to provide instant messaging reference services at their two campuses. This software is worth taking a closer inspection of, as it appears to be very easy to manage and support and provides web-chat with client IM software backed with sophisticated queuing and workgroup management. This implementation was a very small budget and is running successfully in a VM environment. With LDAP and AD integration it has possibilities for enterprise-level deployments.
More Info on OpenFIre

Antoinette Cass from Bond University took up the story of the epublications@Bond repository from where Mark Sutherland and I left off with a conference paper from a couple of years back looking at the choice of repository software. Bond uses Digital Commons from BePress, an Application Service Provision (ASP) arrangement. With minimal resourcing at the technical level, Bond is able to focus on the business side of the repository while BePress is responsible for the technical installation at their data centre, storage and technical support. This was a dramatically different experience outlined by Eric Hornsby from University of Queensland who discussed UQ's development of the Fez software which works with the underlying Fedora repository. This work has involved many hours of dedicated developer time to implement sophisticated workflows that has transformed Fez from a research repository tool, into a flexible digital object manager. The key point for me in comparing these two presentations was highlighted in the references back to the institutions' missions. Antoinette highlighted that the right software is the one that meets the mission. For UQ the mission was evolving, and they needed to have the control over the software to maintain flexibility.
Next up, was two presentations that largely focussed on new generation discovery layers. Dave Allen from the State Library of Queensland presented on their experience with Primo from Ex Libris, and Eric Robertson from USQ talked in general about USQ's experience with OSS, but more specifically on their recent implemention of VUFind. They both covered good detail in the challenges and benefits of each case - showing that there is a diversity in influencing factors well beyond the financial and support factors that are upper front in a cursory comparison. These include the corporate culture, existing systems and licenses that are interdependent, formality of project management practices, state of the vendor market. A telling illustration from USQ was that the prospect of a lengthy procurement process made an OS product with similar feature set a compelling choice. Especially as there was little financially to lose if it did not work out - the vendor product was still available if needed. This contrasted with the SLQ experience in working through contract negotiations due to the state government requirements surrounding contracts. There were lots of good points from these presentations for those of us yet to implement new discovery layers eg impact on usage of e-resources, ease of customisation to accommodate usability testing feedback etc.
Some other notes from the day:
Some factors to be considered are common to both OSS and Vendor products:
  • implementation complexities
  • feature sets must meet needs
  • training and support needs must be addressed
  • hardware and architecture
OSS and community systems philosophy aligns with higher education and library sectors - libraries in particular want to give stuff away and support their communities

A big thank you to the presenters for sharing their experiences  - local insights are invaluable.