Library Admin is Fun!
Sarah has a great post about her transition to library administrator. Because she feels awkward in that cloth she’ll likely do great.
Naturally, being The Man myself (a few times over), I have my own twist on her observations.
There’s a fine line between being transparent and over-sharing. I don’t believe in transparency so much as translucency. My own boss is a great example of how to share just enough. She’s frank and informative and helps place the world in context, and she finds the positive spin on things or the right solution for the right time. And there are things she doesn’t share with me at the time that I’m glad she withheld (and equally honored that she later shared) — and I’m guessing that’s the tip of the iceberg. I follow her lead.
A lot of my role as The Man is about managing communications: internal, external, whatever — from the signs on the wall to the emails to the masses. I recall a thread on Facebook where a librarian fumed (in a post phrased as a question — not too passive-aggressive, eh) that her director insisted on reviewing all external communications.
Well, yeah, I hope so (though of course in larger institutions that’s managed by a marketing person or an entire department). This is one area where you will need to recommunicate your message frequently. Let me take it farther: I set and enforce expectations for how we will engage with our constituents one-on-one. I do not apologize for being the chief my-friend-what’s-in-charge of message management, from the signs on our printers to how we communicate computer outages to the flyers distributed to the masses. I’ve walked into the alternative several times in my career and had to undo a lot of damage. You need a united and clear voice.
The Man must be mercilessly optimistic. I’ve flogged that horse so much it found a lawyer and is suing, but I’ll say it again. I can tell it’s time for vacation because it’s becoming a little difficult to be perky and upbeat, but you know what? I’m being paid to be perky and upbeat. Once I walk in the library, that’s my assigned take on the universe. I try very hard to share “good news” as often as I can.
Not only that, it’s my job to ensure that the “optimistic spin” pervades the workplace as much as possible, and to honor and uplift the good moments while deflecting, or at least delaying, the inevitable buzzkill. There are people on this planet who in the name of “just being realistic” have a knack for popping party balloons before the cake has been served; it’s their world-view. Sometimes you will need to sit on them. There will be time to fix the inevitable glitches or problems. People — and that includes you, dear Man — deserve the right, and have the need, to bask in a good moment–to feel a little joy.
Sarah is also right about developing a suit of armor for the people who will never Approve of you… or who project situational Disapproval when you make an unpopular decision. We all want to be liked, but you can’t be the Man and always be liked. Get on that chainmail vest and get over it.
Part of optimism is persistence; a sense of humor helps too. For the last year I have led a “small” project involving an interactive whi
Sutro Tower and Moon
That’s what I’m doing right now, ensconced in my window seat in coach on my flight home, playing Aretha Franklin’s “Young, Gifted, and Black” tuned up loud enough to drown out the food-smackers behind me while I tidy up trip reports and budget forecasts and put the buff on a small preservation planning grant.
But it was also what I did at ALA…
… When I picked up my badge and began my peregrinations through meetings and exhibits
… When I met up with old and new colleagues over dinner, coffee, lunch, walks down the street, hugs in the hallways
… When I walked into the Council chambers at ALA Midwinter to hustle up a few signatures for my petition to run as an at-large Council candidate.
I felt it was time to get back into ALA governance. I had been puzzling over whether this was, in fact, the right thing for me to do (in addition to LITA Nominations and GLBTRT External Relations and the occasional panel, such as the “ROI in Academic Libraries” Springer hosted last Friday) until I walked into the Council Chambers.
When I push open our door tonight, I know what to expect: Sandy, our cat Emma, my favorite spot on the green couch, a pile of unopened mail, the Sutro Tower twinkling on the hill. I am not being arch when I say I had a similar (if not quite as numinous) experience in the Council chambers today, when I tweeted that I had a petition and within minutes it was overflowing from signatures from Councilors both fresh and well-aged.
I sat a spell, watching the text transcripts unfold on the wall, watching Councilors debate and stand up and stretch and fill out ballots and knit and scoot onto the Web. (A colleague asked me how anyone could “stand” to be in Council for all those hours, and I replied, “These days, the Internet.” By gum, when I was in my first term we sat there in our analog misery, front and center!)
There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since my third term on Council. Financial downturn for my job (Librarians’ Internet Index). The move to Florida. The Florida Era. The move back to California. I’m still me, six years later, but I have that slightly smudged patina of accumulated experience.
We don’t get an Undo button in life, however useful that would be. We’re blessed and cursed with our history. One truth I have had to learn is that for some of us — many of us? — our sense of place looms large in that history.
For many years I preached — and lived — the mantra of “geographic flexibility.” Education, jobs, other opportunities: first I, then we, could follow the wind. I have repeatedly counseled librarians that they had to have geographic flexibility for their careers. I judged them for not seeking jobs far and wide. I looked to myself as an example–I, who had lived worldwide.
Yet it took the Florida Experience to teach me why some people — and I now realize I am in their numbers — have an allegiance to the place they call home so powerful that it is on the other issues in life that they compromise.It’s not that Florida was insanely horrible; it’s that experiences that were less than stellar (and life always has them) took place in a context of alien other-ness — and it was this alien experience that made them sad, at times overwhelmingly so.
There’s an expression, generally condescending: “She knows her place.” It’s too bad it’s never intended as a compliment. I do indeed know my <
Last weekend on Twitter I saw a post: “Tell me your favorite books on failing and failure, especially as it relates to innovation and leadership.” I responded with this comment: “another blog post I don’t have time 2 write: how failure is overrated, & often confused w iterative design.”
I got up a little earlier than usual this on Monday (thanks to a cat who was licking my face) and decided to see if I could succeed (as in, not fail) at a 20-minute post on this topic. Cindi Trainor does a good job of capturing some of my thoughts, but I wanted to paraphrase/amplify, if only in the spirit of chiming in. I’ll use my writing experience to add crunchy bits of flavor and texture.
I know the conversations about failure are intended to get us comfortable with owning up to the idea that we don’t always succeed, and that if you don’t break a few eggs, you’ll never make an omelette (or something). That’s terrific. But let’s be clear that succeeding is personally and professionally more rewarding than failing. The delta is the difference between how I feel when I get a rejection letter and how I feel when I get that magic email or phone call that an essay has been accepted for publication.
Furthermore, claiming you’re comfortable with failure is dangerous if what you’re really doing is being uncomfortable with iterative design and group input. Don’t give up too early in the design process, and for God’s sake, set your vanity aside and let others help you. A good idea may need tuning; it will nearly always need iteration, particularly after it’s been tested in anything like a functioning environment. If you love your idea, if you think it’s valid, you owe it more than one try.
(I cannot tell you how many times, late in the survey design process, I have to insist that yes we DO need to test the survey one more time–and I’m talking about surveys I’ve designed, not others. You don’t get a do-over once you launch a survey, just like you get one chance to submit an essay to a literary journal. That last 10% of effort separates good from great.)
Invention usually comes from individuals (a point Roy Tennant has made more than once), but it takes a village to bring ideas to life. One phenom I’ve observed in work organizations here and there is discomfort with feedback, coupled with the mistaken idea that input on a design immediately voids the value of the original creator’s effort. My guess is this stems from how we approach higher education these days, which is to emphasize individual achievement–a very artificial model.
I have heard workers say, “Well, I can’t take credit for this idea, because others helped me.” I acknowledge all the people who help me with my own writing, but in the wee small hours of the morning, it’s me and my keyboard, revising my essay. It’s still your idea, even if someone told you it would be better off purple, not green.
I’ve also observed workers losing interest in an idea once they received feedback on it. Absolutely we want to acknowledge people who participated in making an idea come to life. But it doesn’t negate the value of the original idea.
My first semester in the MFA program, back in 2004, I observed one very smart, skilled writer dropping out of the program within weeks of starting. My take then (never voiced, just pondered) was that this person could not cope with the very radical level of feedback provided in the workshop environment. This writer liked the idea of “succeeding,” writer-style — to see a work improved enough to be ultimately published — but was not able to handle what success actually required.
My suspicions were further solidified several years later, when I was running a writers’ workshop in Florida and two new
Roy Tennant, WilsWorld edition
Roy Tennant just posted a marvelous set of advice for new(er) librarians in Library Journal. To riff on his points, allow me to remind my Gentle Readers of my post about mentoring from 2008 (and if you liked that post, also see this one, about how mentoring was key to restoring my faith in myself during a rough time).
Tiny Objection: Roy says he hasn’t had time for what he calls the “pain” of “governance” (ALA committee work), and yet his first piece of advice is to find “fellow travelers.” Roy, not surprisingly, has forged his own path and peer groups independent of complex organizations; that’s one of his gifts. But we aren’t all Roys.
If ALA serves any core value at all to new librarians, it is to give them a place to build peer relationships, learn teamwork, find out what they value in their peers, and mingle with people who are at various places in their professional lives. This is truer than ever before, thanks to our ability to connect in almost-real-time with librarians worldwide.
Tiny Observation: I say this in my 2008 post, but let me reiterate that it’s key for bosses to understand that they nearly always cannot be a real mentor to their own employees, nor can they find these relationships for their staff. Bosses can coach, lead, inspire, guide, and encourage, but mentoring is something else altogether.
What bosses CAN do is…
- Encourage the activities that lead to mentoring opportunities — even if you’re broke, there are many opportunities. You just have to find them;
- Be mentors to others outside their organizations — to sharpen their self-awareness of what their own staff are going through (and no matter how good you are, that adjustment phase is hard, just as it is for any job); and,
- Be the best boss you can be — which is something I’m focusing on these days, since it is part and parcel of my goal to have MPOW become the best small private library in California. Part of my journey is through a workbook called “Be a Great Boss,” which was gifted to me by a librarian colleague. This book has a Facebook group as well (closed–not sure why) and I’ve just posted my first week’s efforts.
P.S. One last must-read: Linda Absher’s post about what makes librarianship worthwhile (spoiler alert: because we’re all about continuity, sharing, empathy, and long term preservation of the cultural record).
The latest kerfuffle from LibraryLand comes courtesy Jeff Trzeciak, university “librarian” at McMaster’s, whose recent speech has garnered tart responses from other librarians and library directors (spoiler alert: count this as another notch on that post).
I have this theory that an uncomfortably high percentage of research library directors are fundamentally very anxious about their standing among their peers (university as well as library), sometimes to the point of professional myopia, and that this results in occasionally bizarre behavior — in this case, using budget season in a year of severe cuts all around to prattle on about how the very best libraries don’t need librarians or library instruction (just like my favorite local restaurant can stop serving food or waiting on tables).
Me, I really don’t give a gnat’s behind about my standing among other directors as long as I can get ‘er done. As explained previously, I choose the small teaching-university environment because that’s how I roll.
But I do take notice when a university “librarian” seems quite proud to announce that the (self-inflicted) trend in his library is to significantly reduce the number of professional librarians (replacing some with “PhDs” and IT people) and move out of the information literacy role.
I put “librarian” in quotes quite intentionally. After listening to his speech at Penn and the responses from people I respect, I have concluded that Jeff is posing a question, who is a librarian? My response is that I am a librarian, and he is not.
Let me explain.
A few months after I arrived at MPOW, someone on campus commented on all the “cutting-edge services” I was providing. I pressed this person for examples, just to see what was considered “cutting-edge” in our environment.
My Judy-Jetson improvements included:
* Establishing walk-up (and chat/email) reference services (which we call Research Help, since that’s what it is).*
* A regular docket of literary and arts events in the library
* “Allowing” food in the library (which was true before I arrived, but not well-known)
* Making the library cleaner and brighter, with more seating for students
* A renewed rigor/emphasis on information literacy instruction and implementing assessment thereof
* Implementing online interlibrary loan (hello, 1977!)
By the standards of the Gospel According to Jeff Trzeciak, I must seem like some misguided brontosaurus snuffling in the antedeluvian biblioforest. I should be eliminating walk-up service and replacing practitioners with PhDs who will focus on hifalutin digital projects. I’m… boring. And small. Hardly the stuff of Taiga Forum.
Though–wait–wasn’t one of Taiga’s latest findings, “Within five years, universities will expect libraries to assess their impact on student learning and retention and will fund accordingly”? But I digress.
I made those changes, and prioritized them, based on two things: my twenty years of professional library experience (and more years beyond that); and my environmental scan that concluded the following:
- Our students — many first-generation college — arrived with poor research skills, and often graduated that way;
- Instructors understand the need for high-quality information literacy instruction and absorb skills themselves through our library-faculty instructional partnership;
- We, the library, could play a pivotal role in helping our students become lifelong information consumers; and
Jenica has a post about applying to academic library jobs well worth reading by anyone in the job market. But in my head I’ve been writing the following post for a very long time… so out with it.
Once you have interviewed for a library position, you have established a relationship with that institution and its interview team that stays on your permanent record–yes, the one you were warned about in the first grade. Your paths may never cross again — at least that you are aware of — but you’ve now had an intimate encounter with a number of people who spent an awful lot of time asking themselves if you were the right person for that position.
Perhaps you walked out of the interview and thanked Baby Jeebus you had the common sense not to work for those nut jobs. Perhaps you downed a quart of Rocky Road in a convenience-store parking lot on the way home, just so you’d stop crying, because you knew you blew it.
(Note: herein I break the narrative to state that I have never once believed I nailed the job interview–not ever.)
Perhaps you just had a big ol’ bucket of meh when you walked out of there — nice people, but not a fit for you or for them. Or maybe you immediately had another interview for the AMAZING LIFE-CHANGING JOB, and the other position pales in comparison.
Regardless, do the following:
* Write a thank-you letter, immediately. You can do it by email or you can do it by hand, but write that note and thank the head of the interview team (at minimum) for the opportunity to interview. Yes, even if you think they are all devil-worshippers, or even if you are completely dazzled by that AMAZING LIFE-CHANGING JOB. Write it. Now.
* Exercise patience. Everyone who interviewed you now has to recoup that time to catch up on whatever they didn’t get done during the interview process.
* File away your interview errata where you can tap it later. Like, possibly, decades later. Because they have it on file, too.
* Follow the guidelines for inquiring about the status of the position. You do not have to sit on your hands, but if they say email but don’t phone, then DON’T PHONE.
* Understand that in today’s litigious environment, the interviewer may not want to help you understand where your interview could have been better (I do get asked this question).
* Look for signs of an open door. If the head of the interview committee invites you to apply for future positions, take that at face value. You would be surprised how often interview teams see a quality candidate who isn’t a fit for a particular job and hope they can invite them back someday.
* Sometimes interview teams behave badly. Sometimes paperwork is lost or misdirected. Sometimes major life events interrupt the process. Regardless, under no circumstances should you write the interview team to berate them for not following up. (Yes, I have witnessed this.) If before you were forgotten, now you have made yourself completely unforgettable, and not in a nice way. If a polite inquiry or two doesn’t do the trick, thank your lucky stars you aren’t working there, and press on.
Vintage Children's Book Illustration Slide Show...
My co-worker Rachel (editor of Novel & Short Story Writer's Market) sent me a link to an interesting and wonderful little slide show on Slate featuring illustrations from the late-1800s up through the mid-20th century (including a Maurice Sendak illustration for The Hobbit). (You have to watch an ad if you're not a Slate subscriber, but it's kind of amusing.)
The illustrations featured (and I think the copy on the history of children's books as well) were culled from Timothy G. Young's Drawn to Enchant. The art in Young's book is from the collection of Betsy Beinecke Shirley. She left her extensive collection of books, original illustrations, manuscripts, and ephemera to the Library of Yale University. Young is the curator of the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children’s Literature.
A quick lunchtime post (written in the wee hours, embargoed until now) since I’ve received email that tells me the press release is filtering out across the Internet’s series of tubes…
First, I’m going to miss My (Current) Place Of Work. They are great folks and when I said I was leaving they expressed great sorrow and sent some VERY funny pictures.
But I had an offer I couldn’t refuse — well, I could have refused, but then I’d be kicking myself for the rest of my life, and what fun would THAT be? (Like this cupcake I ate in New York City last December. Sure, diets, whatever… but I’m still glad I ate the cupcake.)
As of June 23 (just in time for ALA!), I’m the Community Librarian at Equinox, the support and development company for Evergreen, the premier, industrial-strength open-source integrated library system software.
What, you ask, is a Community Librarian? It’s a chief blogger, presenter, evangelist, community liaison, birds-of-a-feather organizer, strategist, branding specialist, user-experience person, project management advisor, and whatever else happens to need doing. (I wrote the job description, and I think that hits the high notes.)
After sixteen years in LibraryLand (more, if you count college and high-school jobs), I want to be working on the future of libraries. It’s time. For nearly two decades I’ve watched libraries struggle with closed legacy software, and the advantages of open source — particularly in a highly-scalable system — are obvious to me.
Making the advantages of open source obvious to YOU will be part of my job.
Where will I work?
I don’t like to say “from home” — that sounds too parked-in-a-chair — I think a better term is “telework,” because first, our home will probably change sometime in the next year, and second, the point is that I’ll be wherever Evergreen and Equinox need my voice and presence. I will make trips throughout Georgia and to the Norcross offices of Equinox (I’m starting to like Atlanta — it’s an interesting city) and far, far beyond.
I’m sad to leave MPOW… learned a lot, great people; definitely recommend MPOW to anyone interested — but I’m excited about the future. (I hope that was a nice-enough farewell to my buddies at MPOW. I’m hoping they give me a green Prius as a going-away present… though that means I better finish that Shibboleth report Greg is waiting for..!)
[Note: there is absolutely no way I can improve on this message, which just came across the transom to PUBLIB, the 7,000-member discussion list for public librarians, so I'll just shut up and let the message speak for itself. Please share -- and a most joyous, and thoughtful, holiday to each and every one of you.]
[Publib] Heartwarming story of the season
Tue Dec 23 11:57:52 EST 2008
Sorry, no Friday humor, but just to make you feel all warm and gooey
inside, here is a true story. I can't say that the names have been
changed, because I don't even know the name of the patron involved, or
his wife. If you think this is gooey and warm enough to melt the
hearts of taxpaying citizens whose votes you're trying to get to
finance, say, a referendum, you have permission to claim the story as
your own, and make up any names you want. No copyrighting,
trademarking, or anything else here.
On Thursday we held our annual staff-board Christmas (yes, we still
use that word here in the Heartland) and longevity awards luncheon.
We close from 11:30am-1:30pm. Just outside the door to the large
meeting room where we party, a staff member had placed a small table
with a tray of different candies and nuts. Including gumdrops (or
spicedrops, if you prefer). Not too long after 1:30, we had
re-opened, but post-luncheon clean-up was still underway.
Two elderly, semi-frail gentlemen on their way out of the library
stopped, looked at the table of stuff that is bad for one's teeth and
waistline, and helped themselves to what, theoretically, was not
theirs, but who cares, it's the *holidays*, etc. One of the men asked
me if he could have some of the gum/spicedrops to take home to his
wife, as "she just loves those spicedrops." Not your everyday
question, but someone found a container of some sort and dropped drops
into said container. I believe that the man borrowed a bit of
chocolate, too, and the two men left. The man who asked for the
gum/spicedrops did mention that it was hard for his wife to get out
Yesterday he came back and went to circ to check something out. He
stood around for awhile, visiting with the circ manager and whoever
else was there, lingering longer than one might ordinarily linger, and
finally--the truth came out. He wondered if we had any more of those
gum/spice drops, because his wife was so happy to get them. Circ
manager, thinking quickly--once she knew what was up--said, "Don't
worry. We will *get* you some more gum drops." The man left. Last
night circ mgr bought a bag of gum/spicedrops. She telephoned the
patron's home this morning, the wife answered, and circ mgr said, "We
have a delivery for you." The woman sounded amazed and/or confused,
but said fine.
So the circ mgr went with two other staff members and delivered the
bag of gum/spicedrops, sang a Christmas carol, and visited for about
half an hour. Turns out that the woman is on oxygen 24/7 and is
practically confined to home. There are three children and their
families, but they're all far away, and the elderly couple is going to
be alone for Christmas.
The funny thing is that, after five-plus years of talking about
delivery to the homebound, we're finally taking steps to work on such
a project...but our first delivery was a bag of candy to an elderly
couple, home alone.
I give staff credit for, as they say in Jargon, Excellent Customer
Service (ECS--wonder why we, who love acronyms and initialisms, don't
speak of ECS...or maybe we do, and I've just been oblivious).
John Richmond, Director
Alpha Park Public Library District
3527 So. Airport Road
Bartonville, IL 61607
David Pogue, tech enthusiast for the New York Times, is shocked, shocked that Amazon yanked Orwell’s books from the Kindle. But as Tim Spalding pointed out over on Web4Lib, it’s naïve to focus on Amazon and the Kindle.
“People need to get over the idea that ebooks are ‘just’ books,” Tim wrote. “Just because you can read it, doesn’t mean it’s the same thing. Books are socially and legally situated. You can’t change the delivery and legal structure, and expect everything else to remain the same.”
E-books are disruptive in ways we can barely comprehend, and all the self-congratulatory nattering at conferences about trends and digital humanities and big-ass repositories doesn’t change that a bit. It’s easy to laugh off early efforts at e-books, but is there anyone who really thinks the future of publishing—if not five years, then ten or fifteen—is not primarily digital?
And none of the current big players —Amazon, Google, not even Pogue’s beloved Apple—are in it for the passion of connecting books and readers. No matter how much they posture otherwise, the bottom line for them is profit, pure and simple.
As an author and librarian, I am greatly ambivalent. The writer in me sees opportunities I don’t have in the paper world. I am considering publishing a chapbook of essays via the Kindle and seeing if Kindle-readers—a community who by definition read heavily—will buy what is essentially unpublishable in the paper-based publishing economy.
But the librarian in me is worried, both on behalf of libraries—the bulwark of free speech in an open society—and on behalf of readers everywhere. And the writer with her eye on the future of writing — not for the next year or two, but the next century or two — is bothered as well. I worry that post-paper reading will become an event as closely and expensively metered as parking in downtown San Francisco. It’s doubtful that writers, journalists, and the rest of us in the writing trenches will benefit.
And if you agree that publishing is moving to a digital mode, you are also tacitly agreeing that the traditional role of libraries will soon be made obsolete. The delivery of reading to the next generation will be managed by digital mammoths who will control what and how we read to a fare-thee-well.
Since Pogue’s article was published, the Times added an “Editor’s Note” that comforts me not a whit:
EDITOR’S NOTE | 8:41 p.m. The Times published an article explaining that the Orwell books were unauthorized editions that Amazon removed from its Kindle store. However, Amazon said it would not automatically remove purchased copies of Kindle books if a similar situation arose in the future.
But these books weren’t removed “automatically.” They were removed by humans, who were following orders — just as some human, somewhere, chose to alter Amazon’s search results to hide GLBT titles. Each time, a well-publicized kerfuffle reversed Amazon’s decision, but the point is that the decision was made at all.
What we are learning is that the same technology that makes a book conveniently available on your Kindle in a manner of minutes can easily change that content or entirely remove it. Barbara Fister commented on my Facebook page, “I’m waiting for a little libel tourism to lead to books edited before your very eyes. How efficient!” Sadly, I don’t think we have to wait very long. Like the e-gov-documents that magically morphed and vanished during the Bush administration, the unseen silent workforce at Amazon will obediently carry out the mandate of the company.
Perhaps—to shift from Orwell to Bradbury—the ending of Fahrenheit 451 is prescient in other ways. Once the digital world has taken over — perhaps with legislative support, the way that track-building and trains yielded to automobiles and highways through the influence of energy lobbies — there will be outliers hiding in forests who are the voices of freedom and reading, while the rest of the world follows the dictates of the blinking screen.
Working for a vendor, it’s been hard for me to figure out how to personally respond to the recent Liblime brouhaha. What is a “personal” response in a world where our private/public lives are so blurred? But I feel this event personally, because it touches on so many things I have written and talked about over the years — including the very survival of librarianship.
For those of you not steeped in all things open source, this brouhaha may not even be on your radar scope.
It boils down to this: a company, Liblime, long associated with Koha open-source library software, has chosen to develop some custom, non-open-source code for a customer.
As I understand it, the effect of this decision on the Koha project is to “fork” the code — that is, there will now be two flavors of Koha: the free-and-open version, and the version that has the custom code. Liblime is within its legal rights to do this, but Liblime’s actions have dismayed many members of the Koha community.
Liblime has also suffered some staff attrition. Nicole Engard, for example, has resurfaced doing Koha work for another Koha support company. But that, in a sense, “proves” the health of the open source model, where at least on paper, no project is beholden to any one vendor. Fortunately for Koha, it is still bigger than Liblime.
Yet lessons-learned abound. This kerfuffle not only represents a systemic change for Koha-the-software, but has surfaced a constitutional crisis for the project itself.
Like a lot of software projects, Koha’s movement toward coherent self-government has lagged behind its software development and adoption, and this has left the project in a position where no one legally-recognized entity can say to Liblime, “No, you can’t do that.” Koha has a nascent user group, and has been talking about a foundation, but it hasn’t got to a place where Koha belongs to Koha, with a clearly-defined legal entity.
I think that’s what Marshall Breeding was getting at, in part, when he stated, somewhat awkwardly, that the Koha project has “a very developer-focused perspective” that would be improved by more participation and engagement from the librarians whose libraries use Koha — that is, the broader community.
In Marshall’s view, open source projects should be librarian-centric; “libraries should manage the governance of the software, while establishing conditions that encourage participation by vendors that provide services to the community of libraries that rely on the software.”
I’ve heard this theorizing from other sources. Why, all those developers need is for the librarian grownups to provide “adult supervision.” (Actual words heard verbatim.) They’ll take over those projects (also heard in the field) and make them effective through their excellent project management skills. Etc.
Unfortunately, project management expertise is in short supply in LibraryLand, and it isn’t usually valued like other skills. That’s evident from the facts: to date, there are few if any examples of successful librarian-centric open source software projects, with actual working code used in live production environments. (Someone suggested yesterday that the Notis project would be worth examining, as an example of strong software leadership early in LibraryLand’s history.)
Librarians do bring terrific skills to the table. We have a strong service orientation. We are practical. We understand what these products must do, and we have a firm grasp on timelines and calendars. We also have an appreciation for order, governance, and transparency. But we simply don’t (yet) have the core competencies to do what we did one hundred years ago — design, build, and manage our own tools. We lost our way several decades ago, and we need to acknowledge that we can’t get out of this forest on our own.
There are some large, airy, well-funded LibraryLand schemes that remind me of the joke about the Unitarian who was headed to heaven, until he saw the sign, “This way to a discussion about heaven.” There are some small test pilots here and there. Then there is also the warning example of Vufind, which in a year-long leadership vacuum spawned enough forks for a dinner party, and is now just shakily reassembling itself.
The reality is that neither model works on its own: not the code-focused project where one vendor can cause a major breach, and not the library-centric project endlessly spinning its wheels in a thousand thousand thousand committee meetings. We need one another; we benefit and learn from one another.
Evergreen would never have gone live as real-world production software if librarians in Georgia hadn’t participated in its design (and if, in the ying-yang of good process, developers hadn’t then locked themselves in rooms and coded like crazy). Now, just after its third birthday, Evergreen’s community — perhaps shaken by events ensuing in Kohaland — is having a healthy and upbeat conversation about formalizing its governance.
It truly takes a village — in many senses of that phrase. The health of an open source project, particularly for software developed for people who are not developers, depends on true diversity in participation — developers, librarians, sage administrators, brash young folks willing to experiment — and an honest acknowledgment that healthy project leadership will be inclusive of all these roles.
That means a lot of discussion and compromise, and yes, a few committee meetings. It means that a slice of the effort of any project will be devoted to building and governing that village, and that everyone is in agreement that this is necessary work. But I think real events unfolding right now have demonstrated once again what every major open source project outside of LibraryLand already knows: there is no other way.