Last night I went along to a LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange) meeting on open source library management systems (LMSs). Ray Phillips from the King’s Fund spoke about their transition from Unicorn to Koha.
I won’t go into tremendous amounts of detail about the talk – other than to say that Ray is an exceptional speaker, very engaging and entertaining – as Tom Roper has already posted a detailed account of the evening on his blog. There were also a couple of us live tweeting, so you can see our tweets with the hashtag #like19. I will just share a couple of thoughts I had throughout the evening:
1. Open source allows librarians to regain their creativity
This is something that Ray said, in response to a question about the lack of innovation in proprietary LMSs in recent years. Ray feels that most librarians are cut off from the development process: we are not empowered to specify what we need from an LMS and influence development. Mostly, we take what the suppliers give us and make do. Before the switch to Koha, the library staff at King’s Fund were trying to get Unicorn to do what they needed it to with unsupported hacks. This was unsustainable, not least because most of the work was down to one particularly tech-savvy member of staff – what if they left? Going open source has given them back control over their own tools.
This reminded me of a recent post over at thewikiman’s blog, about the need for “crazy ideas” for library services. I tweeted something to this effect, but think it was slightly confusing, out of context – sorry Ned! What I meant was, I think giving librarians control over what tools they use is key to allowing innovation to thrive. And I don’t just mean library service managers and/or systems librarians – every member of staff in the library should be able to suggest improvements to the service, or new, radically different ways of doing things, and have those ideas acted on. Too often, “crazy ideas” are ignored simply because reliance on external forces (e.g. your LMS vendor) means that the idea actually can’t be implemented in practice. I was really impressed by the way Ray talked about the staff at the King’s Fund, and the obvious enthusiasm for the project, as evidenced by the speed at which it progressed: the decision to move to Koha was taken in October 2009, and the project was completed in January 2010.
I got the impression, and this is backed up by staff members at the King’s Fund that I’ve spoken to, that the staff there were given ownership of this project, rather than it being something imposed from higher up. This approach has to make a huge difference in how staff feel about such a big change, and how empowered they feel to actually get involved and steer the project in a direction that benefits all.
2. Networks like LIKE and LISNPN are the open source software of the networking world
Again, a comment I have shamelessly stolen from Ray! We were chatting later on in the evening, and Ray was talking about how great LIKE was because it was so informal, there was no bureaucratic structure as in a membership organisation, and people were there from all different sectors. I told him about LISNPN (the LIS New Professionals Network – come join if you haven’t already!) and how I thought there was a real trend at the moment for DIY networking. We aren’t waiting for CILIP or BIALL or whoever to organise stuff for us, we’re doing it ourselves – and having a ball! And that’s when Ray quipped that LISNPN sounded like open source networking. He said that was a lot like his rationale for moving to an open source LMS - tired of waiting for the vendor to make improvements he wanted, he thought they’d be better off pitching in and doing something on their own terms. I completely love this analogy! It’d never occurred to me before, but I think that what Ray said there absolutely sums up the philosophy behind LIKE and LISNPN.
3. Online networking is great, but there’s nothing like getting out and talking to interesting people for inspiration
This is something I’ve always objectively known, but it was really brought home to me last night. As an introvert, I have to fight my natural impulse to avoid people. I do find it easier to talk to people online than in person: I express myself better in writing than I do speaking, and I find it much easier to strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know online. And I must admit, I’ve been avoiding social situations in general lately: for personal reasons I’ve been feeling quite low, and finding being around other people very difficult. I’m starting to wonder if this isolation has contributed to my lack of professional confidence recently. I have been less engaged with my various professional activities for a while, and I’ve been feeling pretty down on myself and my professional abilities. This isn’t helped by the fact that every time I go online I see more and more amazing things that my peers are doing: as @bethanar once put it on her blog, there’s nothing like being friends with bunch of massive over-achievers to make you doubt your own achievements! This has all turned into a bit of a vicious cycle: I stay out of professional activities for a while because I don’t feel up to it, then I start staying out of online discussions because I don’t feel like I’ve got anything to contribute any more, then I find reasons to avoid even more professional stuff because really, what’s the point of putting the effort in when I’m never going to get anywhere?
Last night shook me out of that. Last night I listened to an incredibly inspiring speaker, who reminded me of the benefits of Just Bloody Getting On With It. I had fascinating discussions with people I already knew and people I’d never met before, and made some (hopefully) mutually beneficial connections. I talked to people about everything from lawyerly resistance to knowledge management, to the optimum length for a blog post, to encouraging innovation in the workplace, to comic books, to the relative merits of burgers with or without cheese (FYI, always with cheese. I know I’m right on this, Tina!). I learned from others there and I think I contributed something to the conversations too. I came home feeling informed, enthused and inspired – and proud of my profession and my part in it. And I remembered why I used to go to things like this, and not go home straight after the talk and/or only speak to people I already knew.
Also, by happy coincidence, as I set off home feeling all enthusiastic and inspired and engaged, I pulled out my phone to browse my RSS feeds and came across this blog post of pure epic win from @bethanar. Everyone should read this. Seriously. Beth has completely summed up why I am proud of this profession, and why I am (still) excited to be a part of it.
I appear to have rambled very far off the topic I started this blog post with! Hopefully I’ve conveyed some of what was buzzing around my head last night as I went home, and something of the atmosphere at and benefits of attending LIKE meetings. Will definitely be at the next one