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Thomas went to ALA in Anaheim also – he’s just slower than most about writing it up.

“Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?” or “All Your Metadata Are Belong To Us”

Maybe it was the looming shadow of the Disney overlords, or maybe it was the Ex Libris Alma webinar I attended the week before. Regardless, I thought I should check out the global domination plans of a couple of organizations with the potential to exert monolithic, or even monopolistic, control over data and metadata we depend on every day.

First up was a session on OCLC’s WorldShare Platform, about which you should know two things right off the bat. First, WorldShare is this year’s marketing term that either subsumes or replaces last year’s Webscale; both are intended to drive home the idea that their stuff works on a hugely bigger scale than, say, your local ILS. Second, OCLC will be using the word Platform a lot for the foreseeable future. Because having a massive database of cataloging and holdings data is okay, but it’s much more useful to make it a resource that clever programmers and developers can build thing on (hence “platform”). A couple of important points:

  • Data is equally available to everyone [where everyone is defined as “libraries with active subscriptions to one or more OCLC product”]
  • OCLC is creating an app store where everyone else will be able download the apps other libraries have created [following QC and approval by OCLC]

The result OCLC is hoping for is a robust set of mash-ups that doing interesting things with OCLC data and encourage more libraries to do development with the WorldShare APIs. The cynic in me points out that OCLC needs to make all their services mash-up-able anyway, as they continue to build a dis-integrated library system, so they might as well grab some developer street cred by making the APIs available.

I followed up my OCLC session with two Proquest/SerialsSolutions sessions. First was Summoncamp, an informal intro, update, and rap session about the Summon discovery service. A couple of eye openers for me: the Summon database now includes over 950 million items, about half of them newspaper articles. (You kids these days, with your billion-record databases. I remember when OCLC only had 10 million, and we counted ourselves lucky, dadgummit.) Also, the entire database is reindexed every night. I asked them to repeat that, because it just didn’t sound possible. Also, some new content sources and display options that some of us have already discussed in other forums, but seriously, they reindex 950M records every night.

After that I went to an InTota presentation. This is SerialsSolutions’ forthcoming “single, centrally provisioned solution that manages the entire resource lifecycle regardless of format.” My takeaways: First, any problems, inefficiencies, or duplication of effort in our current workflow are due to the fact that parts of it are not under the control of SerialsSolutions. Second, buzzwords aside, this is a new ILS (if the president of the company says, “We’ll know we succeeded when you unplug your current ILS”, it’s an ILS). Third, any vendor who wants to lock you into a product hosted on their server is now calling it a cloud solution.

Meanwhile, on the free-as-in-kittens front (and this is going to be a lot of kittens), the folks behind the open source Kuali OLE system gave a presentation. Kuali is an organization with ambitious plans, and some proven successes, in building open source software for higher ed. Kuali OLE (Open Library Environment) is yet another forthcoming new ILS. Unlike other open source catalogs, it’s designed for academic libraries from the ground up. It’s really just starting to take shape: software version 0.6 came out just before ALA, version 0.8 is due out in October, and version 1.0 is scheduled for the first quarter of 2013. The University of Chicago and Lehigh University have already committed to starting to use it next year. What does it look like right now? Like a version 0.6 acquisitions module. But it has a lot of people committed to bringing this project off.

“You truly belong with us among the clouds” or “Look, I came here for an argument!”

This year’s Ultimate Debate program was, basically, “Which of our panelists can say the most sensible things about cloud computing?” I may not have that title exactly right, but in any case there was broad consensus (so… not a debate) that cloud computing is a mostly good thing but not a panacea, and that the overuse of “cloud” as a marketing term for any online service is making it meaningless, and you should really read the fine print before entrusting your mission-critical data to any third party.

“Well, this is depressing – how long till Battledecks?”

Three librarians from Arizona State University presented “Streaming Video – It Takes a Village,” about how they created their own streaming video server using open source tools. Unfortunately it came out as more of a cautionary tale than a success story: they counted up hundreds of person-hours for four or five staff members, determined that they needed a full time PHP developer, and ended up with a system that doesn’t support iPad users. They loaded a planned first batch of 40 videos (about 400GB of data) and have no plans to load any more into the system. They didn’t mention server, storage, or bandwidth costs. I’m sure we could implement a better solution with fewer headaches, but it’s still a depressing reminder of the real costs involved in supporting online media in any big way.

And in other depressing events, I am now chair of the LITA Publications Committee, which means I have to do real work at ALA from now on.