Posts Tagged ‘madness’

By now, you’ve probably read about SirsiDynix’s “position paper” on open source, first posted on WikiLeaks. It’s kind of funny that almost exactly 11 years to the day after the first Microsoft Halloween document was leaked, SirsiDynix has provided the library systems community with a similar story. The author of Sirsi’s document, Stephen Abram, wrote a blog post in response and has been very busy answering the comments being posted to it. By the time he had posted his response, the story had already spread beyond the regular library blogs and tweets and got as far as the Linux Weekly News.

I suspect that LWN is how David Skoll found out about this issue, and what probably led him to Abram’s blogged response. David Skoll has been busting FUD against free and open source software for quite a while. While I don’t know him personally, he and I share the same hometown, the same public library system, and, for a few years, the same Linux user group (although that was a decade ago). He is (from what I hear) a super-smart programmer but not, to my knowledge, a programmer in the library systems world. So I was surprised to see him pop up in the comments on Abram’s post.

He probably doesn’t fit into SirsiDynix’s model of a “developer”. He’s actually a  library patron only. One of his responses to Abram was a simple story about an issue he had with the Horizon ILS at the OPL:

I’ve written a tool (using WWW::Mechanize) to fetch my list of books due and email me about upcoming return dates. I had to use an undocumented GET parameter to get XML, and parse through the XML to get the info I needed. I’m sure that if your software were open-source, it would be far easier to integrate.

Here’s a user seeking an API to use his municipal library’s ILS, which happens to be from SirsiDynix. He’s not on code4lib, he’s not a SirsiDynix customer or developer. He just wants to access his personal patron data through an API without having to jump through silly hoops.

Further down, Abram responds, apparently not aware that Skoll is a user (i.e., a patron), and not a systems librarian (i.e., a SirsiDynix customer):

Tell me, what’s the difference between an open source ILS that alows you to write and share API’s and a proprietary ILS that let’s you write and share API’s? You might want to reserve your criticsm for the ILS’s that restrict API use.

Further down in the thread, Abram adds:

I have little patience for concerns about theoretical restrictions when requests have not been made for training or access

When Abram asks “what’s the difference between an open source ILS that alows you to write and share API’s and a proprietary ILS that let’s you write and share API?” he’s ignoring the fact that Mr. Skoll’s story gives us the answer, as he obviously had to fight through undocumented functions to get his tool to work. Ironically, Sirsi’s system doesn’t seem to fit into the two categories listed by Abram. It appears that it’s not even “a proprietary ILS that let’s [sic] you write and share API”. Does every ILS user wishing to write a simple ILS-based app, just like Mr. Skoll, have to shell out thousands of dollars for API training first? (And then not be allowed to share his work?) These restrictions wouldn’t be possible with an open source ILS.

We don’t know how many David Skolls we have amongst our patrons but savvy patrons like him do exist. What’s more, they are already accustomed to having publicly published API documentation for other online products to do all sorts of neat things with data — all without having to ask for permission to see the API documentation or paying for “training”. Why is Mr. Skoll’s initiative rewarded with such a rude brush-off? He may not be a SirsiDynix customer but he is a SirsiDynix user (and after the response he received, I’ll bet he’s not a happy one).

Finally, Skoll very explicitly explained later in the thread that he was a library patron looking for an API and, finally, Abram understood. Skoll then received the following non-answer to his query:

As for e-mail alerts, our software supports this as well as RSS when the library implements it.

It neither answered his question, nor was entirely honest (“our software” in the above sentence refers to Unicorn or Symphony, completely different products than the one Skoll’s library is currently using).

Why is it so hard for Abram to turn that answer into: “Here’s our API. Look at all the neat things that you can do with our system!” ? The result would be a happier patron, a potential new developer, and a positive story that spins itself.

As it stands, it looks like he’s just trying to dismiss a smart user trying to make better use of his local library’s ILS. That’s just plain silly and violates Ranganathan’s 4th and 5th laws.

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I was chatting with some coworkers today and they told me about a discussion about Evergreen on the AUTOCAT mailing list. I decided to sign up because I had previously considered it and, really, what’s one more mailing list to join and then ignore?

After signing up, I had to laugh when I received the confirmation e-mail in my inbox which stated:

This list is confidential. You should not publicly mention its existence, or forward copies of information  you have obtained from it to third  parties.

Isn’t it time that this notice be removed from the confirmation message? I was able to find the sign-up form with an easy Google search, there’s a Wikipedia page about the list, and there are even archives up on GMane. I think the AUTOCAT has been out of the bag for some time…

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III Linking Policy

I was recently going through Innovative’s web site and, out of curiosity, clicked on the small “Legal Notices” link at the bottom of their front page. It instructed me to “PLEASE READ THESE ‘TERMS OF USE’ CAREFULLY BEFORE USING THIS WEB SITE”. It occurred to me that, if they truly wanted all visitors to read the legal notices before using the site, they should probably either feature the link more prominently on the front page or force a redirect to make sure everyone has a chance to read it beforehand. Most of us aren’t accustomed to reading EULAs for websites.

What got my attention was their “Links Policy”. Apparently, you are not allowed to link to III’s site unless you follow specific rules, including:

  • “(i) any link to the Web site must be a link clearly marked “Innovative Interfaces” OR “iii.com”;
  • “(iii) the link must “point” to the URL (www.iii.com) and not to other pages within the Web site”;
  • “(vi) Innovative Interfaces, Inc. reserves the right to revoke its consent to the link at any time and in its sole discretion.”

That means that if you want to point someone to a specific III product, such as Millenium or Encore, you are, according to III, not allowed to provide them with direct links. Evidently, Google doesn’t respect their policy either (of course, it might help if III provided a robots.txt file to help support their links policy).

It’s got a bit of a “Fight Club” ring to it: “The first rule of the Millenium web page is you don’t link to the Millenium web page. The second rule of the Millenium web pages is you don’t link to the Millenium web page.

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Innovative’s Research Pro at LPL

I was just going through the London Public Library’s web site, looking to find an article from The Serials Librarian. I ran into LPL’s new “Research Pro” federated search interface (by III). Either the product itself or LPL’s implementation of it wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Besides not working with Safari(!), “Tips” were added to the top of each results page telling users to hit “Reload” if the results list was empty (see screenshot, below). I had to reload every single page of results that I browsed.

LPL's Research Pro w/ Missing Results

LPL's Research Pro w/ Missing Results

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Today’s Speech from the Throne didn’t contain a direct reference to “copyright reform”. However, it did state that “our government will also attend to the other important priorities that it set out in the speech from the throne to open the 40th Parliament.” That previous speech did, in fact, include DMCA-like “copyright reform” as a priority item.

Howard Knopf noticed a piece in the Hill Times today, in which Conservative lobbyist Jeff Norquay claims that:

the copyright lobby will be in full force when the House returns and he expects a draft legislation to be tabled within months. The government introduced copyright legislation in the last Parliament, but it died on the Order Paper when the election was called.

So the Canadian DMCA will be tabled before Parliament once more. Hopefully the new crop of MPs are savvy enough to drop it…yet again.

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The OLE Project Webcast

A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” (Sir Barnett Cocks)

The above quote comes close to describing what I was thinking as I watched the OLE Project’s Webcast from November 20th, 2008.

Months of consultations, hundreds of thousand of dollars spent ferrying people here, there, and everywhere…all to produce a design document. That’s a poor ROI. Only after July 2009 will they even begin to think about developing a new ILS, by which time:

  1. Evergreen and Koha will have evolved and improved; the OLE Project will still be months away from the rubber meeting the road.
  2. Evergreen and/or Koha may very well adopt any ideas the OLE Project outlines in their final “Open Library Management System” document before OLE can get started on actual development work.

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Today’s Speech from the Throne (PDF) included one line about copyright:

Our Government will proceed with legislation to modernize Canada’s copyright laws and ensure stronger protection for intellectual property.

One year ago, the same government included a similar line in their Speech from the Throne and the result was Bill-61 (which thankfully died on the order paper when this fall’s election was called). Despite the blowback they received this past spring and summer about that bill, I doubt the next incarnation will be much better.

Hopefully the new Industry Minister is a bit more clueful than the last and takes feedback from Canadians more seriously.

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