An Almost-Manifesto Masquerading as a Presentation…

Context: Below is the text of my virtual presentation to the LITA BIGWIG (it stands for blogs, wikis, interest group, and stuff) Social Software Showcase. The presentation is virtual, but the round table discussion is going on today, June 23rd, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. in the Renaissance Mayflower Cabinet Room. I won’t be there, though. My bad scheduling got me double-booked and I’m presenting in the Transforming Your Library With Technology track.

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We’re swimming in reports that tell us to reduce expenses while the costs of our systems continue to rise. Compare this to the trend outside libraries where commoditization of bandwidth, storage, and even servers as well as the maturing of our software and management practices has made possible large numbers of competing, free services in almost every category (among the most recognizable we find Gmail, YouTube, and flickr). And those who want more direct control over the network services they use can find open source software to match those offerings and service providers to help them use it.

Libraries are good at sharing data, but we’ve done a poor job of taking advantage of the network and new technologies to reduce the costs of sharing or build network-dependent features. One result is that it’s often cheaper to buy a book than to do an ILL transaction. The success of Linux, Apache, and every other open-source application has been the success of network-enabled efficiencies that allowed aggregation of improvements from a broad range of contributors.

In libraries, this applies equally well to both our systems and data. We recognize now that our data is living and evolving, but synchronizing available record enhancements with individual collections remains costly and laborious. Without efficient mechanisms to share improvements, the value to any one library of trying to share what local improvements or corrections they make is limited, preventing libraries from benefiting from the network in ways that open source software development has.

Extending some of the affordances of open source further, remixing and mashups have shown the power of open systems and common, easy to use protocols. Those mashups are pointing the way to new applications and features that the platform providers themselves often can’t foresee or afford to develop on their own. Libraries, struggling as we are with developing the features our users are demanding, need remixable platforms to support more rapid and sustainable development.

And we need platforms that are affordable to all libraries, including the nearly 30% that serve populations of 2,500 on an average annual budget of less than $50,000 (about 60% of America’s libraries serve communities of fewer than 10,000 people).

That’s some of the philosophy driving this IMLS grant proposal. The key features of what I hope to achieve are simple: We’ll need a lot of applications to do this, and all of them will share these characteristics:

From there it’s really a matter of what we hope to achieve…what we build.