Evergreen Across the Border

One year ago today, a Future of the Integrated Library System symposium took place in Windsor, Ontario. My organization, the Leddy Library at the University of Windsor, had been involved with a strategic planning process for some time, and each Department had been given the task of defining an “operations” strategic plan. As the Dept. Head for Systems, I felt like there was a gap in our knowledge in the state of the ILS, and wondered if there was a way that our information gathering could be a communal process. It seemed unlikely that we were the only library assessing our options, and I had seen notices for events in the past that seemed to take this approach.

In August last year, I was given the green light to move ahead with a one day gathering. I had an outline of what I thought the layout of the event should be. I wanted a session on Services Orientated Architecture (SOA) that could capture the latest thinking on how systems should communicate. Peter Murray at OhioLINK was an immediate choice for this, Peter had studied SOA in depth and we had a continuing dialogue on how to foster systems that fully leveraged network infrastructures in a web context. I felt there needed to be a session on systems that currently live outside of the catalogue but need to define a relationship with it in some profound way. Alan Darnell, project manager for the Scholarly Information Resources Project (Scholars Portal), one of the world’s largest collections of digital content for libraries, was an ideal candidate for this. And, of course, I wanted a session on an example of an ILS that really did encapsulate a path for the future that offered hope. That task fell to Brad LaJeunesse, Mike Rylander, David Singleton, and Julie Walker, who, at the time, were all employees of the Georgia Library Public Library Service and worked on an initiative called PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services) that produced, among other things, an Open Source ILS called Evergreen.

I had seen Brad and Mike talk about Evergreen before, once in 2005 at a session at the Metro Atlanta Library Technology Association (MALTA), hosted by Ross Singer, and once virtually as the keynote session at the first code4lib event in 2006. I knew they could deliver a well rounded session with plenty of details for those with propellers spinning on their caps, and, of course, they did. But David and Julie greatly extended the inroads made for considering an Open Source ILS with the crowd at the symposium. David and Julie brilliantly got across the message that OSS was a real and sensible option from an administrator’s point of view.

The ILS Symposium was given in a packed room, far beyond the crowd I expected, and was widely blogged (there are links from the web site, I hate to list them here since I would probably miss someone, but Eric and Rob‘s travel notes are a good place to start). I was on the tail end of coordinating three events by the time of the symposium and had started to wonder if I needed therapy for ever proposing that bringing groups of people together was a good idea. Yet, like in 2002 when we hosted Access and witnessed the first library hackfest, it is always re-energizing to bring a group of library folks with common interests together and explore the possibilities.

Much has happened in the last year since the event. There has even been another ILS Symposium, this time in Illinois, which from all accounts, was incredibly successful. My organization is working with the Evergreen developers on Acquisitions/Serials support, and, Prince Rupert Public Library , the first library in Canada to run Evergreen in production has recently made their catalogue live as part of a massive migration in the province of British Columbia by Ben Hyman and the BC Pines team. Dan Scott, who attended the symposium in Windsor (travelling by bus all the way from Sudbury, no less), now has commit access to the Evergreen repository and made a huge splash at this year’s Access by announcing Laurentian’s commitment to Evergreen as their next ILS. It took until the summer to really get rolling with the Acq/Ser project but we have made a lot of progress this Fall. We are also working on a shared installation of Evergreen with the University of Guelph, Laurentian, and McMaster, and I would guess Brad, Mike, Jason, and Bill, the brain trust behind equinox, practically get a phone a day from a new institution interested in Evergreen.

At the end of the Symposium, there was a panel of the speakers and an open discussion on the ILS and what libraries should do next. Some felt, with good reason, that there should be a manifesto of sorts (and I note that the amazing Roy Tennant has created such a document). There was also some feeling that Windsor should host the same event again in a year, and invite vendors this time. I was reluctant on both counts. I think manifestos are great but they tend to need a lot of pondering and refinement, in other words, I am not sure they are best authored in a group setting. When Lincoln Trail Libraries System announced their ILS event, it also made the option of hosting the event again much less likely, and we eventually decided that the discussions on the ILS were in full force all over, and probably didn’t require another gathering in Windsor.

I did consider trying to shift the focus to the discovery layer for a one year anniversary event of sorts. I remain convinced that Evergreen, Koha, and any ILS with a strong design and unfettered access under the hood, has immense advantages for creating a stronger discovery experience than the model of batch exporting MARC records and round-tripping back to the ILS for state information. But Alan Darnell kindly got me off the hook for such an undertaking by mounting an open set of events on discovery options this summer for the Ontario university libraries, and this also seemed to be a hot topic at the recent Access conference.

To me, Evergreen in Windsor was a bit like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, a chance for an astounding talent to take the stage and find a ready audience. I wish libraries had more events that were issue-based and single-track, I think the progress being made with OSS among many other things would be greatly helped by such gatherings. I once described the code4lib conference to Jon Udell as “monterey pop for library geeks”, and maybe code4lib provides a model for allowing libraries to put their heads together without all of the distractions of a typical library conference (though I think we need those too!). But on this day, here’s a special thank you to the Evergreen contingent who crossed the Detroit river last year to share your story with the folks on the other shore.