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SirsiDynix Report Leaked, Spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about Open Source

Thanks to Twitter, I discovered that Wikileaks has posted a report written by SirsiDynix Vice President for Innovation Stephen Abram which spreads a fantastic amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt about both open source software in general and, more specifically, the suitability of open source integrated library systems. As the summary provided by Wikileaks states,

This document was released only to a select number of existing customers of the company SirsiDynix, a proprietary library automation software vendor. It has not been released more broadly specifically because of the misinformation about open source software and possible libel per se against certain competitors contained therein ...

The source states that the document should be leaked so that everyone can see to what extent SirsiDynix will attempt to spread falsehoods and smear open source and the proponents of open source.

In addition, as you may have heard, the Queens Library is suing SirsiDynix for breach of contract; for what it's worth, the initial conference is scheduled for next Monday, November 2, 2009. More information on the lawsuit can be found on Justia.

I think one of the most concerning aspects of this disappointing white paper is the attribution of a quote to Clifford Lynch, the Executive Director for the Coalition of Networked Information. The quote is as follows, taken from page 10 of the report:

Although many in the ILS industry are taking an in-depth look at the viability of open source development over the long run, we believe the movement is premature. Moreover, we are joined in our opinion by none other than Cliff Lynch, the head of the Coalition for Networked Information and a leading thinker in the library space.

Cliff called the development of the open source ILS by OLE, [Georgia] Pines [the developers of Evergreen], etc. one of the "stupidest strategies ever undertaken" in the library world. At a time when libraries should be investing in systems to improve the priority issues in the end-user's research, discovery and learning experience, here we have a cadre of libraries investing in the reinvention or at least, recreation, of something they already have and have at a cheaper cost than the redevelopment effort.

While Lynch is known for his provocative comments, I find it to be quite alarming that Abram, a trained librarian (read: a holder of an MLS) and Fellow of the Special Libraries Association "” two facts made very clear on the title page of the report "” did not bother to cite the source of this comment or provide adequate context for it. This comment doesn't particularly stand well on its own, but I see the point; perhaps developers in the library sphere should focus on usability and discovery issues rather than back office parts of the ILS. However, what Abram ignores is that this sort of work ends up being part and parcel of open source development in libraries.

Stephen Abram has a blog and a Twitter account. We could ask him to respond in earnest about the FUD-spreading. How we do that is left as an exercise to the reader.



  • 💬 MJ Ray at October 30, 2009, 12:38 UTC:

    Maybe it was something misoverheard at a conference, like the famous Peter Mandelson "chumps" comment.

    On the "at a cheaper cost than the redevelopment effort" - systems like SirsiDynix appear to be infinite costs for our library services, where libraries must keep paying forever and ever and ever, while at least with Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), there's some hope of sustainability one day.

  • 💬 wlayton at October 30, 2009, 17:49 UTC:

    I'd also like to know why they thought that the United States Department of Defense restricts the use of open source source software. They have supported the purchase and internal development of OSS since 2003, and this year released a memo to employees making it clear that laws and policies do not discourage the consideration of OSS. They are concerned that the department isn't making the most of OSS options when considering commercial bids and for internal development.

  • 💬 David Fiander at October 30, 2009, 18:28 UTC:

    MJ, The Georgia PINES state consortium built the Evergreen open source library system from scratch for less than the cost of one year's support and licensing for their pre-existing Sirsi catalogue.

    As far as hardware in concerned, Sirsi required PINES to use Sun Solaris servers, which are premium-priced devices. With Evergreen, PINES was able to replace the Sun hardware with stock Dell rack-mounted server hardware.

  • 💬 Owen Leonard at October 30, 2009, 19:28 UTC:

    Hardware costs were a large contributing factor in the Nelsonville Public Library's decision to move to Koha after being told by our previous vendor that we'd need to pay an exorbitant amount on new Windows servers for our upgrade.

    The Clifford Lynch quote isn't the only example of assertions in this document requiring citation. I think most of the assertions need to be justified with references.

  • 💬 Scot Colford at October 31, 2009, 02:14 UTC:

    I find it a curious strategy to blast OSS initiatives for failures that SirsiDynix products are just as (if not more) prone to.

    (My comments may not reflect the opinions of my employer(s).)