We felt incredibly well received at ALA this year. We feel that our role as a provider of advanced information retrieval tools is really appreciated and welcomed, both by libraries who wish to build solutions that don't fit within existing products, and by vendors who're looking to add new capabilities or products without having to develop core technologies from scratch. Our model allows us to focus on what we truly love: To attack the most difficult problems in our space head-on and wrap the solutions into clean, flexible packages for other to build products and solutions from. The reception to our current generation of technologies was truly gratifying for our whole team.
If there was a message -- a thread -- that I took back from my conversations with friends and colleagues in the field, it remains a continued frustration that providers of technologies to libraries are not responding aggressively enough to the threats that face the entire profession. The library community must share in the responsibility for this.
I am speaking here of the lack of support for interoperability mechanisms between systems. I know it seems to some mundane, an often dull technical aspect of library technology, but to my mind it is absolutely essential.
Why? Well, I think that it has been demonstrated really well, especially over the past couple of years, that libraries as local entities and members of their community are truly essential. They serve a critical role as supporters of people who desperately need information but haven't the skills or the resources to make use of the latest tricks of the Internet search engines. But they are also important focal points and gatherers and organizers of local history, and local culture. None of the global discovery providers and resellers of culture can adequately represent these local needs with as thorough a reach and with the passion and energy exerted by the local library or the research library of the small college.
But in order to match and surpass the easy satisfaction of the big-box web providers, in order to maximize the use of limited staff resources and budgets, it is absolutely critical that libraries be able to interoperate, to share information amongst each other; to collaborate on special projects or in support of regional or topical interests, and to support resource sharing as widely or as narrowly as need be.
Far too often, libraries find themselves unable to collaborate effectively because some vendors continue to give only lip service to mission-critical industry standards, because they charge prohibitive prices for such support, or perhaps because they wish to protect a marketplace for proprietary models of interoperability and hence their market share. Such behavior is foolish and short-sighted: If libraries are unable to provide comprehensive services because of technological limitations, the information will find other paths to the user. Eventually, libraries risk obsolescence, and with them the entire library automation industry that we love.
Fortunately, the majority of vendors do 'get it', but there is still a need -- and we observe this in any interoperability project we participate in -- to work harder at it. And library staff have a real responsibility to ask tough questions of prospective vendors during procurement processes: To think about what kind of interoperability they may be looking for and to ask their vendors how they can support this.