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  • Developers meet developers, people meet people

    Posted on December 14th, 2008 Lukas Koster No comments

    Jerusalem map

    Last month I was in the opportunity to participate in the first official Ex Libris “Developers meet developers” meeting in Jerusalem, November 12-13, 2008. The meeting was dedicated to the new Open Platform strategy that Ex Libris has adopted. I already mentioned this development in my post How open are open systems?. Together with one of the other attendees, Mark Dehmlow, of Notre Dame University Library, I wrote a short report on this meeting in the IGeLU newsletter issue 2, 2008, page 21-22.

    The intention of this event was that representatives from Ex Libris customer institutions that use Ex Libris’ Digital Library tools Aleph, SFX, MetaLib, and Primo and are actively involved in developing plug-ins, add-ons and extensions to one or more of these products, and Ex Libris staff involved in development of these tools, had the chance to meet face to face and talk, discuss and exchange ideas from both sides.

    The political, cultural and social circumstances of the location of the event (about which I blogged some personal thoughts here) are such that I can’t resist the temptation of using them as a metaphor, although I am fully aware that the actual situation in Jerusalem is of course much more complicated. I apologise in advance if I unintentionally offend anyone by using the serious real world situation in an inappropriate way.

    So, let’s give it a try: in Jerusalem there are a number of separate areas for different population groups. In general there are the Jewish western part and the Arab eastern part. But there is also the old city right in the middle, with Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian quarters. Besides that you can also see separate neighbourhoods within the Jewish part with different Jewish groups. And last but not least, right in the middle of the Christian quarter there is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with corners for almost all christian religious groups. Very fascinating and intriguing.

    Although there are no physical borders between these areas, the complicated serious political, social and cultural circumstances prevent most people to visit their neighbours in their own areas. Now here comes the metaphor! In the world of informations systems you normally have a similar situation of “us and them”. Customers and users often think that providers of systems do not take them seriously and give them tools they can’t work with, and the other way around system developers often see end users as nagging bores, never satisfied and complaining about everything.
    Customers and providers inhabit the same space, like Jerusalem, but do not cross the imaginary border to really meet.

    This is why it is so remarkable that the “crossing of the border” between Ex Libris customers and developers actually happened in Jerusalem. Of course I immediately must add that Ex Libris has always favoured open systems for customers to use in their own way, and supports the international user groups, but an actual face-to-face meeting on the level of developers is something different.

    From personal experience I know that it is very easy for situations to get out of hand if there is no real communication and no willingness for mutual understanding. That is why I think that it is absolutely vital that meetings like this can continue to take place. From the customers’ side the user groups IGeLU and ELUNA are fully dedicated to this goal, and I really hope that Ex Libris is also serious about it.

    In this month of Christmas, Chanuka and Eid Al-Adha, let me end with the wish for better understanding on the personal, professional and global level!

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  • How open are open systems?

    Posted on October 12th, 2008 Lukas Koster 2 comments

    In my post “LING – Library integration next generation” I mentioned Marshall Breedings presentation at TICER “Library Automation Challenges for the next generation”.
    Besides “Moving toward new generation of library automation” one of his other two topics was “A Mandate for Openness”, about Open Source, Open Systems, Open Content.
    Marshall Breeding distinguishes five types of Open Systems, three of which in my view are the most important:

    • Closed Systems:  black boxes, only accessible via the user interfaces provided by the developer, no programmable access to the system
    • Open Source Model: all aspects of the system available to inspection and modification
    • Open API model: the core application is closed and accessible via the user interfaces provided by the developer, but third party developers can create code against the published API’s or database tables

    (The other two types are intermediate or combined types: “standard RDBM systems” where third party developers can access the database schema, which in my view contains only part of the system’s data; and “Open Source/Open API”).

    Especially the “Open API Model” is an interesting development for most libraries that work with commercial library systems. I have had some experience with two initiatives in this field: OCLC’s “WorldCat Grid“, and Ex Libris’ “Open Platform“. A big and important difference between these two is: WorldCat Grid is about access to a specific database already available to the public at large, Ex Libris’ Open Platform is about access to a number of commercial systems.

    Interestingly, both initiatives consist of two parts: a set of open API’s and an open developers’ platform. These two parts make it possible to have a kind of marriage between commercial systems and an open source community. But how does this work in real life, how open is access to both the API’s and the Platform?

    Some of OCLC’s WorldCat Grid Services are freely accessible, others are accessible for OCLC members only.
    Membership of the WorldCat Grid Developers’ Network is available to “IT professionals from: OCLC member institutions, content providers, other software vendors and publishers, as well as bloggers and others in the library field who see value in a collaborative network related to the development of new functionality for the WorldCat Grid.”
    Software code, snippets and API’s developed within the network will be openly available for members, and the world-at-large, to use and re-use.

    With Ex Libris’ Open Platform, access to the Developers’ Platform is only open for Ex Libris customers.
    Access to the existing API mechanisms (“X-Server” for the products Aleph, MetaLib, SFX, and Webservices for Primo) are also only available to Ex Libris customers. What will happen with newly developed API’s (conforming to new API standards like DLF ILS-Discovery Interface protocol) for new products is still unclear.

    In my view it does make sense to restrict availability of Open API’s to members or customers in the case of access to licensed metadata or resources. But availability of Open API’s that access public data should be free to all.
    It does NOT make sense to restrict access to tools developed on top of the Open API’s to members or customers only.
    Granting access to data should be the privilege of the owners of the data, granting access to tools that access data should be the privilege of the developers/owners of these tools.
    In this respect the OCLC platform is more open than Ex Libris, but it still is not completely open.
    Of course, this is all highly dependent of the motives of the companies for supporting Openness: is it commitment to openness, or fear of losing customers?

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