On Open Library Services: Reflections from the GIL User Group Meeting

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In May 2023 I was asked to join the opening session at Georgia’s GIL User Group Meeting. Along with Chris Sharp and Emily Gore, we reflected on the conference theme: The Future is Open. GALILEO has an exciting time ahed of it…their libraries are adopting FOLIO and a new resource sharing system. Below is a lightly edited version of my remarks during the panel, and a recording of the keynote panel is available on YouTube.

Tell us a little bit about your experience working with “open” library services.

In my experience, “open” is built into the ethos of libraries. I mean…even if we look at just the last century, we have the Library of Congress starting the National Union Catalog project in 1901—that was about sharing the contents of cards in the catalog—and ALA establishing a code of practice for interlibrary loan in 1917.

My career in libraries has always been about the open; I started in 1991 at the same time OhioLINK was forming, and I remember many trips to Columbus, Ohio, to work out processes and share tips-and-tricks with each other. I was even giving away code and adapting code from others before the phrase “open source” came into common use. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked on or with several open source projects: FEDORA, Islandora, ArchivesSpace, CollectionSpace, FOLIO and ReShare.

Standards are also an important part of “open” — in order to ease the process of us working together and our systems working together, it helps to have a common starting point to build on. I’ve been working on NISO projects and committees for most of my career, and it warms my professional heart to see better services come about for patrons because there is agreement on how the pieces should be put together.

What are the biggest advantages and risks in working with open services?

The biggest advantage is having a seat at the table as decisions are made. Working in the open means bringing the best of your experience and the needs of your patrons to bear as products, services, and software are designed. It is so much easier to have that input at the front end rather than trying to retrofit a system to your needs after the fact. With many voices and perspectives in the creation process, it also reduces the chances that something important will be missed.

The biggest risk is time and patience. Having many people involved in the design process means that it takes time to listen to those perspectives and effort to synthesize the way forward for the group. There will be misunderstanding and there will be compromise. There may even be paths that you want to pursue, but the group isn’t willing to follow. And of course the is the risk that the path the group follows may not be fruitful.

How have you seen library attitudes to “open” change in past years?

There seem to be more variations of open now. Last month’s article from OCLC Research had a catalog of openness: open access, open data, open educational resources, open science, and open source. So in those you cover publishing, research activity and outputs, educational materials, and software systems.

What should USG libraries be thinking about as we begin migrating to FOLIO and ReShare?

You are at a crossroads. There is a lot of new stuff coming at you, and the temptation will be to make the new work like the old. I was involved in the early design process for FOLIO and I’ve watched how those apps evolved, and then how the ReShare apps came about. What I said earlier about the librarians and library technologists pouring their experience into their design is true, and it continues today. So I think you should take a risk to open yourselves up to new and hopefully more efficient and effective workflows. I’m pretty sure those already in the community will be welcoming and help you with the process. And then, once you got your feet under you, see where you can bring your experience and perspective to the ongoing development work.

What other “open” initiatives are you excited about?

The progress of the open access movement is fascinating. There is the phrase that progress happens one retirement at a time — I used to chuckle at that, but after 30 years in the profession that phrase is less funny and more stinging. The slow but steady progress seems to be real, though. It has reached the stage where government mandates are making it happen. See, for instance, last year’s memo from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy giving guidance to federal departments to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost. Also the announcement earlier this month from the EU on a policy to require pubicly-funded research to be made available at no cost to readers and at no cost to authors.

How can libraries and GALILEO better support “open” initiatives?

In one important way, GALILEO is in a privileged position right now with FOLIO and ReShare. Many of us have been involved in the projects for a long time, and we’ve lived through the process that got those platforms where they are today. We can’t see them clearly from the outside anymore. If there is any room left in your implementation plans, I encourage you to note where you struggle to find and understand what you need to know. Those are the places where feedback can help us improve the process for the next libraries that come into the project. Even if you don’t have time to make the improvements now—and I expect you won’t—just jotting those ideas down in a notebook and coming back to them after your implementation will help.