Pioneering and Circling the Wagons

Probably never a good idea to start an entry with a cliché, but last week was one of those where I felt like “circling the wagons.”    There was a never-ending series of “crises,” or at least perceived crises, with our integrated library system (WMS) and its end user interface, Davidson Worldcat Local. A number of aggrieved colleagues felt the need to remind me, yet again, that I was a prime mover in bringing the developing system to Davidson two years ago.  The implication being that I was responsible for all known problems in the universe as a result of pioneering with this system, and cloud based library systems in general.

Amongst the declarations of ire, I was dealing with the issues at hand, and as my time was consumed I didn’t manage to accomplish many of my goals for the week, several of which I really needed to complete.  To cap off the week, I had committed to spending an entire afternoon speaking with a group of colleagues from another institution about our experiences in implementing and using WMS (we were one of the first 6 or 7 institutions to do so).   I wasn’t in the best frame of mind as the meeting approached.    Fortunately, they turned out to be a great group of people and we had a lively discussion.  I was struck by the last question they asked me which was, “Would you do it again?”   I answered, “yes” without hesitation, and that made me reflect on why.   We all know from classic black and white Westerns that sometimes pioneers wind up bleeding even if they circle the wagons.  I certainly bled a bit last week.

 So why would we be pioneers with library systems rather than using well established alternatives?  A number or reasons:

  •  This is Davidson; if we aspire to be a leader among liberal arts colleges, we should expect to do new and interesting things.
  • Current systems weren’t meeting our needs; getting in on the ground floor helps us influence the development of the product to a degree disproportionate to our size or spend with the vendors, which should be to Davidson’s benefit.
  • We have built relationships and assumed leadership positions.  My colleagues and I have spent countless hours speaking to colleagues we had never met about our experiences, presenting at conferences and user groups, developing vendor relationships, and organizing meetings (including hosting the first in-person WMS user group meeting, on our campus) around the product.
  • Working with novel and developing systems forces us to examine our processes and assumptions about how we do our jobs and hopefully improve how we do things.
  • Being a development partner with vendors often leads to some cost savings for Davidson.  We can then use this saved money for other purposes that serve the campus.

I hope these are good reasons because the Davidson library is about to embark on a bit more pioneering.   In an earlier blog entry I discussed the need for an Institutional Repository.    We have made our selection and will be working as a beta partner with a vendor offering a new service using exciting open source software, which will provide the potential for further customization and development.     We haven’t signed a contract yet so I can’t share the details, but check back soon for further information.