What we talk about when we talk about the ILS Marketplace

Yesterday I sat through a webinar on the integrated library system marketplace produced by Library Journal and Polaris Software. It wasn’t awful, but like a lot of missed opportunities in LibraryLand, it also wasn’t great.

The first half of the webinar was largely consumed by a discussion of one library’s migration to Polaris, a company which, as this handout makes clear, is not too receptive to open source at the moment — which is flattering, in a way, as well as an interesting bit of market intelligence.

Then there was a discussion of Colorado’s exploration of a statewide ILS, and finally, in this webinar that was about “[the] many factors to be considered with respect to both commercial and open source solutions,” the last speaker mentioned one OSS product his library had considered and then added, “We’re basically a Windows shop.”

This is not to harp on Polaris — a company that by most reports is not one of the vendors who (in the words of a vendor friend who shall remain nameless) “peed in the pool” for all the other proprietary-software vendors.

Nor is it to suggest that the speakers did anything else than what I would have done. Honestly, if a library magazine gave me the chance to invite an Equinox customer to open a broad talk about the ILS marketplace with a discussion of a single successful Evergreen implementation, I’d be on that like white on rice.

Also, the webinar did raise some good points. Migrations are hard. (They’re even harder when vendors refuse to let you extract your data, or charge you for it… a point overlooked by the speakers.) Jim Duncan from Colorado State Library also noted that systems should use open APIs,  be flexible, and be open to innovation; that they must be customizable and scalable; and be able to have strong features and handle a high service load. Plus vendors must use standards, and not just their own flavor of a standard.

(To me that sounds like Evergreen… and the principles of open source… but I digress.)

But there are some lingering questions here.

Is this how we want to have discussions about the most central toolsets for our library services: by anecdote and “How I picked my ILS good” testimonials?

Also, we all have a dog in some fight, somewhere — but where do we define the boundaries in the inevitable (and frequently valuable) partnerships that crop up in any profession?

In bits and pieces, the Polaris-Library Journal relationship seems harmless; nobody ever got kicked off a Gale shuttle bus at an ALA conference for buying ProQuest or Ebsco. But then, though there is an exchange taking place — a charter bus, some heightened awareness of a vendor — Gale employees don’t hop on the shuttle bus to tell us why we should buy their product.

Having just helped put on a user conference, I know that vendor relationships are invaluable. But should the boundaries be the same for the press as for the rest of us, or should they hold themselves to an even higher standard?