Over dinner on Friday with the Swets team and their customers, I had the chance to speak with Mia Brazil at Smith College. We had a great conversation. She was telling me her frustration about getting systems to work and she was lamenting the challenges of not understanding programming. She’d said that she tried learning SQL, but didn’t have much luck. Now, learning SQL programming is no small feat and I can appreciate her frustrations (years ago, I helped build and implement marketing and circulation databases for publishers). However, realistically, librarians aren’t programmers and shouldn’t be expected to be.
The systems that publishers and systems providers sell to libraries shouldn’t require that everyone get a master’s in database programming to implement or use. While the larger libraries are going to have resources to implement and tweak these systems to meet their own needs, the smaller college or public libraries are not going to have the resources to have programmers on staff. We shouldn’t expect that the staff at those libraries – on top of their other responsibilities – should have to be able to code their own system hacks to get their work done.
In a way, this was what Andrew Pace discussed in his session Friday on moving library services to the grid. Essentially, Andrew argued that many libraries should consider moving to a software-as-a-service model for their ILS, catalog and other IT needs. Much like Salesforce.com, provides an online platform for customer relationship management, or like Quicken does for accounting software, libraries shouldn’t have to locally load, support and hack systems to manage their work. Some suppliers are headed in that direction. While there are pros and cons related to this approach, it certainly is a viable solution for some organizations. I hope for Mia’s sake it happens sooner than later.