The Zazen of the Open Source ILS

One of the more challenging ideas to embrace in Zen Buddhism is that of zazen, a meditative practice that is about living moment to moment and the idea that life itself can be lived in the now.  I sometimes call it “living in the space you are in” in contrast to thinking about the space you want to be in or could be in.  In some ways this is embodied by the Japanese rock garden.  Yes, you could move to a new house or you could transform where you live into a perfect space for your mind but in some ways that control is an illusion.  Change is inherent to the rock garden as you interact with it and adapt it.  The practice although never called that is touched upon strongly in a book by Josh Waitzkin called The Art of Learning.

It’s a rainy day today and I found myself thinking back to ALA Midwinter (while putting off writing a blog post about the Evergreen conference this year!). It was a good midwinter and filled with conversations about ILSes. Every event I went to, outside every hall people seemed to be talking about their ILS and their vendor, usually in terms that weren’t positive. Long ago I once had someone theorize to me that everyone hates their ILS in the sense that in old comedies everyone hates their mother in law. In fact I like my mother in law and I’ve known plenty of folks who like their ILS and support company or vendor.  Once upon a time there were at least two “good guy” vendors in the public library ILS market.  Now, maybe one?  And that one is a topic of debate.

It was at MidWinter that I had a conversation that made me think of living in the space I’m in, in relation to open source.   Someone in the long cavernous no man’s land that RDA events was at the end of was asking me to compare Evergreen to a few other other specific ILSes, proprietary ILSes.  When I was a systems librarian at a public library, using a proprietary ILS, I kept track of press announcements from vendors zealously.  In a sense I was always in the market.  Now, I don’t.

Using an open source ILS for the last eight years changed that for me.   I can talk about what we want to add to acquisitions in Evergreen or what we want to provide in search options or some tweak we want to change in authorities.  But I honestly don’t know how those compare to Polaris, or TLC or Symphony.  I no longer look outside my own space because I can change what I’m in.   And do.  So I know what I want and what the community wants.  The open source world looks at satisfying it’s users because the change is driven by users.  This is hard for the proprietary driven world to understand because it is driven by market and the market is weighted very differently.  It only needs to satisfy existing users to the degree that it keeps them from changing products and is otherwise driven by the desire to convert non-users and expand market share.

In a sense the open source user is living in their own Japanese rock garden and although changing code is a less intuitive process than planting trees and raking sand, it’s still shaping the environment and living within it.