Monday, November 12, 2007

A short history of Horizon, part II

Turns out, by "tomorrow" I meant Monday. Psych!
At any rate, back to Horizon. So the stage was set for Horizon to die off, all the libraries to go stomping off in anger to open source systems or the other big library companies. The people who bought SirsiDynix obviously hadn't thought about this eventuality. A lot of librarians like to make the investors out to be complete jerks, who think that librarians are all lambs to the slaughter. I don't think that's exactly right. I think they just underestimated the market. Lots of libraries had been with Horizon for many, many years (since it was called Dynix Classic; we're talking pre-1995, at least). And library systems are a lot like cars--if you've had the same 1995 Corolla for the past 12 years, you're at least open to the idea of trading it in. And once the transmission goes out, you're definitely in the market. You might buy the new Corolla, but then again, Nissan just came out with the new Altima and it's pretty hot-looking.
This is how libraries reacted, initially. Horizon was dying, they started looking at Symphony, but then--to stretch the analogy a little further--the Toyota salesperson turned out to be really insincere and kind of pushy. The SD people also turned out to be insincere, to many people. There was obviously a backlash from the people whose contracts were nullified, and what did SD do? They issued a press release (you should really read it) where they basically said that everyone who didn't like the new system should just learn to live with it, because that's how things are.
Of course, almost everyone jumped up and said "I'm buying an Altima!" (or a Ford Fusion, or maybe even a VW Jetta). Once it became clear the libraries would just take their toys and go home, SD did an almost exact 180. Fast forward a year, and we're at the conference of users of Horizon (this wrapped over the weekend). Now the tune is completely different.
Upgrading to Symphony has become just that--an upgrade. Not a migration costing almost $100K, but an upgrade, which costs nothing, and a 40% discount on support if you sign a three-year contract. I do believe that someone has changed their minds about librarians. Of course, even with that kind of financial incentive, my library is still thinking of going to open source software. The tide has officially turned, and I don't think that SD was really the cause. Just a push in a more egalitarian direction.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A short history of Horizon, part 1

As the Technical Services librarian, my job entails not only cataloging, but also database administration. We use a system called Horizon, that is supported by a company called SirsiDynix. I haven't talked much about Horizon on this blog, but it's dying. A brief history:
Sirsi and Dynix were two separate entities, and decided to merge in 2005, I believe, or 2006. They brought their two systems into the relationship: Sirsi had Unicorn, and Dynix had Horizon. Most people agree that Horizon is the more modern system, with more bells and whistles and such.
In 2007 at some point, SD was bought by a company called Vista, who immediately decided that having two Integrated Library Systems (ILS) was a really bad idea for business, and it would be so much more cost-effective if everyone just used one system. This is sound business practice, actually, but the whole thing was a public relations nightmare. Horizon was about to be updated to Horizon 8.0, which was to be this totally new system, a rebuild. Customers had already signed contacts with SD to go to Horizon 8. But....Vista decided to pull the plug on Horizon, and instead of informing the customers who already had contracts privately, just put out a big press release about it so they could find out along with everyone else.
Vista also decided to scrap Horizon entirely, and to tout a "new" system called Symphony. Thing is, apparently it looks just like Unicorn, but with some minor cosmetics. It's generally agreed all over the library community that Unicorn is old. Old old old. Like, its core system was created in 1985 and has never been changed kind of old. Who wants a system like that? No one. Plus it's a turnkey system, which usually means that you have little to no control over how your system looks. Horizon, on the other hand, is one of the most customizable databases I've ever seen, and you don't have to call customer support in order to customize it. You can do it within the system if you want to. You can also create custom SQL queries, from any of the tables. It's really pretty awesome when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it.
But I digress. The other thing that we all found out when we were told about the death of Horizon was that going to Symphony would be a migration, not an upgrade. The difference? You have to pay for a migration, and don't pay for an upgrade. Um, what? we all said. We have to pay to go to the system that you're making us go to if we want to stay with your company? (Keep in mind that Horizon, 10 years ago, had an upfront cost of $75K.)
This pushed a lot of people to rethink their systems. The explosion of open source, of course, just happened to coincide with this announcement, and the other library vendors in the business started salivating when thinking of how SD was about to go under and that left 20,000 libraries looking for new systems. Jackpot.

(continued tomorrow)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Metadata for Manuscripts

There are lots of different kinds of metadata out there for library and archival materials. Some might say, too many kinds. There are different metadata schemes for every kind of material. There is Dublin Core, METS, MODS, even Marc for XML. All these metadatas are trying to solve an age-old problem with archival materials: they're too unique to have a standard applied to them. Books are easy; they all have title pages and authors and they're all wrapped up in neat packages that lend themselves to cataloging. Archival material, on the other hand, can be anything--and usually are. Paintings, bills of sale, letters, buttons, book manuscripts, musical instruments. The list goes on and on. And, especially with paper things like letters and bills, there is the problem of having so much paper on your hands that you cannot simply describe every single piece of paper as a single entity. So we group things, and then we catalog the groups. More or less. It's an inexact science.
At least, it was until the standards started getting made. Dublin Core and METS and MODS are all designed to help archivists catalog the things that are uncatalog-able. And now there's a new(ish) metadata standard: PREMIS.
PREMIS stands for something fancy, but at core, it is preservation metadata. Yes, now archivists can code not only information about the creator and the date and the content of a piece of paper, but also the physical condition, history of the physical condition, and any repairs that have been made to the paper.
Are we getting over-metadata'ed? Do we really need metadata, encoded into XML, that tells us if something is fragile and old? Can't we go to the paper itself and see what condition its in? Or this strictly for statistical purposes?
I've made myself a copy of the PREMIS manual--all 283 pages of it. So, we'll see what this is supposed to do/be. It can't be for the users of the material (which is generally who I consider metadata to be for), so it's not something that should be displayed to the user, probably. And a lot of archives don't even have the time to go through and process basic information, let alone preservation data. Maybe this is one of those things that is reserved strictly for libraries where everything is already processed and they have lots of extra time on their hands to go through and put in fuller, more complete information on each and every collection. Good on them, I say.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.