Things I would ask at the BIBSYS conference 2014

For the uninitiated, the BIBSYS conference is probably not at the forefront of their mind. For the initiated, it still isn’t. The BIBSYS conference is the Norwegian national library consortium, BIBSYS’ annual conference, where they showcase their work and tell of their plans for the future. It costs NOK5000 (USD840/EUR610/GBP500), which is enough considering there are 350+ participants (yes, NOK 1.75 million for a systems conference!)

Last year’s event — where I spoke and criticized the whole embarrassing affair — was the first of the “new style” where BIBSYS presents its new, “internationalized” professional image (the old-style BIBSYS “consortial meeting” was co-located with the national library conference, and echoed a more traditional image of being “technically competent and Norwegian”, which I rather miss). I shouldn’t be too critical because these are not bad people, but I think that BIBSYS has lost its way as an organization.

Anyway times change. In addition to BIBSYS’ presentations, there are conference seminars held by invited speakers, which last year consisted of people saying “the catalogue is irrelevant”, while the BIBSYS’ presentations consisted of their plans for a new catalogue. This year, there is a lot of focus on Open Access and open data, with a presentation or two on learning objects and MOOCs. These latter two seems to make up BIBSYS’ real strategic area, but we can come back to that in a moment.

The big story for attendees is likely to be the excluded-from-public-scrutiny process of work with Ex Libris to reimplement what we have today in an even more inflexible package. You can have opinions about this, but they’re unlikely to change a thing. Of course, no-one with an eye on facts is under the impression that any of this is really relevant because all the statistics show that this isn’t where the users are or likely be in two years time, when this system will apparently be operational. It also shouldn’t be an aim, which leads us to the other areas of focus.

BIBSYS’ current director, Frode Arntsen, whose previous role was head of NTNU’s centre for further and continuing education and has an obvious interest in placing the new BIBSYS organization within the education sector rather than the library sector. This is obvious because there is a focus on learning objects and MOOCs in many of the communications emanating from BIBSYS at present. This, combined with a wholesale outsourcing of all development of the library oriented products to third parties makes it clear that BIBSYS doesn’t consider the library market particularly interesting, which I’m afraid may be all too true.

Presenting BIBSYS as a national resource centre for hosting and maintaining research and learning content makes one wonder if they are not positioning themselves as an organization that universities and colleges can speak to directly, without reference to libraries. Indeed, BIBSYS’ decision to contact the information department at NTNU directly to plug their products on the institutional intranet speaks volumes here. As does, for example BIBSYS’ participation in MOOC-projects with the university directly.

But conspiracy theories aside, I’d like to ask some questions at the BIBSYS conference. I doubt that there will be an opportunity at the conference for two main reasons: 1) BIBSYS seems to be allergic to questions and drops the customary Q&A sessions at the end of presentations and 2) I will not be attending. The questions are as follows:

  • Why are core documents in the process of acquiring and developing the new library systems excluded from public scrutiny?
  • How has BIBSYS ensured that the library systems they are putting in place can form a resource that can be shared in, for example, MOOCs and other systems?
  • How is BIBSYS ensuring that the library systems will be well integrated with institutional systems for procurement and finances?
  • How is BIBSYS responding to the developments at their sister-institution, LIBRIS in Sweden, where LibrisXL provides an obvious future-oriented resource-management framework that knocks plans presented by more technologically hobbled library partners into a cocked hat?
  • Can we trust BIBSYS as an organization to maintain research and learning content over time when they choose system providers that cannot provide simple character set encodings that would make it possible to view content on non-Microsoft systems?

I don’t expect any response to these questions, but it is good to ask them anyway.

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