Project Conifer update session at OLA SuperConference 2009

Posted on Fri 30 January 2009 in Libraries

*Updated 2009-02-02 to add PDF formatted slides because the free and libre formats just isn't good enough for some people - heh*

The slides, up front and center:

Last year I gave a presentation at the OLA SuperConference 2008 on The State of Evergreen. Yesterday, John Fink and I gave an update on the state of Project Conifer, the partnership between Algoma University, Laurentian University, Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and the University of Windsor to mount a consortial instance of Evergreen for our respective academic libraries.

McMaster University (John Fink's employer) is another Project Conifer institutional partner, albeit with a slightly different relationship. They are contributing resources towards development of academic features, but working towards their own Evergreen instance on their own timeline. Their relationship in the project changed the week before our presentation, so John and I had a fun time adjusting our presentation to match the new reality :-)

In comparison to last year, which was largely an introduction to Evergreen and the state of its various features, this session was much more focused on Project Conifer. John gave the background of the project and the importance of having an open source library system at the core of our academic libraries, particularly given the short-term challenges that most of the Project Conifer participants face with their/our current library systems. I focused on the challenges and lessons learned in managing the project, with most of the challenges being the difficulty of getting skilled resources to work on our development requirements, and most of the lessons learned being in working out cost-sharing agreements and priority-setting procedures early on in the project.

The session was well-attended, and there is clearly growing interest in Evergreen as a viable option, as well a a bit of frustration at the pace of development of some of the features that academics in particular are interested in. These are "interesting times" for academic libraries - this week an announcement has been rippling through the Ontario library community that the BiblioCentre consortial library system that has served many Ontario college libraries since 2003 is being shut down. If Evergreen's academic features were already in place, it would have been a slam-dunk to put together a business case for a centrally hosted Evergreen system to serve the same constituency. As those features are still in active development, it's not quite as easy to make that business case.

Happily, Art Rhyno and Graham Fawcett have taken support for academic reserves for managing both print and electronic materials from ground zero to a reasonable interface in just a few months. They expect to start wiring in direct Evergreen support over the next few months so that we will have a functioning reserves system that goes far beyond our current library system's capabilities ("our" being Laurentian University, in this case).

After an exciting drive from Buffalo on a very snowy Wednesday afternoon, Bill Erickson of Equinox Software Incorporated gave Project Conifer participants a demo of the current state of acquisitions on Wednesday night, and it's not too far from meeting our base requirements. Equinox has hired a second developer to contribute to acquisitions development, documentation is being concurrently produced, and one of Project Conifer's contractors is working on adding EDI support. So we're optimistic that a functioning base acquisitions system will be in place in May - although, as one of our collection development librarians has wryly noted, our budgets might not have any room for book purchases in the coming fiscal year in any case.

A highlight of the session was when I asked Susan Downs, CEO of the Innisfil Public Library, to talk about their success story. In October 2008, Innisfil announced to the library world that they had migrated to Evergreen without any vendor assistance - certainly the first known instance in Ontario, and possibly the first self-migrated and self-supported public library on Evergreen in the world. It was great to meet the people behind that project and I was glad to let Susan share some of her energy, enthusiasm, and insights with our audience.

I had some feedback from one attendee who was happy to see a presentation on an in-process project, with warts and all exposed, rather than the usual post-project stories that quickly put the rough patches behind them (or forget them entirely). I'm happy to do as good a job as I can to represent an objective look at the project - for one thing, it's my job as project manager - and I hope that in some small way I've been able to help others prepare for similar projects.