January 1, 2007: A Fantasia

By Karen G. Schneider | Karen Schneider HeadI am seeing some very good summaries about the year behind us—everything from top-ten lists to Roy Tennant's powerful rumination in LJ, "What I Wish I Had Known."

But the date that popped into my head this morning as I huffed on the treadmill, working off the holiday gingerbread while my brain did the thirty-minute free-style, was January 1, 2007. I put myself there and asked, what do I want to look back on for the previous year? While my pudgy legs labored, I vanquished Google, fixed the library catalog, and brought the profession forward thirty years.

2006 in LibraryLand: A Brief History
Despite a weak, poorly marketed launch in 2005, the Open Content Alliance got its mojo together in the spring of 2006 and raced past Google Book Search, captivating the public's imagination with a killer full-text search engine for books that made Google look last-century. Savvy publisher and library negotiations quickly fattened the OCA database with millions of in-copyright and public-domain book titles not only easily searchable but also richly browsable through faceted-search capabilities. By mid-summer, OCA was "the" place to go for searching books, and by autumn, its savvy marketing campaign around its new name—EveryBook—had pundits groaning about "EveryBook overload."

A key negotiating point for EveryBook was the requirement for an OpenWorldCat and RedLightGreen holding link prominently displayed for every book in the database held by an OCLC or RLG library. By Christmas, libraries were reporting skyrocketing interlibrary loans as well as a sharp increase in new borrowers, Amazon was noting the positive "EveryBook effect" on its own sales, and publishers acted like they had invented EveryBook. Google Book Search still moved forward with modest improvements but gained no new library or publisher clients.

\Meanwhile, EveryBook moved into the ILS market when two very large library consortia, one public and one academic, quietly prepared to migrate from their integrated library systems, redirecting maintenance support costs for their catalogs into developing open-source acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation modules for EveryBook. "When something is better and cheaper, it's the obvious path," one library director told American Libraries.

Another unnamed source said, "The catalog of yesteryear is dead—or will be, once we kill it. If you aren't providing full-text book searching by this time next year, you might as well be riding a horse and buggy to your library."

The EveryBook modules were so immediately successful the two library systems migrated to EveryBook completely in May 2006, and then they established the Open Source Library Network (OSLN), to which hundreds of library developers and techies flocked.

Within weeks the OSLN released an even better release of the open-source EveryBook ILS modules. Librarian geeks began selling t-shirts on e-bay that read, "Kiss Me, I Code for EveryBook." Based on projected savings from migrating to EveryBook, one major library system in the northeast planned to reopen three branches it had closed in 2005 due to spiraling costs.

The EveryBook open-source ILS got an additional boost from the avian-flu epidemic of 2006. By April, U.S. health officials—worried by the flu pandemics raging through Asia and parts of Africa—were advising air travel be kept to a minimum and had closed all conference centers in U.S. cities and offered tax incentives for Web conferencing to individuals and organizations. (The impact on the travel industry, although steep, was partially offset when Congress approved emergency industry subsidies funded by the billions of dollars saved after the U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq in March.)

With ALA Annual canceled, several ALA divisions organized online conferences throughout the summer, focusing on a conference theme of "EveryBook for Every Library." Despite some grumbling about the online format—"It's that or nothing," as several bloggers pointed out—with the entire Web conference focused largely on one issue, said one library director, the ALA web conference felt like a "renaissance of librarianship."

One exception to the EveryBook discussions, hackfests, and training sessions during "Virtual ALA" was a virtual rally against the Patriot Act in late June in which more than 40,000 librarians participated. This event made the front page of the New York Times and led to the Senate narrowly approving major reforms to this law in order to get enough votes to approve it. "Librarians: the new cool," wrote Maureen Dowd the following Sunday. And ALA President Leslie Burger's blog had so many hits that day her ISP threatened to shut down her Web site—but her provider backed off when she explained how the changes in the Patriot Act were protecting ISPs as well.

In September, library ballot initiatives were passed in thirty states, without a single loss. When travel and conference restrictions in the United States were partially lifted in October, New Orleans became the new site for Midwinter 2007, since Seattle was still under quarantine. By late December, 2006, more than 30,000 librarians had registered for "ALA F2F," as the in-person conference was nicknamed, and ALA negotiated rights for three off-shore cruise ships to house the overflow. By this time several library vendors were in Chapter 11 while two other companies had reorganized their services around maintenance and support for EveryBook libraries and managing user-oriented group activities.

On the NexGen Librarian discussion list, the talk was about how hard it was to keep up with all the job offers. "Last year things were so bleak we wondered why the profession was pushing this huge library-school recruitment campaign. Now I can't send out my c.v. fast enough," posted one recent library-school grad on January 1, 2007. "My library school had to add an online track just to accomodate all the applicants. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades."

The treadmill hit the 30-minute mark and began the cool-down phase. As my pace slowed, I came back to the present. How much of this could really take place? I wondered. My guess: barring the unexpected—the natural disasters we can't anticipate, for example—as much of this as we want to happen.