No major trip would be complete without a few incidents that the travel planners had not anticipated. When deciding on a browser environment for staff client software, it seemed obvious that the browser which made the most sense in an Open Source project was Netscape. The Mozilla project had won Netscape a lot of support in the Open Source community. Even if alternative browser users might argue this point in favour of Opera or one of the many other browsers listed at BrowserWatch14, it seemed highly unlikely that there would be any support for considering Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE). After all, IE was tied to the platform that the Open Source community is seemingly the most opposed to.
Yet there were strong arguments that Internet Explorer needed to be as capable of supporting an application like a MARC editor as Netscape. In part, this had to do with the realities of IT support in libraries, many libraries are often dependent on a municipality or computer center that dictates a particular layout on each staff desktop in the library and Internet Explorer could often be part of this setup. Others just liked Internet Explorer better, and since it seemed that Open Source should be about offering more choices rather than limiting options, an attempt was made to come up with an environment that could be made to work with both Netscape and Microsoft. This effort was ultimately abandoned, the advantages of XUL as a platform-independent toolkit for generating rich browser-based interfaces were just too great.
Another surprise was the level of evangelism that marked comments on the project. This was a surprise because of the contradictions between the enthusiasm exhibited in the comments and the realities of the context they were made in. Receiving diatribes about avoiding Microsoft solutions carefully written out in a Word attachment via e-mail sent with Outlook seemed counter-intuitive though this may have been an example of a library straining against an external computing policy. Strangely enough, very few of these messages have appeared on the OSDLS list and most have been private e-mails. Some commentaries were critical of existing library systems and there seemed to be an underlying impatience with most library standards, especially MARC, and extended library functions, such as authority control.
Despite the mild bashing of some venerable library technologies, completely ignoring MARC and other existing library standards would be comparable to Pytheas tossing his compass overboard at the beginning of his journey. It might make for an exciting trip but libraries have made huge investments in standards and formats that can’t be left behind at this point. PYTHEAS is specifically designed to fully leverage the power of MARC while defining an XML view of bibliographic data and we watch with great interest an exciting project at the Lane Medical Library at Stanford University to unite MARC and XML that may eventually redefine how MARC is used and shared between libraries15.