Career Open Source Software Fiddler

I’ve basically been in Louise-heaven all week, at work. We’ve (finally!) launched our new library management system, and I’ve been knee deep in the wonderful, glorious, utterly delightful mess of preferences and features, all needing my attention. This is the first time I’ve been part of a move this big; certainly, we moved from one learning management system to another, and that was a big project, but the library system has so much data, and our new system has so many possibilities. It’s been great.

I’m not really a great librarian, when it comes down to it – not in the traditional sense. I’m not all that fond of customer service; I’d much rather hole up in my office and get stuck into something without the interruptions that actual patrons bring. I like losing myself in things, and playing with stuff until I figure it out. I’d much, much, much rather play with something until I work it out than be trained in it.

But all of these skills rather nicely set me up for what has ended up being a big part of my job, especially now that we’re moving towards open source solutions. I get to play with these things basically to my heart’s content, and I have basically full control over them: if I don’t like the way something displays, I can dig into the code and change it. Open source is amazingly flexible, and I’m incredibly excited to be getting to mould all of this into what we want it to be.

We’re really lucky that I can do that. I mean, sure, it’s completely possible to hire someone to do all of that configuration and manipulation for you, and it’s a perfectly valid way to do it. But I think there’s an advantage to having those skills in-house: it’s so much more immediate, and so much easier when the person doing the work already understands the organisation’s specific needs. I ended up getting some things working that our paid support people couldn’t, and it’s not because they’re not competent, but because I’m already comfortable with how things are set up on our end.

No one taught me these skills, for the most part. I just learn by doing – by poking at things until I make something happen, or by googling until I see what someone else did, and modify it to my own needs. I’m perpetually frustrated by people who realise that they don’t know how to do something, and just… stop. Why would you stop? Sure, maybe you don’t want to go fiddling with code (I won’t deny I’ve caused myself problems by doing that, and I now have a reasonably good idea of what I’m doing), but… giving up is just stupid.

I’m really lucky that I’m allowed to do all of this. In a lot of organisations I wouldn’t be allowed to touch the servers, let alone take responsibility for some of them. We’re pretty nimble in that way, and that makes my job much more interesting.

The end result of all of this is that we no longer have a support contract for our learning management system (Moodle), because I administer it. We’re not going for a formal support contract for this new library management system (Koha), because I will do much of it – we’re simply going to have pre-paid support hours available for occasions when I do need the backup. So… it’s all mine, mwahahaha!

Of course, this makes things more complicated when I go on holiday, for example, and I’m not sure what will happen if I leave the organisation at any point, but… for now, it’s fun.

In the meantime, however, I have this wonderful new library system, and some really appalling data. There are thousands of records that need to be deleted, and thousands more that need edits, and I know what I’m like: I won’t rest until it’s all perfect.

It’s a bad thing that I’m still thinking about my data at 6pm on a Friday, isn’t it? It’s the weekend. Let it go, self. Let it go.

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