Governance Matters

Posted On Oct 16 2007 by

I’ve never really grasped the whole “meme” thing that seems to be so popular in library blogs. When I see a new meme emerge, I feel as though I’ve already missed the boat—like the cliche of reading about trends in Time, by then it it too late.

As a lover of words and phrases, though, I am intrigued by what I would call lots of pre-meme activity—the use (and often over- and mis-use) of words that become part of the growing library lexicon. Recent examples include: seamless, disintermediation, open, and the like.

Borrowing liberally from Entertainment Weekly’s “What’s hot”:


Currently, there are three words that strike my fancy—workflow, life cycle, and governance. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about governance. The not-very-well-thought-out musings (what else is blogging good for?) were spawned by two seemingly unrelated things. The first was a conversation with Roy Tennant about his recent move to OCLC; the second was this well-written post by Care Affiliate’s Carl Grant.

Carl’s post reminded me that the open source crowd often talks about “ownership” in sometimes dangerously loose terms—mainly vendor vs. free software provider. I think that the pejorative nature of the discussion plus the mis-alignment of “vendor” with “proprietary software” confuses the notion of software governance. What are Equinox, LibLime, and Index Data if not vendors? They cannot by the very nature of their wares “own” the software that they service. They can (and do, for the most part) govern the software that they support.

I’ve said many times that who owns a company is an important factor to consider when choosing software. I think that what I always really meant was that who governs the company is what matters. I have said this other ways—”not all equity companies are the same”—and danced around the touchy subject of ownership. But regardless of who owns the companies or owns the software, what we really want to know is who runs them.

The other angle on this has me thinking about member-governed organizations—ALA, LITA, DLF, NISO, and yes, even OCLC. Because I have had some level of involvement with all of the above, I’ve been giving lots of thought lately to the areas of “overlap,” which is a nice humanistic euphemism for “competition.” It occurs to me that the overlapping problems of these organizations are also solved by the thing they have in common—governance.

Why is it that membership in a group grants unfettered license to complain about the organization but creates no clear responsibility for fixing its perceived problems? Seems all too convenient.

Granted that scale, scope, reach, and even bank-account size of those listed above are all different. Nevertheless, whether proprietary or open, member-driven, board-directed, publicly or privately owned, the nimble, innovative, and well-governed will win the day.


[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]

Last Updated on: January 19th, 2024 at 12:22 am, by Andrew K. Pace

Written by Andrew K. Pace

2 responses to “Governance Matters

  1. You make some interesting points but I’d rather you got specific and use real quotes than use broad statements such as “the open source crowd,” which sounds a little too much like “colonialist rabble” or “jitterbugging teens.” The last consultant I heard speak like this also said the only thing standing between libraries and RFID adoption was “money,” even though just yesterday I read several great articles pointing out that RFID basically has no ROI (d’oh).

    I’m not the only one to point out that OSS vendors are vendors, and in fact that is part of the maturity of the industry that these vendors exist. There are strong arguments for the third-party vendor model, and some of these arguments have to do with some facts about library cost models — nothing “pejorative” about vendors per se, just realities of the library software ecology.

    An interesting angle for serious discussion would be the developer-centric nature of most open source.

  2. Oh, and re governance, yeah I’m spending a lot of time thinking about that. I wish more people started with that question.