Carl Sagan once said: “If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”
I’ve been taken lately with all the efforts in library land to build things from scratch, as if there is no starting point, no viability–either technically or philosophically–from which to begin. Ironically, the “2.0” true believers seem to be talking as if they are reinventing the universe more than moving libraries from version 1.0 to version 2.0. It’s pretty hard (though not impossible) to move to v.2 when the first step is to throw away everything from v.1.
Where do I stand? I think one must make a really, really good case for starting over.
- When I am done building this thing, how will it distinguish itself from the thing that I replaced?
- How do those distinctions shift the market, shift perceptions, shift total cost of ownership, or make life better for users of the thing?
- Has starting from scratch created benefit for those who don’t or will it require others to start from scratch as well?
- Assuming that starting over will take longer and cost more (this can be a big assumption that one should question), what won’t get done because I am recreating functionality or services that already exist?
I have never (really…never) met a software developer who didn’t want to start from scratch, so I have some experience here. I fear starting from scratch because I think that if you rebuild things from the ground up, you wind up with something that looks exactly the same. I think Karen Schneider applied this theory to organizations, namely the ALA, and I believe it. It’s probably true of other large organizations. And how many times have we seen outsiders approach the library industry only to reverse-engineer the things that we have been doing for decades (the problem, of course, is sitting on the sidelines saying “we’ve been doing that for decades!”).
So are you starting from scratch on anything? In the end, I think most folks are simply making apple pies from different recipes–open source ILS, classification schemes, faceted catalogs, RDA. Who’s going to invent the universe?