Academic journal article Journal of Library Innovation

Increasing Library Usage through Free Open Source Software (FOSS) Solutions: Two Case Studies from Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Journal of Library Innovation

Increasing Library Usage through Free Open Source Software (FOSS) Solutions: Two Case Studies from Zimbabwe

Article excerpt


This article provides an overview of free and open source software (FOSS) and the variety of solutions that libraries are implementing in order to better serve their patrons and more efficiently manage their collections. In addition, two case studies from academic libraries in Zimbabwe demonstrate how librarians implemented FOSS solutions that allowed these libraries to meet patrons' needs and increased library usage.

Libraries across the world are being asked to provide more for less. At the same time, the expectations and needs of library patrons are changing and evolving, and libraries must stay up-to-date with technology to meet those demands. Free and open source software (FOSS) provides up-to-date, adaptable solutions that help libraries meet today's challenges and stay on budget by investing in staffskills rather than in commercial products. FOSS is software released under licenses that ensure users always have (1) the freedom to run the program for any purpose; (2) the freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to their needs; (3) the freedom to redistribute copies of the program to others; and (4) the freedom to improve the program and release those improvements to the wider community. "Free" here refers to the freedom of how the software is used and not necessarily to the price of the software, although FOSS is usually available for download at no cost. Because FOSS is generally available at no cost, it means that with some technical knowledge, a library can implement software that would otherwise cost money. Well-known examples include the Apache Web server, on which the vast majority of websites in the world reside, the Firefox Web browser, the OpenOffice suite, and the Linux Operating System.1

Comprehensive information is readily available regarding FOSS tools. Traditionally, there has been a focus on FOSS tools for integrated library systems (ILS) and content management systems (CMS). Payne and Singh (2010) provide a comprehensive survey of these tools. In this article we will focus on FOSS solutions that go beyond library catalogs and increase awareness of, interest in, and access to e-resources. These solutions help librarians better serve their patrons and manage their collections more efficiently. We will then highlight two case studies from Zimbabwe where user demand led to solutions that met patrons' needs and resulted in increased library usage.

Libraries across the world are using FOSS solutions to provide a wide variety of services for their library patrons. There are FOSS tools to support nearly everything that happens in a library (see: and For example, library systems tools allow patrons to search library catalogs online. There are also tools which allow libraries to put their digital collections (such as articles, digital archives, and datasets) online for users to search, browse, and read, as well as tools that help users to easily discover and use online materials. Appendix A provides a subset of FOSS solutions that improve access to e-resources. This is not a definitive or comprehensive list, but rather examples highlighting the breadth and range of FOSS solutions for libraries (


Based in Europe, Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) is an international not-for-profit organization working in collaboration with libraries in more than 60 developing and transition countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. EIFL enables access to knowledge for education, learning, research, and sustainable community development (

EIFL-FOSS ( is one of EIFL's programs and its goal is to create and share knowledge about FOSS library tools. It aims to raise awareness and understanding of FOSS options for a variety of library processes, facilitate EIFL member engagement with FOSS development communities, and undertake projects of special significance to EIFL members. …

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