Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Build, Buy, Open Source, or Web 2.0? Making an Informed Decision for Your Library

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Build, Buy, Open Source, or Web 2.0? Making an Informed Decision for Your Library

Article excerpt


When improving a web presence, today's libraries have a choice: using a free Web 2.0 application, opting for open source, buying a product, or building a web application. Which option is best for your library?

Web 2.0

Free and inexpensive Web 2.0 options can be great for libraries without money or technical staff. Visit the Library 2.0 social network on Ning ( to discover how other libraries are using Web 2.0 technologies.

Most popular Web 2.0 options back up data regularly and perform ongoing system maintenance. These products are usually free or have only a small fee, and few technical skills are needed. Large customer communities exist for the big sites, so you can get ideas and help from fellow users. The most popular Web 2.0 sites have a dedicated staff of developers regularly making improvements and creating new features. Most Web 2.0 options offer collaborative features such as the ability for users to add tags, comments, and other content.

However, with Web 2.0, you may be limited by what the vendor offers. For instance, you may not be able to customize search and navigation behavior. You may not be able to integrate these products easily into the rest of your website's visual style or your site search. You may have to tolerate advertisements and product logos appearing with your content. And don't assume that all Web 2.0 tools include the same common features. Google Sites, for instance, does not currently allow visitors to subscribe to updates.

Open Source

Although the technical definition is quite specific (, generally speaking, open source software allows anyone to freely use and modify source code. Developers create open source applications in many environments, including Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl (LAMP), Windows ASP.NET, and Java. Visit SourceForge ( to find open source software.

The open source option is great for libraries that have more technical staff time than money. Most open source products can be installed fairly quickly, if you have the necessary technical environment and skills. A large degree of customization is possible, and it's usually feasible to integrate open source software into the rest of your library web presence. Because the application typically lives on your own servers, you have more control over backups and security of data. Depending on the software, you may have access to a large, active customer community. Both the original creator and other users may provide updates and improvements.

Although there is no cash outlay, do not underestimate the needed technical skills and staff time. Support may not always be available or as quick as you would like, and you will need to test the software for functionality and security. Because you will likely have some customization choices, you will need to spend the time making decisions and implementing those changes.

Buying a Product

Obviously buying a product is only an option if your library has money. And for some products, technical expertise may be required for customizing and integrating with your website. Still, the major advantage with turnkey commercial products is that vendors provide technical support, ongoing updates, and improvements. When a new browser version comes out, it is the vendor's responsibility to upgrade its product. The vendor should also handle backups and maintenance, relieving local staff of these burdens. Purchasing a product also offers an automatic customer community--you can learn from the experiences of other libraries with the same software.

Other than the initial sticker price and any annual subscription costs, the downside to buying a product is that you are locked into the company's own specifications. What you see is what you get, and you may not be able to customize the product or integrate it the way you would like. …

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