Making a Business Case for Open Source ILS

By Breeding, Marshall | Computers in Libraries, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Making a Business Case for Open Source ILS


Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries


IN ORDER TO SURVIVE IN THE LONG TERM ... OPEN SOURCE LIBRARY AUTOMATION SYSTEMS NEED TO COMPETE HEAD-TO-HEAD WITH THE PROPRIETARY SYSTEMS ON THEIR OWN MERITS. ...

Over recent years, open source software has been finding an increasing role in libraries and other organizations, especially for behind-the-scenes infrastructure components. Apache, Linux, MySQL, Lucene, PHP, and Perl have become commonplace. Firefox has chipped away at Microsoft's Internet Explorer on the web browser front.

We're living in a phase of library automation characterized by an increased interest in open source-not just in back-end infrastructure components but also in the missioncritical business applications such as the integrated library system (ILS). In the last year, interest in open source library automation systems has exploded from an approach supported by a group of advocates and evangelists to a much broader base of library decision makers. Having just returned from the ALA Midwinter Meeting, I'm struck by the high level of interest in programs related to open source software and in the number of attendees gathering around the cluster of booths for Care Affiliates, Index Data, and LibLime-a new generation of purveyors of open source library software.

Open source library automation systems, including Koha and Evergreen, have been propelled into the limelight. An increasing number of libraries are no longer willing to accept proprietary systems and have committ ed to implement open source alternatives. The decision between open source and proprietary automation systems involves many factors. This month's column explores some of the issues that libraries might keep in mind when making decisions to implement open source automation systems versus the traditional alternatives.

Gauging Interest in Open Source

I recently conducted a study on library automation that attempted to measure the satisfaction of librarians regarding their current ILSs, the company that supports them, and their level of interest in considering open source alternatives (see www.library technology, org/perc epti ons2007.pl). I found the results to the open source questions especially interesting. Not surprisingly, automation systems that received the highest dissatisfaction ratings also received ratings indicating stronger interest in implementing an open source ILS. Persons responding to the survey from libraries running Voyager, for example, selected fairly low satisfaction ratings and gave the highest level of response to the question "How likely is it that this library would consider implementing an open source ILS?"

Yet the 1,779 persons responding to the survey generally indicated relatively low interest in open source ILS options. Depending on the automation system currently in use, ratings on a 0 to 9 point scale ranged from 2.27 for libraries running Polaris to 4.27 for those with Voyager. The modal score, or the value most frequently selected, for all systems but one was zero-hardly a resounding cry from most libraries for open source systems.

In addition to the numerical rankings, the survey included a question for general comments. A large number of responders indicated that their libraries might have some interest in open source but that they lacked the technical staff they felt they needed to adopt this approach.

The results of the survey indicate to me that a minority of libraries have strong interest in open source ILS but that this movement hasn't quite hit the mainstream.

Early Adopters

Over the last few years, a number of libraries in the U.S. have made bold moves to migrate to open source ILS options. While open source ILS can't be ignored as an emerging trend, proprietary closed source systems continue to prevail as the dominant model. We can look at the libraries that have already implemented open source ILS as early adopters. Continued success by those breaking new ground in this movement may serve as a catalyst for much larger groups of libraries to adopt open source ILS in the future. …

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