Open source for Cape libraries


Anonymous Patron writes "Interesting News from South Africa. The City of Cape Town and the State IT Agency (Sita) plan to jointly develop an open source solution to replace the PALS system used by most of the country's municipalities to manage their libraries.

City of Cape Town CIO Nirvesh Sooful says a memorandum of understanding is being worked out between the city and Sita to share the costs of developing the new system that is expected to save millions of rands in the long-term."


Open source is the way to go, freedom and flexibility to develop and grow, and free from the shackles of vendors. Why be a prisoner to one vendor? Vendors charge what they like as libraries are bound to them. With open source, you can hire quality people amongst many to develop the system to what YOU desire, not what the vendor gives you. So, you have the ability to choose the people you want from a pool of professionals, not be stuck with a vendor whether you like it or not. It is cheaper too. I think libraries have for too long been accustomed to being given spoon-fed when it comes to library systems. Libraries are afraid to take charge and develop their own systems, but are used to being given off-the-shelf systems that libraries have to fit into, rather than making the system fit into libraries. Passive users rather than active users. Libraries have to be more open to "non-library" technologies and methodologies such as open source if libraries are to maintain any relevance in the future.

Open source is not necessarily cheap. On the contrary, software development is very expensive. Open source is cheap if there's already a good (or close-enough) solution out there; otherwise it's expensive and difficult to build a whole system from the ground up. It might be worth it to get the perfect system for your library, but then again it might not be. It's not a decision to be made lightly.

I recently worked for a large library system that is to some extent the ideal system to develop its own open-source system. There's lots of money, a talented and very active IT department, and lots of equally talented and active librarians in every department. That system is on a proprietary ILS but did everything possible to make that system fit its needs rather than the other way around.

So why isn't that system going all the way and developing truly custom software? Money and time. Proprietary systems are expensive, but open-source from the ground up is even more expensive. Leeb, you said it yourself: "Hire quality people." That costs a lot of money.

I'm not saying that open-source in libraries is a bad idea, but it's far from a one-size-fits-all solution.