Open Up And Say Aaahhhhh
I just got done reading Eric Schnell's problem with libraries and open source software. I think his comparison of library networks and open source projects (like information system solutions) is right on the money. I've been asking the same question since I first started working at Ohio State almost 4 years ago now: With the significant costs involved in the purchasing and maintenance commercial information systems why haven't more libraries banded together to build library systems?
He points out the newer/better/faster open source of software development is fundamentally different (new and improved!) from past efforts to build old school (homegrown) systems. The open source method of development combines resources (including people and computing power) working on similar projects to save time and money. Eric wrote: "While a single library may lack the resources, a group of libraries working together has a greater chance of assembling a development team with a full complement of these skills."
The open source model is peer review at its best. Everything from usability to security can be greatly enhanced with a good team of open source programmers. A well organized open source librarian community focused on developing a few key systems can break the expensive stranglehold vendors currently have on most libraries.
While some of us have been talking about this for years, it's refreshing to see someone in Schnell's position extolling the virtues of open source. Maybe the time has come for all of us to start evangelizing our systems to upper management. Large academic libraries with larger staff are natural leaders in this area. But, like Eric points out, this will require library administrators to refocus their vision. "They need to begin viewing open source products as commercial alternatives. They need to begin reallocating human and fiscal resources into the development of new systems that can change and adapt as fast as our environment. They need to rethink the services they have and how they are delivered."
We need to make sure everyone fully understands how open source development works. This includes the ALA and ACRL library directors. It's important the ALA understands why it's wrong to purchase a closed source CMS, or why the ACRL could build an ILS without being charged 10 thousands of dollars a month to beta test new features.