More On Open Source In Libraries

I'd like to revisit my post from a while back and hopefully spark some conversation on Open Source in libraries. Tomeboy was the sole commentator last time, but I think he raised some good questions.

I think the time has come for all of us to start evangelizing open source. We just need to make sure important people fully understands how open source development works. This includes the ALA, ACRL library directors, and everyone else in the position to make decisions on future development directions. We need to make sure that people who make decisions on what systems are used have all the facts, and aren't basing their decisions on sales pitches.

I believe I'm approaching open source based partially on an economic perspective, but also based on other things, mainly the desire to give better products to patrons, and make collections more accessible. There certainly are many, many, issues that need to be worked through, but keep in mind I'm not advocating a "home grown open source" project, I'm advocating for exactly the opposite, something developed collaboratively by as many libraries as possible. Open Source != Home Grown. Having an Open Source ILS developed by a team of programmers at a number of different libraries is a completely different mindset that any home-grown system developed at a single university

One great example of road blocks we'll hit was Tomeboy's "turf protecting". I've seen reactions to this perceived autonomy loss, and it's not pretty. But this idea that some how patrons and services are so different from library to library should actually work for Open Source, since anyone would have the ability to change the code. Though, of course I'm not even sure that smaller libraries would have the staff or resources to join in such an effort, but maybe there are ways they could through local consortiums.

Tomeboy mentioned consortium pricing and the economies of scale. I'm not sure economies of scale can continue to drive prices down. Is that a sustainable model? I don't know the answer. Comparing and contrasting Tomeboy's idea that consortia require concessions, trust and working together is interesting because certainly open source would demand the same thing. I'd like to believe it would require fewer concessions, increase trust, and show that working together solves our problems.

I'm not an open source purist who believes all code wants to be free and no one wants to get paid. But I have been a part of several open source projects, and I know how the systems works. A good team of developers with strong leadership and an active user base can build incredible systems in a short amount of time, and with lower cost. I'm also a big user of open source products, and I can say that the end result can often be as good as or better than propriety systems. Having an open source system will us allow to serve our patrons better.

The idea that one or two programmers toiling away in the darkness of their basement offices can develop anything useful for a large number of libraries isn't what this is about. I'm saying we need libraries that have the resources to commit an FTE or 2 to a project that will be developed, used and shared by as many libraries as possible. Building an open source ILS that can be used by the largest libraries is within reach if we can convince the right people that it's possible, it'll be better for our patrons, and it might even save money.

Having a few geeks on staff is never a bad thing. For those libraries that can afford it, I think they'll find everyone is happier with the web presence with the proper staff

But, like Eric pointed 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."

Check Out what Nicole C. Engard has to say about her OPAC. Here's just one good quote:

"Where does III fit? I'd say it's a like the crazy cousin you have to deal with because he's family! It doesn't fit, we are a very open IT environment, we have applications all over that need to talk to each other nicely and the III system is a brick wall preventing us from getting the information we need and sending the information we'd like."

I've dealt with III and she's being far too kind. I'd say it's like the sociopathic uncle that escaped from jail and is holding you kids hostage.. What she's saying here is we have no control over the primary way our patrons interact with our collection. To make matters worse, we pay dearly for this. To make matters worse is there is no shortage of people who will just shrug their shoulders and say there's nothing we can do


I use open source software almost exclusively at home. I use a hybrid system at work (>) for PACs that are based on open source code. I have paid for using open code at home, myself, because I appreciate the work.

I guess I just don't get why library staff/administrators have this reluctance to go open source. A lot of them say, "There's no support." I hate to say it, but most of the time, you buy software, you're on your own. Tech support from major companies tends to be, well, rather spotty. For the amount of time that HQ spends trying to clear jams and working with Sirsi/Dynix to problem-solve/get promised features working (I hear they are elusive) they could be adapting koha or Evergreen or phpMyLibrary to do the same tasks Horizon should. And paying less.

I have explained this to people till they throw up their hands, and back away slowly, but the truth is, you don't need to be a programmer to use open source. Know what you need? Search skills. Seriously. When something breaks, or you're trying to do something specific, search out the answer. There is a librarian I'm really proud of who contacted me about setting up Linux as a public computing solution. I recommended locking down Xandros, since LiveCDs weren't an option. He took it a step further. His experience with Linux was minimal... and I started noticing his name popping up, asking questions about setting up kiosks, time-out, deep freeze-esque solutions. He had no programming knowledge, per se. He just knew where to look and (think "reference interview") the right questions to ask. His lab is running a custom-designed Xandros based system now. No complaints, and when something breaks, he knows right where to go to fix it... even if that means he goes to Linux>.

But people are firmly entrenched in "You get what you pay for" and "Open source is hard." I'm going to try something new when I'm back at work next month... I'm going to install all sorts of open source apps on our Windows machines at work. I'm going to tell people we've paid for licenses for them. And I'm going to see if that changes the view of them.

As for our Linux PACs... 75% of the patrons have no idea they're using Linux. I would say a full 25% of our staff wouldn't know either, if they didn't know me.

I am 100% an open source advocate; I believe open source software is usually better than its proprietary counterparts. That being said, there are a few caveats. First of all -- who was it who coined the "free as in kittens" counter to Richard Stallman's free as in speech"? It's important to remember that open-source software has a cost -- maintenance, support, and probably contributing back to the code base (which is also benefit, but it's a cost as well). Also, it's important that the technology side of designing open source software for libraries has sufficient respect for the non-technology side, the people who have been dealing with cataloging and archiving and public services for decades. There's a tendency on the technology side to assume that the non-techies are stupid, and not only is that ridiculous and untrue, but it leads to software that hasn't learned the lessons of generations of librarians. It's not just a matter of adopting open-source, it's a matter of open source projects listening to the nontechnological staff as well. Historically, the open-source projects which do best are those which are by techies for techies, and it's time to move beyond that.

The software for the Berman catalog was written
using an Open Source programming language
"Ruby on Rails"...>

The leaders of the Open Source library software
movement hang out at a couple of places:>


And one of the best known Open Source OPACS
is KOHA>

One of the conferences that these folks
gather at each year is called

Access and is held in Canada.>