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Thursday, June 05, 2008


Open Session on Open Source

At the recent OLC Management Conference, Glen Horton of SWON Libraries and Shawn Walsh of NEO-RLS led a discussion titled "Open Session on Open Source." We didn't have a large crowd, but there were many good questions and information shared among the attendees. The room was a mix of smaller and mid-size library systems.

To generate discussion, the following questions were posed:
Many libraries in the room were already using or playing with open source software in some way.

In many cases open source is being used in "low-profile" areas such as servers or staff stations.

Some libraries are running OpenOffice.org on their public stations.

One library in the room is considering using Edubuntu on some children's workstation. Greene County Public Library has already implemented an Edubuntu lab and has posted a series of how-to videos.

The bulk of the conversation revolved around open source ILSs. There is a concern in libraries that these products are not as feature-rich as their proprietary counterparts. It seems that many libraries are waiting for open source ILSs to "mature" and offer all of the features that their current systems provide. Glen and Shawn noted that these types of features often show up when a single library makes the time and commitment to implement it on their own. The new feature(s) can then be integrated with the existing code and shared with others.

A library asked if RFID is being used in any libraries with an open source ILS. After some research, we have not been able to find such a library.

It's clear that many libraries are comfortable with their turn-key systems. Some open source library vendors already offer these services, but having more options and choices would likely draw more libraries.

Libraries in Ohio seem to want more direction at the state level about how to proceed with an open source ILS. Open source is all about choice, but some libraries are concerned they will make the "wrong" choice and choose a system that will not be supported for resource sharing, funding, etc.

Glen and Shawn noted that libraries will see many more open source ILSs become available in the future. So the options and choices will only grow. We are also likely to see the traditional, proprietary ILS vendors respond to the open source "threat." Vendors may open up some of their services or change their pricing and support structure to stay competitive.

Libraries in the room also asked about open source content management systems. Outside of ILSs, using an open source system to manage website content seems to be the other big open source trend in libraries. Glen and Shawn have both seen libraries in their regions ditching FrontPage, Dreamweaver, etc. and moving to software like Drupal and Joomla. A CMS makes it easier for multiple staff to be involved in a site's upkeep. CMSs also tend to build-in social tools like blogs and wikis.

Of course, big open source projects like ILSs and CMSs are often built on top of other open source tools that handle database, web server, and OS operations. Once these back-end tools are in place, it's usually much easier for a library to use other open source projects that build on the same tools.

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