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Smarter Libraries through Technology: Open Source alternatives in library systems procurement

Smart Libraries Newsletter [September 2013]

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Open source today stands as a routine part of the library automation industry. In the integrated library system arena, Koha and Evergreen have been implemented by hundreds of libraries here in the United States, and especially for Koha, all around the world. OPALS has been implemented by hundreds of school libraries as well as church, synagogue, and other special libraries. Large academic and research libraries have complex operational needs and increasingly require automation systems able to help them manage and provide access to collections dominated by digital content. The new genre of library services platforms has emerged to address these realities. Examples include Ex Libris Alma, Sierra from Innovative Interfaces, OCLC's WorldShare Platform, and Serials Solutions upcoming Intota. In this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, we turn our attention to Kuali OLE, a library services platform developed through a grant-funded, community-based endeavor.

Libraries tend to be cautious in considering library automation systems. Only a small minority are able to justify the level of risk associated with selecting an unproven system, and even fewer able to invest in a development project as have the Kuali OLE partner organizations. Most libraries feel more comfortable with a system that has been successfully implemented by organizations of at least their own size and complexity. So how does a new open source system find its way into consideration?

Opting for an open source automation system come with a different set of business issues relative to those based on commercially licensed software. By definition, selecting an open source system eliminates the license fees. With commercial software, most of the revenue is packaged into a license fee, which compensates a company for its investments in developing the system, supports future development and related services. The usual arrangement for commercial systems also involves an annual fee for service and support, generally around 15 percent of the initial license fee. The trend toward software as a service has already disrupted the traditional business model for library software. Rather than a large up-front payment, a software as a service arrangement may be based on annual fees consistent year by year. The SaaS fees include hosting and infrastructure costs that the library otherwise would incur locally.

Businesses involved in open source software earn revenue based on services rather than license fees. Open source software does not require payment of license fees, but involves a different set of costs to an organization implementing the system and different sources of revenue to those responsible for its development. In the case of Kuali OLE, the cost of software development has been born by the Mellon Foundation and the partner organizations.

Any future libraries that implement the software will benefit from that investment. Libraries implementing Kuali OLE, or any other major open source application, will incur other costs, such as local or hosted hardware infrastructure, data migration, technical personnel costs associated with integration with other business and discovery systems, operational costs related to system configuration and profiling, training, and internal support for the library staff and other end users of the system. Libraries will naturally calculate the long term total cost of ownership as they weigh their options between open source and commercially licensed systems.

Many libraries implementing open source automation systems contract with an external organization for support services. Almost all libraries implementing Koha or Evergreen, the other two open source library automation systems commonly used in the US, work with a commercial service provider. These commercial support companies offer a range of services, including installation, data migration, hosting, help-desk support, and may be able to perform custom development for new features. When working through one of these companies, a library needs no more local technical expertise than would be needed with a proprietary-licensed system.

The concept of open source software resonates with many libraries. Yet, they also require systems that are well suited to their strategic priorities and operational requirements. Open source software for libraries has reached a mature state. I see procurement processes increasingly shaped to allow for products based on either open source or proprietary software licenses. But overall systems will be selected on the basis of their functional capabilities, cost, and value relative to budget expectations, the level of support available, and in the confidence in the future development of the system. I see the type of license as a deciding factor only once the products are reasonably close in features and value.

View Citation
Publication Year:2013
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 33 Number 09
Issue:September 2013
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Subject: Open source software
Record Number:18670
Last Update:2022-12-05 15:33:01
Date Created:2013-12-08 14:53:58