I've been following the progress of the open source ILS movement since its inception. It has been interesting to watch the open source products come onto the scene and rise to become a significant portion of the library automation arena. From its beginnings in New Zealand in 1999, Koha has been implemented in thousands of libraries all around the world. My lib-web-cats database documents its use in more than 2,500 libraries, and I am aware of hundreds of others that I haven't had a chance to capture in the directory. OPALS has become a significant player for automation in K-12 school libraries. Although Follett dominates this arena with its Destiny ILS, OPALS competes well within the second-tier options such as Atriuum from Book Systems, Alexandria, and Mandarin Oasis. Kuali OLE seems on the brink of seeing its first production in academic libraries. (Watch this space for news later this year.) Evergreen has gained a strong position among consortia of public libraries in the United States.
In today's challenging times of lean budgets and rising patron expectations, libraries depend on technology more than ever. It's crucial to have the right software for the job, and at the best financial value. Some of the initial success of the open source ILS movement can be attributed to fervor for its philosophical approach and negative reactions regarding vendors of proprietary products. Frustrated by the perceived difficulties of proprietary software, some libraries were willing to accept more modest functionality, with the expectation that the products would gain features over time through collaborative open-source software development.
Open source ILS now stands as a routine segment of the library software landscape. Library decision makers today judge systems on their merits across a variety of factors. Few libraries have the luxury to limit their options to only those offered under the terms of an open source license. I have seen examples in the past where the library specified an open source license as a requirement for consideration. Most libraries today take a more neutral approach on this issue, meaning open source products do not receive preferential treatment. It's also the case that after a decade of development, open source ILS products such as Koha, Evergreen, and OPALS have gained a competitive complement of features.
I see service and support and forward development as the key critical issues today for the open source ILS sector. Libraries today tend to have fewer technical personnel at their disposal. They need a reliable automation system the fewest complications possible. It's essential that their systems operate without interruption, perform with rapid response times. Any problems in the software need to be be repaired promptly. Open source ILS vendors must also make advances in features and functionality at a pace consistent with the rest of the industry.
The trend toward libraries opting for software as a service or vendor-hosted systems continues to build. As libraries choose how to allocate their time and resources, maintaining local servers has fallen as a priority, especially now that reliable and affordable alternatives have become standard fare. Ever fewer libraries consider the operation of a data center as a top priority and seem increasingly willing to shift to hosted systems so that they can focus on more strategic activities better aligned with their core areas of expertise. In step with that trend, we see that the open source support providers, at least those in the United States, provide hosting as part of their service offering. As libraries engage with a provider of an automation system such as an ILS, they come with expectations of ongoing development. Without an ambitious agenda of development, any automation product will eventually lag behind. Libraries expect an incremental advancement in the features available. Evolutionary development may not always be able to re-shape a system adequately as libraries experience fundamental changes in what they do. The transition in academic library collections from print to primarily electronic resources, for example, has driven an opportunity for the new generation of library services platforms.
Any vendor of library automation systems for libraries must hone strategies to deliver hosted systems, provide a compelling package of customer support services, and define and execute an ambitious roadmap of software development. These concerns apply across software products based on either proprietary and open source licenses.
In this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, we explore the strategies of company involved in the open source support business. Our coverage of the new Sequoia platform launched by Equinox Software provides an interesting example of how the company strategy has evolved to focus more on delivering the best, most appealing system and service offerings, even to libraries that may not be as philosophically inclined toward open source. It's a strategy that extends the approach of community-based open source software development with vendor-controlled processes that aim to produce a comprehensive ILS solution for libraries. It will be interesting to follow this next phase of the open source ILS sector and its ability to compete in an industry where proprietary products continue to dominate.