[Web4lib] An Analysis Of Open Source ILS Market Penetration

K.G. Schneider kgs at bluehighways.com
Tue Oct 16 09:09:44 EDT 2007

Re Andrew Cunningham's comment:

"ɪʲd argue that most public libraries in our state are not in
a position 
to migrate to an opensource ILS. They have neither the staff nor the 
capacity. I suspect that sufficient critical mass of more adventurous 
libraries willing to sharing their learnings will be required first. And 
consortia approaches (including sufficient IT support) would help."

I'm not suggesting any of these libraries should run out and change
vendors... and I think Andrew and I are on the same page... but I
thought this comment could be used to explore several other thoughts
about open source.

1. It's no longer a given that deploying an open source product requires
high-level geekdom. I'm guessing there are plenty of Koha installations
where the staff are blissfully unaware of the innards of their product.
In the same vein, I didn't get cozy with Firefox when I installed it,
and I don't need to. 

2. For most major installations, "turnkey" is a lie, and always has
been. Yes, to go to Evergreen right now you'd have to have some good
resources on hand, as well as a sense of adventure (and perhaps
desperation--and some libraries are there already). But an installation
of Evergreen may always be complex due to the organizations that would
consider a product designed to scale as it does. For that scale of
implementation, *any* product would be complex and would require a fair
investment of in-house resources, initially and ongoing. At least with
open source if you have those resources you can actually touch the code
(or recommend others touch it)--and you can discuss it openly rather
than hiding behind vendor NDAs.

3. Open source has grown up, but it still has a rep from earlier days of
one grungy guy sitting in a garage writing code. I've heard of
"consultants" who tell librarians all kinds of hooey about open
source--my favorite being that it's only for third-world countries (the
Southeast has a tradition of internal snobbery so the idea of Georgia as
a third-world country is pretty funny from a Floridian perspective). My
take? Runnin' scared.  

Admittedly, sometimes open source advocates are their own worst enemies,
particularly those with a developer-centric view of the world. I had one
such advocate tell me the reason to use open source software is so you
can get close to your software. Eeeew! I want software I don't HAVE to
get close to if I don't wanna. Also, having worked in an organization
that pumped a lot of money into one open source product, I have a
jaundiced view of the term "free." "Return on investment" I can get
behind, as well as a term I keep trying to come up with that underscores
the additional long-range security of open code. 

This is really a very exciting time. There are some interesting products
and also some equally interesting competing philosophies. Is the network
the destination, should we continue to have institutional silos, or are
there third paths or even beyond? Should metadata be harvestable and if
so into whose silo(s) should that data go? Do we replace the front end
or the back end or both? Are we too record-based, or (as LibraryThing
and Open Library suggest) not record-based enough? Do we put an emphasis
on ensuring the user has no dead ends (WorldCat)? On two-click discovery

The best part about open source development for library software is that
it has opened up a very stagnant industry and infused it with excellent
new thinking. Vive the brainwork!

K.G. Schneider
kgs at freerangelibrarian.com

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