Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Open Source Solutions?

Inside Higher Education is reporting today on efforts being undertaken by libraries to move away from dependence on third-party commercial vendors and create "their own open-source solutions that are fully customizable, free for others to use and compatible with existing systems." I assumed before reading the article that most of the solutions would address database needs, but these projects in fact run the gamut, including the online catalog, search engines, database systems, citation software, and course management software. Anyone who has ever negotiated with Innovative Interfaces , for instance, has felt frustrated at the occasional inability to make the system, good as it is, do exactly what you need for it to do. And then there's the whole issue of the high initial cost and ongoing maintenance charges, the reason for which I have never fully understood.

Of course, using open-source solutions is not free, something I know from my own experience with them. A library needs its own servers, which may or may not be politically feasible in a particular institution, and it needs in-house technology people who are capable of working with software that is typically not well supported. The article points out, however, that it might "make more long-term financial sense to hire more developers than to continue paying for products over which they have limited control." There is a good summary of some of the projects that are underway at libraries around the country (be sure to look at the Comments, where several more projects are described). Some of them sound very promising.

1 comment:

Nicole Engard said...

I'd like to make one note. You don't necessarily have to hire developers or have an in house IT staff. There are many companies out there to support open source software in libraries ... still costs money, but not as much as a developer's salary :)