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Resource review #8: Library Technology Manifesto

Tennant, R. (2007, November 12th). Library software manifesto. Retrieved from http://techessence.info/manifesto.

To wrap up my resource reviews for my LIS644 project on the open source ILS Koha, which has turned into a kind of overview on the state of the ILS today, I thought I’d post Roy Tennant’s Library Software Manifesto, written in 2007 to address the “unhealthy” relationship between libraries and library software vendors. Tennant is one of the leading library technology voices, and although this piece is a couple of years old now, I think it’s still important and interesting.

The Manifesto lists consumer rights — such as the right to use the software you have paid for, without having to pay more for it; consumer responsibilities — such as the responsibility to realize that you’re not special, and the vendor has other clients too; and shared responsibilities — such as the responsibility of mutual respect (at least until one party does something unforgivably ridiculous). I think this kind of approach could be very productive in thinking about changes and implementations to a library’s ILS.

I admit it: I’m a library school student, and my knowledge of the ILS selection and management process is limited to a couple of talks and quite a bit of reading, so I don’t have any real experience with how this works. But there’s a fairly small selection of ILS vendors, and librarians on the whole tend to be less than completely familiar with programming and technology implementation, so some of the problems implied by this manifesto don’t surprise me at all. The overall points made by the manifesto, though — librarians have a right to use their ILS to their greatest advantage, and to have some idea of how it works; librarians have a responsibility to treat the vendors and programmers fairly and without unnecessary acrimony — seem to indicate to me one reason why open source ILS solutions like Koha have become popular in spite of their detriments. When you have full access to the source code of your software, you can use it however you want, and you’re going to have to figure out how it works. When you have to contract out or hire someone to do upgrades or added features, you have a much more direct, less bureaucratic relationship with them. Open source projects can get rid of a lot of red tape that can hinder a good working relationship.

Of course, open source solutions aren’t without flaws — the first comment on the post is from someone mentioning that he feels his experience as a software user isn’t taken seriously by open source developers. The tradeoff with open source, I suppose, is that many developers work on open source projects as a hobby, and their income isn’t affected by users’ dissatisfaction. (Companies like LibLime eliminate this problem, but add the bureaucracy back in… nothing’s perfect.) Obviously this is no way to eliminate problems with the librarian/developer relationship, so the best way forward appears to be the one implied in Tennant’s manifesto: for everyone to know a little bit more about what the other side is doing, and to acknowledge both their own and the other side’s priorities in doing so.

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Resource review #7: Survey of Open Source ILS

Riewe, L. M. (2008). Survey of Open Source Integrated Library Systems. Unpublished master’s thesis, San José State University, San José. Retrieved 25 November 2009 from http://users.sfo.com/~lmr/ils-survey/080831-paper-Riewe.pdf.

This paper is a thesis by a San José State University MLIS student, a thing that I am very glad I don’t have to write. Linda M. Riewe, however, produced this document comparing various ILS options via a survey of libraries using both proprietary and open source ILS options. There’s a wealth of information here, on open source generally and on library uses specifically, and a number of very fair comparisons of the pros and cons of proprietary and open source software.

Riewe surveyed 361 libraries who used either Koha, Evergreen or some form of proprietary ILS software, asking them questions about the level of satisfaction with the ILS, how the ILS was chosen, how it was customized, cost and ease of use. She then divides up the libraries into demographic categories by size of collection to compare the data.

Overall: libraries tended to choose open source ILSs like Koha for philosophical reasons, in addition to the lower cost; they felt that the principles of open source were important and should be supported. (The cost of the open source ILS was generally found to be less over time, although initial costs were higher than for proprietary software.) Users of Koha and Evergreen reported slightly higher satisfaction with the system than users of proprietary systems, despite installation and documentation difficulties. This is a valuable survey, on many levels; it offers a snapshot of the open source ILS movement in libraries, and it will be interesting to see how things might change in future years.

Resource review #4: Major Open Source ILS Products

Breeding, M. (2008). Major open source ILS products. Library Technology Reports, 44(8), 16-31.

This article from last year’s Library Technology Reports offers an overview and comparison of the four most prominent open source ILS products — Koha, Evergreen, OPALS, and NewGenLib, as well as a discussion of the open source phenomenon in ILS products in general.

There are a lot of tables — I enjoy tables — breaking down what kinds of libraries are using what kinds of software, what kinds of population and circulation figures they’re working with, things like that. Koha is a favorite among small to mid-sized public, academic, and special libraries, while Evergreen, designed by a consortium of libraries in Georgia, has been preferred for large library systems. Large individual libraries are still reluctant to adopt the fairly new open source ILS applications. I was interested to discover that open source hasn’t made much of an impression outside of the United States and Canada, although it has been a choice option in some developing countries.

The article continues with a breakdown of the companies that support this open source software (such as LibLime for Koha), a review of the technical backend of an open source ILS implementation, and finally a feature-by-feature rundown of the specific software discussed, based on documentation and demo sites. This would be a great source for a library curious about which open source ILS to explore in more detail.

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