Information Management Tools
Information Management Tools
Open Source Software in Libraries/Information Centers
Open Source Software in Libraries and Information Centers
Open source software is the computer software that has a source code that allows every user to assess, modify, and improve (Open Source Initiative, 2003). The source code is a part of the entire software that cannot be seen by most computer users. It is a code that computer programmers can maneuver around to change how a part of the entire system, called an application or program works. Programmers can access the source code to improve the computer program by adding additional features or fixing the parts that often do not work effectively. The mentality of open source surrounds the concept of collaboration and sharing. Similar to other software, open source software is also protected by copyright. However, the license for the software does not demand any money, but it does not mean that there is no condition followed by the operation of the software. The most considered OSS by libraries is Koha. Koha is an integrated library management system originally developed by Katipo Communications (Cervone, 2003). Most libraries that consider using Koha have an option of hiring the Koha staff to assist with the implementation and maintenance of the software.
Figure 1: Model showing different tasks by different people (Gacek, Lawrie, & Budi, 2002)
The model above shows different tasks done by different people in different roles. In the context of library and information center, the developers are not necessarily the users of the software.
Individuals prefer using open source software for various reasons. These reasons include:
i. Low costs
Open source software lowers the aggregate cost of ownership as compared to the traditional library systems (Dorman, 2002). Therefore, libraries have the ability to benefit from the reduced costs offered by the clouds by minimizing local support if the library is supported by a third party. Open source solutions are portable and compact. As a result, it requires little hardware power to undertake similar duties on workstations. It means that the users can acquire this with an inexpensive hardware.
ii. No lock-in
Open source software removes the libraries from the traditional lock-in that are associated with various library systems. The software promotes better interoperability compared to the closed source software. Also, the software is sustainable in a way. Meaning, if a vendor exits the business, the software may be sold-on. The community can be involved in the software and continue its development because it is always available and open. The lack of portability and inability to customize the software to meet particular needs prevents the frustrations of lock-in.
iii. Enhanced library systems ecosystem
Although this benefit is a less impact of the open source, the libraries benefit regarding the available library solutions and the collaboration between libraries. This benefit assists libraries to collaborate and share functionality codes and fixes needed. An open source system, for instance, Evergreen, is developed to assist libraries in a consortia approach.
The support that is available for the open source is the superior to proprietary solutions. Support for the open source is available for free and are easily accessible by the online community through the internet. Moreover, most tech companies support the open source with free online and variety of levels of paid support. Liblime is such an example.
Despite having various advantages, the open source system also has limitations. These limitations include:
i. Less user-friendly
The open source system is less user-friendly because individuals may find it difficult to use because developers pay little attention to the user interface development (Arkles, 2002). Although not all open source software is less user-friendly, there is software developed depending on the developer’s wishes and not the intended use by the users.
ii. Minimal support
The system gets less support when things go wrong. This is because the software depends on the user community to identify and fix the problems. The software is developed by many people, and there is no single person or company to point a finger when issues arise. The open system lacks sponsorship that most commercial closed source software possess. The OSS is maintained by consortia which comprise of individuals who are dedicated to improving and maintain the software.
Open source software is an open system whereby individuals have the ability to notice bugs and fix them. It also implies that users who are malicious can view and exploit the system’s vulnerability. Malicious users may create bugs that can steal identities or infect hardware. This limitation is rarely with the commercial software as the developers have to make than to have quality control processes.
Despite being free, there are indirect costs incurred as paying for the third party support. Supporting the software during its lifetime involves considerable costs that may be difficult to estimate. For any upgrading or change in the OSS, the library would need support. An expert would be hired to tackle the issues and solve the problems that arise with the software. The OSS products need technical knowledge to operate and manage. As a result, the institution will incur cost when hiring a person with the expertise.
Since the open source system developers have no requirement of creating a commercial product that can sell and generate money, the software evolves more with the preference of the developers rather than the needs of the users.
One of the significant opportunities of the open source software is the chance to minimize the increasing work due to the steadily growing number of applications that a learning institution has to support. The configuration of these applications reduces the amount of the software codes that the institution has to support (Cervone, 2003). Hence, there is cutting of costs and enhanced collaboration. OSS enables learning institutions and libraries to gain quick access to innovation. In the case where innovation is delivered through proprietary licensed product, the library would be able to create an innovative information system. The information system created would be responsible for the dissemination of new knowledge.
Another opportunity is the possibility to accommodate new cyberinfrastructure that is somehow affordable and sustainable. With the development of Service-Oriented Architecture, an individual can integrate various projects. Hence, the difference in the cost may generate sustainable or unsustainable cyberinfrastructure for the learning institutions. Moreover, OSS provides the librarians with a chance to involve more actively in the development of the software that they use, rather than putting control at the hands of the vendor. Dorman (2002) notes that most librarians have not considered this opportunity to become active and take advantage of the technological innovation.
Open source software presents opportunities for libraries and a significant change in software design. Open source system allows libraries to take part directly in the development of it systems and services in a way that it fulfills the value of librarianship. The software reduces the boundaries of higher education campuses and increases the global higher education community. As a library automation software, open source software integrates the routine activities of the library for the librarians.
Finally, it is important to consider that the increasing availability and application of open source software has to become more vigilant in tracking external sources that possess licensed codes within the open source software products (Gacek, et al. 2002). It is, therefore, necessary to conduct regular software audit to ensure that the open source system incorporates the external source code. At such a scenario, the external source code is used in such a way that they are consistent with the license.
Arkles, L. 2002. Open source library software in action. incite 23 (11):12
Cervone, F. 2003. The open source option. Library Journal NetConnect (Summer):8-12
Dorman, D. 2002. Open source software and the intellectual commons. American Libraries 33 (11):51-54.
Gacek, C, Lawrie, T & Budi A. 2002. Interdisciplinary insights onmopen source.Paper read at Open Source Software Development Workshop, 25-26 February 2002,at Newcastle upon Tyne
Open Source Initiative. 2003. “The open source definition.” Available: http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php