Reflections on an Open Source year

Having just compiled the latest ILFA IT Section newsletter. I remain excited at the prospects for Open Source adoption in 2010.   In Australia we have seen the first inklings of Governmental libraries adopting open source for their OPAC or Digital Library and widening interest – particularly from Special Libraries.    The process of open source adoption is not trivial but does have immense potential  for the “specials”.  One of the more disappointing challenges faced by libraries switching to open source are the “exit fees” I have seen proprietary software vendors charge for simply exporting their catalogue data (generally just a MARC and patron data dump).  Exorbitant charges simply to generate MARC data hardly do credit to the commercial library vendors and do not say a lot for the capabilities of their software.

Characteristically it takes 3-4 months to “internalise” these new systems – because open source is often more richly functional (if sometimes ‘buggy’) especially for the front-end user,  it takes some time to absorb this new functionality.  However the potential for the library is great once they have a framework of good and useful systems.   There is a challenge presented by the learning curve in adopting not only new technology and also new approaches to distributing information- often in the context of pretty tight budgets.    Against this is the potential for renewed relevancy to organisational clientelle and creative new ways for the library to interact with the organisation

Realistically, we are still in the early adoption phase of Open Source, where trust levels are growing in what is now quite mature and very functional software for libraries.   The activities of EIFL-FOSS (awful acronym but great work!) have been significant on this front.  In Australia we have helped over 30 libraries implement the Open Source Koha system in the last year.

However,  I have a sense that many special libraries face considerable challenges in retaining their role in their organisations.    There is a need for them to situate themselves squarely in the organisation as the core information resource.  In this context it is really important to look at the ways in which an enterprise model for open source can develop most especially in the areas of:

  • The OPAC – which can become the metadata hub for the organisation
  • The Digital Library – which opens the possibility for the organisation owning and managing its own digital assets more effectively
  • E-Publishing – and looking at ways of pro-actively distributing and publishing the organisations e-content.
  • m-Services – building a service infrastructure that supports highly mobile access to your content.

This would not imply “one” open source solution, but rather looking at the ways in which libraries architecting their open source solution can put the building blocks together.

Season’s greetings to all “open source” advocates and adventurers!

Edmund Balnaves – ITS Information Officer

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