Open-source library systems

Andrew Nagy, Director of SaaS Innovation at EBSCO, librarian and founder of VuFind open-source software, looks at why libraries are moving to open-source solutions in the second part of his series.
Open-source library systems

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In my last post, I explored the values of open-source software and why libraries are moving in this direction as a way to more easily and successfully implement new innovative systems. In this post, we will explore why libraries are moving to open-source ILS or LSP systems. The library industry has seen incredible success from open-source projects, and with the ILS space we have seen projects such as Koha and Evergreen make a massive impact in the world of public libraries and some other library types. These projects began to support a single library or library consortium, but over time grew into products that hundreds of libraries from around the world have adopted. When the FOLIO project first began, the community supporting its effort quickly set out to form a not-for-profit home for the project. The Open Library Foundation is a non-profit organization in the United States that is home to many leading open-source projects such as FOLIO, ReShare, GOKB and VuFind. The OLF is not alone, other organizations such as DuraSpace are also the home to open-source projects such as DSpace and Fedora. These organizations provide a highly valued service to these open-source projects; they provide a financial home, a board of directors, support for the community and an approach for sustainability. 

 Community is the foundation for any successful open-source project. The community represents the developers who work on the project, the users of the software, and everyone in between. An active community is one of the metrics commonly used to evaluate the success of the project and the sustainability. A great tool used to measure the development activity and the health of a community is with Open Hub (previously named OHLOH). Also, as most open-source projects leverage GitHub for code management, GitHub also has a “Insights” report to help measure activity. Here is a view for the code repository of the “front-end” for the FOLIO open-source project that EBSCO is involved with: Another key metric is the number of messages and users active on the project’s mailing list or chat channel. It is important to know that if you run into a problem, need help or just want to chat with another community member, that you will have the opportunity to get your questions answered. 

 Given that open-source software is generally free and open, this greatly reduces the total cost of ownership in the technology and allows for the implementing organization to direct funding into customization of the solution yielding a less expensive, but highly customized solution to help improve efficiencies by adopting new technology. If you are migrating from a commercial solution to a free product, this allows your library to make an investment in the implementation and customization of the workflows and tooling to get a much higher bang-for-the-buck. Additionally, leveraging the services of a vendor who specializes in the development and support of the software could be incredibly valuable to take full advantage of the cost savings and efficiencies. Having a vendor who specializes in the implementation and setup to ensure a fully customized and well implemented solution helps the library take full advantage of the efficiencies that the solution offers. Also leveraging a vendor who can provide hosting and support removes the overhead that a single library would have in supporting a critical service. 

 Lastly, if we make our investment in an open-source project by spending time with the implementation, committing to a vendor for support and hosting and building workflows around the software, we want to make sure that there is a sustainability plan for this open-source project. Open source tends to get a bad rap because there are tons of projects that are started, but never finished or brought to maturity. This is why we want to measure community engagement, measure the development activity and ensure that there is a sustainability plan to ensure this project will last. Having a foundation or non-profit organization backing the project is a big help and shows that there is planning and governance behind the project. When EBSCO joined the FOLIO effort, we helped the community to establish a non-profit foundation to support the sustainability and governance of the FOLIO community. Today, the Open Library Foundation supports multiple open-source projects for libraries with the goal for long term sustainability. The OLF puts on a user conference every year, known as WOLFCon (World Open Library Foundation Conference) bringing the communities of its projects together for planning, sharing and building of its communities. 

To learn more about FOLIO and its community, be sure to visit 

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash 

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