Open source software (OSS), on the surface seems to be a realistic option for libraries to save money, increase security, customize applications, and create a flexible system to grow with the organization. On the other side of the coin when compared to commercial counterparts, there is no formal technical support (i.e. a dedicated system one can contact with issues or training needs), there is a learning curve in the sense that to operate the application successfully high-grade technical skill is involved in installation and maintenance of the application, and OSS is not known for ease of use. [Barve & Dahibhate, 2012]
My personal experience with OSS does not stray much beyond Mozilla, Chrome, and WordPress; and the widgets that are already developed for these applications. I find them to be user-friendly and not quite as problematic as their proprietary constituents, however, I am using the developed version of the applications and merely adding little gadgets to customize to my personal preferences, not building a system from the base application and certainly not tweaking a system that will be utilized by patrons and staff across an entire organization or having to take into consideration the vast number of technical abilities of those using these applications.
There is also the library’s consortium involvement to be considered, will migrating to an OSS negate the ability to participate in an already established system to which the library belongs? And, is losing the network of a consortium worth it? For instance, OhioLINK libraries; would a library that participate in the largest cooperative consortium in the world be able to configure an OSS ILS to work in tandem with vendor produced system already in place? With all the resources OhioLINK provides member libraries access to, at this point I don’t think, especially in an academic situation, it would be wise choice for a library to dissolve the relationship or be portrayed as a weak link in very strong representation of the united front.
I believe as a consortium it is worth investigating, because of pooled resources. I would imagine that if every library had the luxury of a dedicated IT staff or a staff member with strong coding and programming experience, we would all be utilizing OSS with in our libraries. Unfortunately, this a luxury a select few have obtained and not the standard throughout, which is why pooling resources through consortia situations are important to most libraries and why more libraries tend not to stray from the consortia agreement and rules.
When it comes right down to the decision to convert from proprietary software to OSS; I feel that most libraries basically have a double edge sword to their throat. Even though there is no initial cost associated with OSS, there is a long-term cost to customize and maintain that software, a very expensive long-term cost in the human form. If every library had a dedicated IT staff, we would probably drive the software vendors out of business, but the reality is, no matter how unsatisfactory or insufficient a vendor’s technical support may be, we need it. We need that safety net to ensure that our systems run smoothly and consistently for the patrons we serve, if our system projects the façade of instability because staff lack the skill, knowledge or expertise to successfully administer these applications, we lose our life blood, our patrons.
Barve, S., & Dahibhate, N. (2012, September). Open Source Software for Libraries. Journal of Library & Information Technology, 32(5), 401-408.
Locchhaas, S., & Moore, M. (2010, October). Open Source Software Libraries. University of Iowa SLIS Journal, 24 p. Retrieved March 2014, from http://ir.uiowa.edu/bsides/17