I just finished reading Rachel Singer Gordon and Michael Stephen's column in Linux Insider regarding open source for libraries. Like many articles on the topic it focuses on the uses of open source software in libraries, something I wholeheartedly support!!
However, I have a problem with libraries and open source software.
Libraries have traditionally banded together to pool resources with the common goals of obtaining monographs, serials, and databases as economically as possible. The decision to develop or become involved with a library network is to affect a positive change on a library’s ability to plan and budget.
Unlike these cooperative efforts of the past, libraries have chosen to work independently on information system solutions. With the significant costs involved in the purchasing and maintenance commerical information systems why haven't more libraries banded together to build library systems?
The open source for libraries approach to system development is different from past efforts to build “homegrown” information systems. Frequently, libraries that attempt to develop their own systems lack all the human elements to create scalable and portable systems. An IT staff with programming, testing, evaluation, troubleshooting, and user education skills is needed to create such systems. While a single library may lack the resources, a group of libraries working together has a greater chance of assembling a development team with a full complement of these skills.
An open source network can also serve as a peer review system that is missing from many homegrown development projects. When the programmer of a homegrown system leaves employment the system gradually falls apart and dies. With open source development someone in the development community usually takes over the management responsibilities of viable and useful systems and they continue to evolve.
In a continuing era where budgets are trim and the need for innovated and flexible library systems growing, libraries need to begin establishing new resource sharing networks that focus on the development of information systems needed to support Internet-based library services.
However, in order for this to happen library administrators need to refocus their vision. They need to begin viewing open source products as a commerical alternatives. They need to begin reallocating human and fiscal resources into the development of new systems that can change and adapt as fast as our environment. They need to rethink the services their library offers and how those services are delivered.
Otherwise, there will be too many 1.0 libraries struggling to exist in a 2.0 world.
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