CIL2008: Open Source Landscape

I love listening to Marshall Breeding present – it always makes me feel better to know that someone can talk faster than me 😉 Marshall started his talk by showing us the lib-web-cats advanced search which allows you to search for libraries running specific systems. He did remind us to keep in mind that the systems shown are the ones that have made a commitment to a system (may not be live yet).

Broad Trends

Open source is highly used in the general IT arena with examples like Linux and Apache. If you believe the blogosphere, open source is going up up up – but it’s not necessarily true – Microsoft is also gaining a footing – showing that they are all good options. You need to make your decisions with all the facts in hand.

Open Source

Did you know that your general library infrastructure is open source? z39.50 is open source! And Index Data has been making tools based on this protocol for a long time (the Yaz toolkit is the main z39.50 tool being used).

Other open source options:

  • Federated search – LibraryFind and Masterkey
  • OCLC offers some stuff – typically older stuff that they want other people to take care of now
  • Digital repositories – Fedora, DSpace, and Keystone

Next Marshall listed some open source discovery products – AKA – next gen catalogs:

  • Vufind – based on Apache Solr search toolkit — toolkits make it accessible for relatively small development shops to create this stuff
  • Extensible catalog – University of Rochester and the Melon Foundation
  • fac-back-opac
  • Scriblio – based on WordPress

Open Source in the ILS Arena – Products and Trends

It used to be bold and risky to move to an open source ILS. This move however led to a bunch of projects that are now products. That said, Marshall wants to make sure that people have the best information available to them when they make these decisions – he’s not an open source evangelist he’s a technology evangelist.

3 of the 4 open source ILS that were around in 2002 are now defunct so when Marshall wrote that the open source ILS it was still a distant future – it was true.

… then the world changed

In March 2007 the world had changed, but open source is a minority player. In March 2008 open source is a real option out there, but you need to use the same criteria you use when choosing a closed source system.

Now, April 2008 the open source ILS has launched into the mainstream – there is a lot of room for optimism and there is going to more and more of this over time.

The ILS market is an industry in turmoil with mergers and acquisitions left and right causing disruptions and business decisions to narrow options. This has fueled the open source movement by providing libraries with additional options.

Open Source v. Traditional Licensing

So what side is Marshal on? He says both sides! He wouldn’t want to see a world where one or the other is the only option and thinks they complement the each other. Each library has it’s own personality and can use that in choosing their systems.

Recommendations for making a choice:

  • avoid philosophical preference – make choices as business decisions instead
  • which best supports the missions of libraries
  • which approach helps libraries become better libraries?



  • first open source ILS
  • Koha + Index Data Zebra = Koha Zoom
  • 300+ libraries
  • while there are a lot of small libraries – there are also some biggies signing up now
  • the system has grown up to a level where it can handle these big libraries
  • has the interface we want – facets, clean, book jackets


  • developed by the GA public library system
  • small dev team
  • June 2004 – dev begins
  • September 2005 live production
  • streamlined environment – single shared implementation, all libraries, follow the same policies,
  • one library card
  • by far the most people using it are the GA PINES consortia
  • it’s a big difference between supporting 250+ small libraries and supporting a big library system (so it will make a difference when the Atlanta area switched)
  • has interface we want – facets, clean, book jackets


  • going gangbusters in the public school system
  • created by Media Flex
  • south central org of (school) libraries


  • ILS designed for the developing world
  • originally traditionally licensed, introduced in 2003
  • transition to open source in January 2008
  • 122 installations (India, Syria, Sudan, Cambodia)

Learning Access ILS

  • turnkey open source ILS
  • designed for under-served rural public and tribal libraries
  • defunct?? – has been trying to get in touch with these people – but can’t (email bounces)

There is also lot of commercial involvement these days:

  • Index Data (founded 1994)
  • LibLime (founded 2005)
    • small but growing
    • total of 20 FTP – hiring industry veterans exiting from traditional ILS companies
  • Equinox (founded 2007)
    • contracts to GA PINES library system
  • Care Affiliates (founded 2007)
    • recently formed founded by Carl Grant
  • Media Flex (longstanding company)
  • Duke is working on a proposal to create an open source ILS
  • …there are others afoot


Explosive interest in open source is being driven by the disillusionment with current vendors. Given this, Marshall makes the point that the open source ILS would be where it is if it wasn’t for what was happening on the other end of things. Open source allows for more flexible systems and lower costs (however, Marshall still feels that total cost of ownership is the same between the two over the long haul). With open source libraries are less vulnerable to the mergers and acquisitions that are happening in the proprietary world.

Cost Issues

  • cost shifted – no license fee
  • hardware
  • vendor support
  • hosting
  • conversion
  • local technical support
  • development costs
  • open source vendors should come up with a total cost of ownership report to show us that open source is really cheaper

Open source risk factors

Marshall still thinks that open source is a risky alternative because of a dependency on community organizations and commercial companies to provide development and support services. I’d argue that this is a reason that open source is less risky – with a community of developers and support services you’re more likely to find someone to help you out if your vendor goes under. That said, Marshall admits that the other side is risky too!

All that said the interest in open source (and the market share) is relatively low.


What he’s looking for is a new system (aren’t we all) – built for how libraries are today. This is not an open source system that does what our systems already do today. In short, we have a long way to go on both fronts – both open and closed source.

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