The Catalog Under Scrutiny – Part 2, Open Source and the ILS
Before we look at the potential for an open-source ILS, let's take a quick look at open-ource in general. Wikipedia's article on open source provides a good entry point and provides a definition here. If you follow the links you'll get a good picture of the open-source movement and some of the key players. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that philosophy behind open-source is to free users from the tyranny of proprietary software. Microsoft, perhaps? With open-source software, the users can make improvements, add functionality, fix bugs, etc. I use a open-source product at home — OpenOffice. OpenOffice is an effective alternative to Microsoft Office that runs on a variety of operating systems: Windows, Linux, Apple OS X. It even comes with a nifty portable version that will run off a thumb drive. Check it out.
Another open-source product is the operating system Linux. We haven't reached a tipping point where there are the applications to make Linux practical in a distributed environment such as ours but the potential is there.
There has been some movement among governments to force the issue. Brazil, for example, would like to transform itself "… into a tech-savvy nation where everyone from schoolchildren to government bureaucrats uses open-source software instead of costly Windows products." The state of Maine also made Microsoft nervous by expressing an interest in moving to open-source solutions. Think about what would happen if one of the big dogs, like China,decided to go open-source. And don't forget the European Union which isn't happy with Microsoft's lack of openness.
So how does this affect libraries? No one like everything about their ILS. This vendor has a really good serials module, that one excels in acquisitions, another has a really great cataloging module, and nobody is really happy with any OPAC (see part one of this series). We are at the mercy of the vendors' development cycle for changes.
What if there was an open-source ILS and modules could be written/modified/fixed by users. There is some movement in that direction.
The University of Rochester has a Mellon Grant to study "how best to develop an open-source online system that can unify access to traditional and digital library resources." They have the eXtensible Catalog (XC) blog if you want to follow their activities.
On the nuts and bolts level, one organization has been working on just such a product. The Georgia Library PINES Program is a consortium that didn't like any available ILS and embarked on a project named Evergreen to develop an open -source ILS. Their main website is Open-ILS.org. The actually have a product to demonstrate and you can try the current stable version of the Evergreen OPAC. The latest and greatest but not necessarily stable version is here.
Open-source doesn't mean that there would no longer be vendors. a vendor can take an open-source application and brand it as Red Hat did with Linux. Red Hat's big revenue generator is support.
I'm going to follow the U. of Rochester's study and the Georgia PINES project pretty carefully looking for signs of the technological cavalry coming to save us.