Resources for libraries exploring the open source option

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Freer than free, opener than open: The fight for the learning management systems

Libraries of all types have the same questions about open source software that are asked by technologists in other fields. Does open source make sense for me? What open source packages mesh well with the skills already in my organization? Where can I go to get training, documentation, hosting, and/or contract software development for a specific open source package?

With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we set out to build tools that help libraries answer these questions. These questions and answers may be useful to others as well.

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In 2012, LYRASIS launched the FOSS4Lib site with this tag line: "Helping libraries decide if and which open source software is right for them." With that tag line, you could probably guess that the site has two overarching components. The first is a set of decision support tools that help libraries decide if open source is right for them. Libraries are encouraged to start with a 40 question survey that helps them think about the way they run software. And because many smaller libraries do not have in-house IT support, another tool lists a series of questions they can ask their IT support provider. We know that open source is free to adopt but not free of costs, so we also provide descriptions of factors that libraries should track to create a clearer understanding of how the cost of open source compares to proprietary solutions. Lastly, libraries need a software selection methodology that puts open source on par with proprietary options.

Open source options and decision-making tools

The second part of the FOSS4Lib site is a registry of open source packages for libraries and related to libraries. There are, of course, many such registries out there; this one is for software specific to libraries and describes software using terms that libraries would use. We built the registry based on a similar tool from the neuroimaging informatics field. The registry is like an open wiki—anyone can sign up for an account, then add and edit information that they know about software packages, releases, events, and service providers.

Updates of registry information are available through RSS feeds and are automatically posted to Twitter. The software registry is just that—pointers to software packages and their communities’ resources. We realized that sites like GitHub, SourceForge, Google Code, and the like are already providing hosting sites for projects. We want the registry to be the one place a person could go to find details about open source projects for libraries no matter where the projects are hosted.

Coming soon to the FOSS4Lib site is a series of case studies on how libraries made the decision to adopt open source and documents from an upcoming symposium on how open source projects in cultural heritage organizations can find sustainability. Keep watch on the site announcements through the RSS feed or Twitter account @FOSS4Lib for details.

FOSS4Lib is built using open source

And, of course, FOSS4Lib is built using open source. We use the Drupal content management system and customized it with the content types and functionality needed to make the registry useful. Although the grant funding has ended, LYRASIS—a non-profit association of libraries in the United States—is committed to maintaining the site for the benefit of all.

Libraries have a natural affinity to fundamental tenants of the open source community. Both recognize the power of collective action and the value that open communication brings to a community. Each sees the benefit of building on the work of others and the importance of taking steps to make that happen. FOSS4Lib is a bridge between these two communities.

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Peter Murray is the Assistant Director for Technology Services Development at LYRASIS, the nation’s largest regional membership organization serving libraries and information professionals. He received a MLIS from Simmons College and a Bachelor of Science degree in Systems Analysis from Miami University.

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