Why open-source library software is a trend

The district reviewed both proprietary and open-source library management systems, and in the end went with Koha because library staff felt it was the strongest product, Bourgoin said.

“One obvious big benefit is the flexibility–we can customize literally everything,” he said. “The options are mind-boggling.  We’re eventually hoping to build a local support system with other schools [in our area] that are using it.”

“It’s been an interesting journey with Koha with a fairly steep learning curve, but overall, we feel quite positive about the benefits and the direction forward,” said Carolyn Mauger, a K-8 library media specialist with MSAD No. 35.

Mauger estimated that the district’s libraries house 63,000 books.

Many librarians and library media specialists report that open-source software has become more mainstream in recent years.

“Over the last couple years, we’ve seen products that we feel are at the enterprise level, the integrated library systems we have available are more friendly, and people are familiar with the concept of open source because of [software like] Firefox,” said Jessamyn West, a community technologist in Randolph, Vt.

“It’s really trickling down to the average user who wants to save some money.”

A combination of events, including the consolidation of the library automation market, led to the emergence of open-source integrated library systems and has caused them to gain more popularity.

“There are fewer and fewer companies that are gaining a larger market share,” West said.

For example, Follett Software Co. in 2006 purchased Sagebrush Corp., which had merged with Winnebago Software in 2000.

Users who are in the market for an integrated library system (ILS) have fewer options, and companies that offer these products sometimes have less incentive to make prices competitive or to offer “extras” for free, school media specialists say.

And as open-source software becomes more accessible, it becomes less something reserved for a “techie” to handle and more something that someone with a bit of computer know-how and experience can implement, she said.