Day 3, Future of Open Source

Today was the last day, and things were left sort of open-ended in the final track that I attended (Future of Open Source). Clearly what has emerged between yesterday’s sessions and today’s is that we are desperately in need of next generation library systems, both front-end and back-end (the catalog and the ILS). However, the future of emergent technologies is uncertain. At the moment, everyone is looking toward open source as a sort of savior. Very few libraries are actually using open source technologies at the moment. This is the biggest difficulty for libraries–evaluating the success/failure of a particular system.

The pluses of open source systems (such as Koha and Evergreen) are that they are free to download and free to use, as well as free to tinker with and adapt as you like. However, the biggest issue with open source is tech support. To successfully run open source software and to configure it to your library’s needs you need to have an in-house programmer.

Companies have evolved that aim to fulfill this need for libraries who don’t have on-site support (i.e. LibLime, Equinox Software), however, the big concern is how are these companies poised to grow. According to the data presented at the third session of the day, LibLime’s customer base has increased 400% since 2005. They currently have 18 employees on staff. They are growing, and hiring many industry veterans, but can they handle explosive growth? If our library hires them, can they still support us 1 year from now or will we have the same issues with them that we have with our current ILS? (Which is Innovative Interfaces Millennium, who are horribly unresponsive—which is the same complaint I received from other people I spoke to at the conference who use them). Faced with these concerns, can we afford to move full-speed ahead, hire LibLime and have a system based on a technology with an uncertain future? Or is the future of open source that uncertain? Perhaps the open source concept is there, just the way libraries deal with the support issue need to be addressed. I think that we need to watch companies like LibLime and Equinox and see how they handle further growth. Conference impressions: I’m returning home with some interesting things to think about, and some more I’d like to research further. I’d call that a success. However, I found that a lot of the sessions were misrepresented in the booklet and were definitely geared toward academic libraries rather than public libraries. Also, 45 min. sessions were really not enough time for the presenters, and the fact that in quite a few sessions multiple presenters were asked to split the time did not help. A full hour for sessions would be better. I’ll wrap this up by filling out the handy-dandy little evaluation form they gave us in the welcome packet.

I’ll be returning home tomorrow, and back to work next week, feeling a bit more confident about moving into the future, but with a whole lot more questions about what that future might entail.

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