Open Source Integrated Library System in a Rural American Library System

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Last updated October 17, 2014.

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By John Brice and Cindy Murdock Ames

Many times the argument is made that a small sized library does not have the resources to do Open Source Software (OSS). This case study was written by a small library that made it happen because it believed that the future of library technology is OSS. Libraries should naturally embrace the OSS philosophy because it is the same philosophy that libraries have always followed: Working collaboratively to create, store, manage and share information.

Back in the 1960s an IT person working for a Fortune 500 company once said that no one ever got fired for selecting IBM as their IT infrastructure, meaning that if things went wrong, the IT person could not be held responsible. Today in the library world, the same philosophy is at work with libraries selecting proprietary integrated library systems (ILS) because it is safe, and if something goes wrong, it’s the vendor’s fault. Unfortunately, this philosophy has made it difficult to gain large amounts of ground for OSS ILS installations in America.

The following narrative describes the Meadville Public Library’s now 13-year odyssey of discovering, selecting and using the OSS Koha ILS. Through our adventures in using OSS we have always followed the philosophy that if something doesn’t work right to start with, we can fix it ourselves. It is fortunate that we have that philosophy, as we made numerous miscalculations and guesses that were just plain wrong. Our story can be used to help other libraries discover where the pitfalls lie, hopefully making future libraries’ adoption of OSS easier. The following case study is written with the intent to illuminate, educate and inspire others to consider installing OSS in their library.

In addition to this web format, the case study is available for download as ePUB and PDF.