Running the Library, Technology

Tales of Migration, Part 3
In Which We Narrow the Field Further.

This is the third in a series covering the library system migration of the Bartlett Library at the Museum of International Folk Art. Start with Part 1 and Part 2.

At this point in the Bartlett Library’s decision-making process I knew two things. We couldn’t afford the big-name products. We wanted a “hosted” system, meaning our data would be maintained and backed up at the vendor’s site on the vendor’s server and we would access it over the Internet.

This left us with two options. First, we could go with a small company with its own proprietary product. Unfortunately, the company in this category which looked best from the review sources mentioned in our last post was off-limits to us. Biblionix maintains its excellence in the small and medium-sized public library arena in part by working only with small and medium-sized public libraries. As a special research library, the Bartlett Library couldn’t go there. We did look at some of the other options in this group, but we wound up choosing option two, which is vendors offering hosted versions of open source software.

If you aren’t familiar with the open source concept, you will find a good definition here:
http://opensource.org/osd.

There are two major open source library systems widely available today, Evergreen and Koha. There are various companies that offer hosting services using these two systems.

Of course, if you have a dedicated IT staff to help, and a skilled Systems Librarian on your side, you could download the open source code for free and implement it all on-site for “free” (that is, not counting the costs of the server, the IT staff, the Systems Librarian…). I’ve never had that sort of luxury; hosting and support for me! It’s important when you begin to research the pros and cons of open source to understand that the download-and-maintain-yourself style of open source system use is a world apart from the hosted-and-supported model.

So here is our statement of the rationale for our choice of a hosted open-source product:

  • Cost: open-source software is maintained by a community, so installation and maintenance costs may be less than half those of proprietary software
  • Flexibility: if a provider of open-source software support decides to leave the business or discontinue support, it is comparatively easy to switch vendors
  • Customization: specialized research libraries require very different cataloguing and search settings from most libraries, and open-source software provides the best customization for us.

Your decision may well be different, since relatively few of us inhabit special-libraryland, but the process of deciding is similar. The broad groups of choice are:

  1. Large companies with complex, expensive proprietary products that may do wonderful things for those who can afford them
  2. Smaller companies with proprietary products, tending either to fill a special niche or to offer a reduced set of services and customization options at a more affordable price than the big guys
  3. Open source software you customize and/or maintain to some degree in-house
  4. Open source software that is customized/maintained to some degree by a vendor and hosted on your server at your library
  5. Open source software that is customized, maintained, and hosted off-site for you by a vendor.

We picked option 5. Next time: how we chose the vendor.