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Comparison of Technical Support for Open Source vs Proprietary Integrated Library Systems

Principal Investigator: 

Dr. Vandana Singh
Assistant Professor
University of Tennessee
School of Information Sciences
449 Communications Building
1345 Circle Park Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996

Grant or Funding Agency: 

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

Project Description:

This project will compare open-source integrated library systems (ILS) and the level of technical support required to support the systems.  In analyzing the levels of support necessitated by the ILS package, this project seeks to improve understanding within the library community of the maintenance and management costs and support associated with a system that is essential to the function and management of the organization.

Project Abstract:

The OSS Lib Tech project will be carried out over a period of three years, starting in August 2009 and ending in July 2012. This project will develop a better understanding of open source integrated library systems and compare them to proprietary integrated library systems, specifically focusing on technical support. The need to gain a better understanding of the potential uses and capabilities of open source software in libraries has been at the forefront of discussion in the meetings of librarians for almost a decade. In the last few years, the increasing presence of open source software systems for libraries has led to a great deal of experimentation, and great progress has been made in developing very successful open source ILS systems such as Koha and Evergreen. Also, catering to the problem of a “lack of technical support” for open source software has led to the development of an alternative business model for open source software. In this model, the software source code and licensing is obtained for free by the libraries while commercial companies (such as LibLime for Koha and Equinox for Evergreen) provide technical support for adoption, implementation and maintenance of OSS ILS. the presence and success of these companies show that librarians want to adopt open source products to avail the benefits of customization, flexibility, the lack of vendor lock-in, and other OSS specific advantages. However, along with this flexibility, libraries also need support for implementing and adopting open source integrated library systems.

The project will provide a thorough comparison of the technical support available for open source software (OSS) and proprietary software and will develop guidelines for librarians interested in adoption of open source software. This type of comparative study will replace the existing anecdotal and alleged claims about the technical support available for OSS systems. The comparison will verify if the vendors of proprietary software are, in reality, able to provide the support that librarians need and if that support is the only choice available for librarians. Also, this comparison examines whether the technology expectations of librarians are different for open source and proprietary software. Furthermore, this project will strengthen the understanding of open source software options when compared to proprietary integrated library systems (ILS). The researchers believe that this is the right time for investing in such a project, and the results of this project will provide timely evidence-based information to the librarians of today and tomorrow.

The open source software integrated library systems (OSS ILS) have mechanisms which allow members of their communities to contact each other for technical support, primarily via emails, mailing lists, and discussion groups. These user based communities are voluntary communication forums where users help their peers find solutions to their problems. It is the objective of this research project to understand the help-seeking and help-giving in these OSS communities and compare that to the help-seeking and help-giving for proprietary software ILS. Along with the answers to the research questions, this research project will deliver tangible benefits to the community of librarians by providing a resource-oriented website to help professionals with the decision making process regarding ILS adoption. The project will also develop implementation plans for different types and sizes of libraries. These implementation plans will provide information such as the level of technical expertise required by the libraries to adopt open source integrated library systems. The researchers believe that the successful completion of this project will change the attitude of librarians towards open source software for libraries and eradicate myths about technical support for open source software.


Project Website: