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IMLS funds $1 million for major Open Source ILS project

Smart Libraries Newsletter [November 2009]

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Copyright (c) 2009 ALA TechSource

Abstract: In a major boost for open source library automation, the Institute for Museums and Library Science has funded a grant proposal, Empowered by Open Source, to facilitate the adoption of open source automation software in libraries. Led by the King County Library System in Washington State, along with three other major public library systems, the $998,556 award will help create resources that will help libraries break away from proprietary ILS products and make the transition to open source alternatives. The institutions involved will match the IMLS funds with $1,014,400 of in-kind contributions. The grant was part of the $17.9 million distributed to 51 institutions as part of theNational Leadership Grants announced in September of 2009.


In a major boost for open source library automation, the Institute for Museums and Library Science has funded a grant proposal, Empowered by Open Source, to facilitate the adoption of open source automation software in libraries. Led by the King County Library System in Washington State, along with three other major public library systems, the $998,556 award will help create resources that will help libraries break away from proprietary ILS products and make the transition to open source alternatives. The institutions involved will match the IMLS funds with $1,014,400 of in-kind contributions. The grant was part of the $17.9 million distributed to 51 institutions as part of the National Leadership Grants announced in September of 2009.

As an IMLS demonstration grant, the processes developed by the King County Library System and the other participants will function as a roadmap for other libraries interested in following a similar course away from proprietary ILS to the open source alternatives. The deliverables of the grant-funded project will help establish open source library automation as a routine option and will address many of the obstacles that have stood in the way of the adoption of this approach by mainstream public libraries.

A key component of the three-year project is the creation of a network where libraries interested in or involved with open source library automation can share resources and experiences, building an ever-expanding body of assets. The grant proposal describes a model where libraries rely on each other throughout the process of implementing an open source library system, but where they also engage vendors as needed. The proposal argues against the business model of proprietary software, where a single vendor maintains exclusive control. This project focuses on public libraries only.

The proposal outlines four major goals:

  • promote the concept of open source software and articulate the benefits to all libraries of moving to an OSLS.
  • Increase participation in OSLS projects.
  • Make open source conversions a viable option for public libraries by providing infrastructure elements related to planning, implementation, training, development, and support.
  • Develop a new model of peer-to-peer support for open source libraries.

As one of the largest and busiest public libraries in the nation, the ability of the King County Library System to adopt an open source automation system will demonstrate the viability of this approach for public libraries of all stripes. It ranks as the second busiest public library system in the United States, with over 19 million circulation transactions annually, serves a population of 1.2 million, and holds collections that total 3.6 million items. Only Queens Borough Public Library, with its 23,041,425 circulation transactions, tops the King County Library System.

Prior to the award of this grant, King County Public Library already had the wheels in motion when it came to shifting from proprietary library automation to open source. It implemented Dynix in 1990 and migrated to Millennium from Innovative Interfaces in 2004. In 2007, the library issued a Request for Proposals for support services in the implementation of the open source Evergreen ILS, which was awarded to Equinox Software, the primary support vendor for this product. The Galecia Group has provided consulting services related to the Evergreen project, including the creation of functional specification and assistance in developing the RFP. The library expects to complete its migration from Millennium to Evergreen in 2010.

Other library systems named as partners in the proposal include the Peninsula Library System in California, the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan and the Orange County Library System in Florida. These three systems also currently use Millennium. All four partner institutions named in the grant are large multi-branch public library systems with high volumes of circulation. While many other public libraries have previously adopted open source ILS products, they have primarily been smaller libraries. Georgia PINES, for example is a very large consortium comprised primarily of small libraries. The institutions named in this grant extend the penetration of open source ILS into the highest tier of public libraries in terms of circulation volume and organizational complexity.

The Galecia Group will participate in the grant project as a consultant partner, providing project management, strategic technology perspectives, and other services.

The project aims to facilitate the adoption of open source library automation software in public libraries. The key assessment benchmark for the success of the project will be the number of public libraries that successfully move to open source as a result of its efforts.

Today, open source ILS represents a very small portion of the overall library automation marketplace. This project enables some increase in the potential growth of this segment. The institutions named in the grant, as well as those that will follow their roadmap, will amplify the already growing trend toward open source software for library automation.

Still, the companies offering proprietary ILS products continue to prosper. In the longer term, we can expect that a growing number of libraries will execute library automation strategies based on open source software. The competition will be vigorous, not only among different brands of automation products, but among many different business models and software designs. Today’s choices include open source (e.g. Evergreen and Koha) and proprietary license models (Millennium, SirsiDynix Symphony, Polaris, Library.Solution, etc.), traditional ILS products (Evergreen, Koha, SirsiDynix Symphony, Polaris, Library.Solution) and emerging new designs that conceptualize library automation in new and different ways (Ex Libris URM, OLE, OCLC WorldCat Local Cooperative Library System). This IMLS-funded project will bolster the open source approach, but this falls within the context of a variety of interesting options available to libraries. As the open source route becomes easier for libraries to traverse, those offering proprietary solutions will have to work ever harder to deliver products and services that libraries will deem valuable.

Publication Year:2009
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 29 Number 11
Issue:November 2009
Page(s):5-6
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
ISSN:1541-8820
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Record Number:14590
Last Update:2012-12-29 14:06:47
Date Created:2010-03-02 11:12:54