Open source library software, for which the makers have made their source code accessible for modification and distribution, is marketed as a cheap or even free substitute for buying licenses for library software. But is free or inexpensive open source library software truly an option?
When you consider that software service providers can charge for distributing and supplying open source software, and that you still need to pay for support, training and development costs it becomes clear that open source is not free at all. The cost comparison table below shows the typical costs involved in running a library system.
The upfront license payments are significantly lower as compared to typical capital purchases for perpetual licensing rights as more library system providers adopt the “Program As A Service” (SaaS) model, where the software is hosted by the vendor. Instead, consumers pay yearly and continuing fees for support, development, hosting, and training services. Despite the fact that open source library software may be downloaded or used online for free, librarians often need to either have access to in-house technical knowledge or to pay for services from an outside service provider. Here, it becomes clearer how open source service providers and suppliers of library systems are related.
Open source software is marketed as having a strong sense of community, being more reliable, and having a quick turnaround time for new development requests. Their release schedules frequently resemble those of vendor library systems in practice. Librarians might be unaware of how difficult the development procedures are for library software and how a committed team is required to make sure the end product is a cohesive whole. Many host user groups and webinars to promote this consultation process. Software providers are receptive to their community and will develop to their users’ needs.
The ability to construct custom software for the library’s needs using open source library software may be available. This strategy is not without expenses and hazards. The library either engaged internal developers or hired an external developer, even though the software they produce meets their specific criteria. I’ve seen businesses invest two years in creating software, yet neglect to account for the developer’s pay when weighing the pros and cons of using open-source software vs buying licenses.
The second issue with custom development is that when an organization has to switch to a new operating system or database platform, the development work will need to be reviewed or redone. If a programmer has departed in the interim and taken their expertise with them, this is very concerning.
In the end, open source library software that is internally supported may be a choice for a company with extra IT capacity, but it’s uncommon to find an IT staff that is not overworked with many individuals vying for their attention. You can access employees whose main responsibility is to support the library software by investing in external services from an open source vendor or a seller of library systems.
Above all things, a provider of library systems might offer to split the expense of development and support among all of its clients. In the end, the licensing prices may be cheaper for open source vendors than for library software suppliers, but both types of vendors still need to maintain their income from high-value development and support services. The customer’s decision on library software should take into account the product’s functionality, total cost, IT platform, level of support and services, and long-term sustainability.