Librarians, developers push open-source alternative

ONL project will provide services to library users

Librarians, information managers and open-source developers have founded a formal collaborative initiative, Open Network Libraries (ONL), aimed at providing services to library users and staff through the use of open source software.

Parts of the library sector here are already developers and users of open-source software. One such development is the locally-developed Koha library management system, which has thousands of users internationally but not many in this country.

There is already a community around open-source library software, says Don Christie of open-source developer Catalyst IT, but it is developer-focused. The support and marketing around Koha and related products is not well coordinated, he suggests.

ONL is an attempt to remedy that shortcoming, making New Zealand’s libraries more aware of the existence and potential of open-source software in the field.

ONL was “created to enable libraries to collaborate on the shared goal of serving their communities better,” says its website (www.onl.org.nz). “We advocate the use of free and open-source tools so that libraries can spend money on books, not on licence fees.”

Earlier this year, when the National Library began a shared-services project for libraries, a Computerworld article in June sparked industry comment that the National Library was “reinventing the wheel”, with some of the commentators mentioning Koha.

Catalyst became involved with the library community when one of the key Koha developers, Chris Cormack, joined the company and brought some colleagues with him. Catalyst now has its own internal Koha developer community, Christie says.

The contrast with Kotui and Koha is between proprietary and open software, as well as between Kotui’s centralised system and Koha’s “federated” model. With the federated model libraries cooperate, but retain independence in choosing their own priorities, Christie says.

“Not all libraries need what the National Library needs,” he claims.

Other cornerstones of ONL’s software repertoire are Kete, a collaboration tool allowing libraries to share digital content, the Ubuntu operating system and the Drupal content management system.

National Library deputy chief executive Sue Sutherland says a shortlist of potential suppliers for Kotui has been drawn up. She declines to say how many are on the list, though a final decision should be made before the end of the year.

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