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2023 Library Systems Report | The advance of open source systems

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  1. AugustusFerdinand

    In recent years, business acquisitions have brought high-stakes changes to the library technology industry, creating seismic shifts in the balance of power. But other events in 2022—primarily advances in open source software—have even bigger implications for the market. Although proprietary products continue to dominate, open source alternatives are becoming increasingly competitive.

    Interest in open systems has been growing within the library world for at least 15 years, and recent procurements reflect important breakthroughs. The selection of the open source library services platform (LSP) FOLIO by Library of Congress (LC), the MOBIUS consortium, the National Library of Australia, and others has solidified FOLIO’s position as a major competitor in the market. With 1,575 installations for Koha, ByWater Solutions has become one of the strongest competitors for mid-sized and large public libraries in the US. Public libraries are increasingly turning to Aspen Discovery for a replacement catalog interface.

    Most libraries still use proprietary software for their core systems. In the US, about 10% of academic libraries and 17% of public libraries use an open source integrated library system (ILS). But the barriers to these products—real and perceived—have largely collapsed. Functionality gaps have narrowed across major open source products like Koha, Evergreen, and now FOLIO, after long periods of development. To remain competitive, proprietary systems will have to deliver similar interoperability, innovation, and flexible APIs at moderate pricing. Ultimately, libraries will not choose products based on an abstract preference for a development model. The success of any product will depend on a vendor’s demonstrated performance in delivering exceptional customer service.

    The pandemic did not necessarily slow libraries in the selection and implementation of new systems. Rather, many libraries were already in a holding pattern, deferring selection of major systems until the dust settled on major industry events. In previous years, FOLIO was anticipated as a viable alternative system, but many academic libraries held off on choosing it pending more evidence. Now that FOLIO has met critical thresholds of functionality and sustainability, interest in the system extends beyond organizations favoring open source solutions. FOLIO is now part of the competitive arena of routine procurement for academic and research libraries.

    With all the cards now on the table, we can anticipate a new wave of procurements among academic libraries that have held onto legacy ILS products. This next round will include consideration of FOLIO along with proprietary products Alma and WorldShare Management Services.

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