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Consolidation vs Open Source

By Rogan Hamby, Data and Project Analyst at Equinox Open Library Initiative

Acquisitions and consolidations are nothing new in the library world. Still, each one triggers a wave of shock and Marshall Breeding gets a chance to update his very illuminating graphic showing mergers and acquisitions: There are always promises of long term benefits to the customer when their ILS is acquired. However, the only thing the customer is sure to get are press releases and uncertainty.

The cause of uncertainty is simple – the future of your ILS is in doubt. Unless the two products are for very different parts of the market, the acquiring vendor is likely to phase out one as redundant. It may be gradual and gentle and may not start for years but it will happen so long as as developing and supporting different products is an additional cost rather than additional revenue.

For libraries that value stability and don’t want to be subject to the whims of the market, open source ILSes, especially Evergreen and Koha, are bedrocks of constance. Open source is a collection of licenses that say the code is freely available to use and expand upon. You can use that granted right without expiration, use the software forever, no uncertainty, no loopholes. Still, who guarantees the future? Times change and ILSs have to adapt. A stable ILS is one that will be supported for the foreseeable future.  You should be able to adopt an ILS and expect to get ten years out of it. So, who does the development, who pushes forward, who in essence takes the place of an ILS corporation? Again, here open source wins because the answer is easy: the community.

A community is a broad idea but that breadth is a part of a healthy open source community. In a recent informal poll the Evergreen community reported adding 64 new libraries in 2019.  Stability is also reflected in the investment those libraries make. For example, look at the release notes for Koha and Evergreen as each gets several new versions every year – each with substantial community investment from user libraries. Looking at a recent release of Evergreen alone the release  had contributions from 32 coders and documentation writers. Seven institutions funded development and fourteen contributed the time of employees resulting in 36 new features. These releases are twice a year plus monthly bug fixes. That’s a heck of a lot of development team with a breadth of input, testing and documentation.

There is another element of course – support. Most ILS vendors offer support as well as the software itself. Access to open source software is not controlled but companies do offer hosting and support. It is possible for a hosting or service company to merge but even then your ILS can’t go away. Simply put, you can change to another service provider – use uninterrupted.

In sum, open source offers more security and options to allow continuity of service putting control in the hands of the library though inalienable privileges. Increasingly  our society libraries are a safety net. Safety nets should be steady and unmoving and they can not do that if they are held captive by the business whims of others.

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