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Open library systems

Open library system – a new perspective**. Ken Chad. Higher Education Library Technology [HELibTech] Briefing Paper No. 7, May 2022.

In the last decade or so open source software became a defining factor in how librarians perceived ‘open’ library systems. Open source library systems such as Koha gained market share were often seen in terms of a ‘battle’ with the more common proprietary solutions. With the rise of cloud computing, software ‘platforms’ have come to dominate. Because the solution is hosted in the cloud, rather than implemented on local servers, the underlying technology becomes of less concern. These platforms, including Library Services Platforms (LSPs) typically embrace open source components and combine them with proprietary solutions. The value of a ‘platform’, as opposed to a software ‘product’ comes not only from its own features, but from its ability to connect to external solutions, data, and processes. To do this it needs to be ‘open’ in terms of data and the ability to integrate, via (typically open) application programming Interfaces (APIs), with other products which may be developed by customers or provided by other independent software vendors (ISVs). This, open interoperability, perspective is now a more fruitful way to consider open library systems.

Open library systems – a new perspective Presentation at the UKSG conference May 2022
Over the last decade or so, open-source software became, for many, the chief factor in defining open library systems. This paper argues the need for a new, wider perspective on open library systems.

Open Source - general background

By Ben Showers. Jisc 10 September 2013
From the post:
What are the main benefits to the library of adopting open source? There are some well known benefits that open source could bring to libraries, these include:
Lower costs: Open source offers a lower total cost of ownership than traditional library systems. There are none of the traditional license costs associated with open source. Libraries are able take advantage of the reduced costs the cloud offers by reducing local support and hosting costs (if it is supported and hosted by a third party).
No lock-in: Libraries are, in a sense, removed from the traditional lock-in associated with library systems. There is a greater opportunity to pick and choose components, and take advantage of what is, generally, better interoperability with open source solutions. Related to this is also the idea that open source is more sustainable: If a vendor goes out of business the software may disappear or be sold-on. With open it is always available, and there is usually a community involved in it to continue its development.
• Adaptation and Innovation: Connected to the above is the greater capacity that libraries have to innovate with open systems and software. There is no need to await the next update or release, instead in either isolation or collaboratively, can develop the functionality required. This enables much more agile services and systems, as well as ensuring user expectations are exceeded.
• A richer library systems ecosystem: A less direct impact of open source is a richer library systems ecosystem. This is both in terms of the library solutions available (a healthier marketplace with both proprietary and open solutions) and in terms of collaboration and engagement between libraries themselves. Libraries are able to collaborate and share code on the functionality and fixes they require. Indeed, there are open source systems such as Evergreen, which were developed as an open source library system for a consortial approach.

While these benefits are the headline grabbing ones, it might be argued there are more subtle, but none the less powerful benefits in the adoption of open source in libraries, especially within higher and further education. There are broader trends and themes emerging (and some fairly well entrenched) within the new information environment that make open source particularly timely for libraries. These developments include: open (linked) data; managing research data; open scholarship and science; Open content such as OERs; crowdsourcing, and, of course, open access. Open source solutions for the library fit very well into this broader open momentum affecting the academic world at present. Away from the academic world it is difficult not to notice the close correlation between the open, learning, sharing and peer-production culture libraries embody and that of the open source culture.So it may be that one of the greatest benefits of adopting open source is that it mirrors the very philosophy and values of the library itself.

Open Source library systems

Wilson, Robert and Mitchell, James. Open source library systems: a guide. 2021. Rowman & Littlefield, Maryland

There are several open-source discovery and library management systems. In terms of discovery Blacklight was released in 2009, VuFind in 2010 and Aspen in 2019. More recently, the community open-source Project Reshare is developing a solution for resource sharing. From a higher education (HE) perspective the most significant library management systems (LMS/ILS) are Koha and FOLIO.


Although Koha has been around since 1999/2000, it did not figure in the higher education library landscape in the UK or US until a decade later. This was largely because ‘it lacked basic requirements (such as support for MARC records and record transfer through Z39.50), and it had only minimal capabilities for acquisitions, serials management, and other areas of functionality’. These gaps were filled and, in the UK, Staffordshire University was the first to implement it in 2011.

Koha was a web-based system from the start, which gave it a competitive edge over some other ILSs. Nevertheless, in functional terms, Koha is a conventional library system with a focus on the management of print materials. Electronic resource management capabilities are generally supported by integration with the separate open-source CORAL system. In terms of discovery, it does not support a central index (of typically ejournal content) so, where that is a requirement, libraries use it in conjunction with a proprietary discovery service such as EDS or Summon.


The alpha version of the FOLIO (‘Future of Libraries Is Open’) library system was released in January 2018. It claims to move ‘beyond the traditional library management system to a new paradigm, where apps are built on an open platform’. It is framed as a fundamentally new type of library platform, with ‘open source software, modular components, and a microservices-based technical infrastructure’. It can be considered the first open source library services platform (LSP). The Open Library Foundation, an independent not-for-profit organisation, hosts the project and the software company Index Data developed the initial platform. The initiative received, and continues to receive, ‘significant financial contributions’ from for-profit EBSCO.

FOLIO followed the demise of the earlier Kuali OLE (Open Library Environment) project that was active from 2007 to 2016. The Kuali OLE software was only implemented in three institutions: University of Chicago, Lehigh University, and SOAS Library of the University of London. The Open Library Environment organisation, which managed the Kuali OLE project, has shifted its efforts from building its own software to supporting the FOLIO project.

Open Source ERM systems

Open source solutions for Electronic Resource management are not so widely adopted for the management of e-resources and for print (ie LMS/ILS). Here are some examples:


CORAL is an electronic resource management system initially started by the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries'. CORAL website


Brief review: 'Open source ERM through ERMes' By Alexander Kouker. Libfocus blog 29 June 2012

Additional Resources

McGarvey V, Staffordshire University’s Koha journey: taking an integrated approach to supporting an open source library management system, Insights, 2018, 31: 21, 1–7; DOI:

The FOLIO Open Source Library Services Platform. Tamir Borensztajn. EBSCO 2021.

Open Source Software. Navigating the ecosystem. Marshall Breeding. American Libraries. 1 November 2017

open_source.txt · Last modified: 2024/02/27 06:25 by paul