27 Jun 2012

Free and Open Source Tools for Libraries

Recently the Computers in Libraries conference took place. One presentation that caught my attention was the Free and Open Source Tools presentation by Nicole E. Engard. As Open Source is far more cost effective than proprietary software, it has become an increasingly popular alternative for libraries. Engard outlines what Open Source entails:
  1. Open source software is software that users have the
    freedom to run, distribute, study and modify for any
  2. Open source is a collaborative software development
    method that harnesses the power of peer review and
    transparency of process to develop code that is freely
  3. Open source draws on an ecosystem of thousands of
    developers and customers all over the world to drive
A good Open Source alternatives to Microsoft Office is Libre Office. Its 'Writer' word processor has similar functionality to Microsoft Word. Libre Office also has spreadsheet, presentation, vector graphics editor and database management programmes.

Koha is an Open Source web based Integrated Library System with a highly configurable user interface with social media facilities built in. Evergreen is another Open Source alternative Integrated Library System which includes an OPAC as well as cataloguing, acquisitions and circulation modules.

Zotero is a superb free alternative to the likes of EndNote or RefWorks. This citation management software is now used in many academic libraries for students to cite and create bibliographies easily. A superb guide to Zotero can be found here.

Omeka is an interesting looking web publishing system for online digital archives that can create professional looking online exhibits for libraries' digital collections.

Finally, the presenter highlights the excellent Portable Apps service which enables users to install many Open Source apps on a memory stick and install them on different machines.

The full presentation can be seen below.


  1. Thanks Ronan. Whilst I use a lot of free web and software tools myself I would not necessarily agree that in all cases "Open Source is far more cost effective than proprietary software". Sometimes when you add on training and support costs, and the fact that some products are becoming more competitively priced, arguably there can be favourable cost:benefit ratios with some paid products. In congruence with Alex's previous post regarding Meebo suddenly disappearing and libraries being forced to find a new solution relatively quickly, sometimes the added functionality and certainty of supply is worth paying for, as the value outweighs the cost.

  2. ... indeed, open source alternatives ought to be critically appraised (especially when going for "mission critical" stuff like LMSs). It goes without saying that a perceived gain can turn sour rather quickly if adequate resources are not provided in-house to support an open source solution.

  3. There are some useful links and resources on the 'open source' page of SCONUL's Higher Education Library technology (HELibTech) wiki which also has a link to the useful (US) Lyrassis resource on open source. They say the following:

    'Open source software is a viable approach for libraries, with many either beginning to evaluate or implement open source as an alternative to commercial software. With so many open source software options out there, LYRASIS recognizes the need to help library staff determine the best and most cost-effective solutions. While most open source software is designed to be configurable and community supported, it can often be resource-dependent and time-intensive to implement.'

  4. Ken, many thanks for pointing towards HELibTech and http://www.lyrasis.org/.

  5. Glad you liked the talk and learned about new tools! One note, the link to Koha is http://koha-community.org the software you link to is not open source and the page is a bit deceiving.

  6. Thanks a lot for the comment Nicole and for clarifying the correct Koha link.