It’s kind of amazing to me that after over fifteen years in this business, I’m looking at a situation that pretty much hasn’t changed for small libraries looking for an automation system. There wasn’t much available for them at a reasonable cost back then, and there is even less today. Go ahead. Show me where I’m wrong.
Seriously, a small library, a small public library, one that is supported, sometimes begrudgingly, by (too often non-existent) local public funds, does not have a lot to spend on annual fees for a library automation system. They have even less to spend on a tech person who could install and maintain one of the FLOSS options. And even if they do, there’s still the recurring cost of a web server to put it online. O.K., maybe they could tie into the local government’s web server, assuming the local government entity has one (probably a “yes” in the U.S., but not in other parts of the world).
I actually did a complete retrospective conversion at a library years ago. It was a special library that had the funds to support a quality system. I was shocked and horrified at the “system” (basically a giant word processing document) that was being used to track titles. There was no mechanism to track costs. I have since come to appreciate the efforts of librarians in small libraries doing the best they can with what they have, and with the skill sets they have, to manage their collections. Hello, World: librarians are amazing, and you should throw money at them, because they do amazing things with your resources.
So, in the history of library systems, the first stop is Marshall Breeding’s excellent record of what was, what is, and who ate up whom. Although this doesn’t cover everything being used out there, it does give an interesting picture of the developing landscape. I was surprised and amazed that the Georgia Public Library Service, back in 2004, chose to build its own automation system (Evergreen) for libraries in the state rather than use one of the existing systems. There was, of course, Koha, out of New Zealand. But that one got mired in nasty disputes over code and trademarks. So far, so good, with Evergreen (keeping fingers crossed)
Next stop is Wikipedia’s list of Next-Generation library systems, especially the Comparison chart, but you might want to scan through the brief explanation of what Next-Generation means here. The list is notable, because it includes both large systems and systems smaller libraries can use. But note that these are all web-based systems. Some of them, however, can function on a stand-alone basis, on the desktop. This is important, because the most basic need of libraries is library management software. Getting it on the web is secondary to librarians (although not to their patrons, of course).
So let’s take a stab at what some of the possibilities are for small (mostly) underfunded libraries today. There are two perspectives to consider here: libraries with staff that are systems-capable, and libraries with limited or no staff capable of managing the backend of a system.
In the first category (libraries with systems-capable staff), we have, first, systems that have a stand-alone option,
and second, systems that are add-ons to content management systems a library may be using, or have access to, for their web site (so far, I’m only seeing Drupal modules, are there any others out there?).
In the second category, it’s pretty bleak without (1) hiring someone, or a service, to set up a system, or (2) a funding stream to pay annual fees. In the first case I refer back to one of the four above that can be installed on a stand-alone basis. After installation, training would probably be required as well, despite the documentation. In the second case, LibraryWorld seems to have a loyal following around the world. I haven’t had an opportunity to look at it recently, so I don’t really have anything to say about it (yet). Feel free to add comments below about your experience with it.
But LibraryWorld is a closed system, and if you are looking for something open source, there are
- PMB Services (uses phpMyBibli)
- OPALS (they say they are open source, but I don’t see a download link – the acid test of open source)
There are, of course, larger open source systems, which may work for a consortium of libraries: one of the Koha versions, and Evergreen come to mind. Both have companies that will install and customize the system.
Finally, there is LibraryThing, which is oddly ignored by everyone except those who want their collections online for their patrons and have no other way to do that. Granted it is limited in terms of collection management: checkouts? reports? But it can work, because it is, actually, a next-generation cataloging system. It’s online, it’s searchable, it’s fairly easy to add resources, the cataloging options are wide open (if that’s how you want to characterize keywords). And even though the amount of resources that can be entered free of charge is limited (with the option for more space requiring a small fee), most small library collections are pretty small. Best of all, it’s accessible by difference devices. All we need is apps that extend the basic functionality offered with a LibraryThing account.
So here I am, looking for viable library management software options for small libraries outside of the U.S., and this is what I’ve come up with. Give my some feedback, library world. Which of the options above are worth taking a longer look at?