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MLA 2008: Free & Open Source Software – Benefits and Hidden Costs October 8, 2008

Posted by cynhudson in Innovation in Libraries, Library Stuff.
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This session was presented by Steven Pryor, Technology Manager at SLU Pius Library.  As the title suggests, Steven’s session presented the pros & cons, major providers, and examples of the use of free, open source software in the library setting.

Steven began his session by indicating the differences between three common types of free/open software:

  • free software:  allows an individual to download, use, and alter source code without paying.  Allows the individual to do whatever they want with the software as long as it doesn’t limit others.
  • open source:  not necessarily free, but does provide source code for adaptation
  • freeware:  software that is free to use

He talked about how free, open source software essentially provides users freedom to redistribute, security & reliability (many users error checking code), flexibility (to modify), and affordability (no cost for software download and use).

Major disadvantages of free, open source software include the possible difficulty in the setup and installation, the steep learning curve, little tech support, and obsolesce.

Steven provided some examples of open source software:

  • LINUX – open source operating system w/different distributions (such as Ubuntu, Red Hat, Trustix Secure Linux)
  • MySQL – open source server database
  • Apache – open source webserver
  • PHP – dynamic webpages
  • Firefox – open source browser
  • OpenOffice.org – open source office suite software (word-processing, spreadsheets, databases, etc.)
  • Koha, Evergreen, Blacklight– open source ILS
  • Vufind, Libraryfind – open source catalog overlays
  • Textcite – citation manager
  • Moodle – course/class management system

SLU is currently using a number of open-source software products including WordPress, Mediawiki, Big Brother Systems Monitor, Webcalendar, and RAKIM (chat reference).  Other examples include the University of Virginia, which is currently using Blacklight, an open source OPAC.  Georgia Public Library is using the Evergreen ILS and  Oregon State University is instituting LibraryFind.

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