Library Automation – where are we?

It is always worth reading Marshall Breeding’s analysis of the happenings in the Library automation business, and his recent offering Automation Marketplace 2011:The New Frontier is no exception. We’ve been hearing about some of the new offerings for some time, so it was useful to hear about who has decided to take a gamble on Ex Libris’s Alma and OCLC’s Web Scale Management Services, the first of the new generation of systems to be taken up.

At a meeting I attended today, there was some discussion about some Australian libraries signing up to be early adopters as well.

One thing puzzles me.

With the growth in open source, and in particular with Kuali OLE appearing on the horizon, why would a Library lock themselves into an agreement with any company to be an early adopter of one of these systems, when the potential of a completely new approach to library systems is just around the corner? I know that you shouldn’t wait for timing to be perfect in the technology market or you may never get anything, but is any Library so desparate for a new system right now that they can’t wait a couple of years to see if open source delivers?

We have seen some significant pronouncements about open source adoption in Australian. As long ago as 2007, NSLA (National and State Libraries of Australasia) produced The Big Bang which stated

NSLA Libraries will encourage collecting institutions in their state or territory to implement open source.

We saw NLA lead by example with the implementation of vufind.

More recently, in a policy approved in December 2010 and circulated  in January 2011, the Australian Government informed agencies of the requirement to consider open source software in all software procurements .

We’ve seen a number of Australian universities moving to Moodle as their Learning Management System, so all the groundwork has been done in terms of developing policies and risk assessments for moving to open source.

So why throw away the option of freeing your library from the constraints imposed by vendors that we have all complained about for decades, and of moving to an environment where we could make our systems client centred? This really smells like a vendor locking in customers before we all jump ship. All I can say is it must have been a really good deal.

 I’d rather put my faith in Brad Wheeler and co. 

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