6 November 2010

LIKE 19: Open Source software for libraries

LIKE 19 continued the impressive run of monthly meetings, this time looking at the use of Open Source software at the King's Fund Information and Library Service.

The minor teething troubles LIKE had at their first meeting were quickly and ruthlessly removed. The layout was much more open to improve networking and the organisation was faultless. I had the honour of being orange juice monitor for the evening and was allowed to wear a LIKE badge as a reward. Shame I left it at home :-(

Our speaker for the evening was Ray Phillips, Head of Information Services at The King's Fund. He spoke articulately as he told an interesting story about the koha Library Management System (LMS) that informed, provoked and captured our attention.

I'm hardly an expert in LMS, unlike most of the people in the room, but I do have some pedigree, my very first computer programs for Dorset County Council way back in 1978 were for their new Library system which was then introducing the new wand technology to read the labels in the books.

But it was the open source aspect of the story that interested me the most and there were some cross-industry lessons here that I found useful.

The main argument for Open Source is the cost, i.e. it's free (though maintenance is extra) and normally this is seen as sacrificing functionality for price, e.g. MS Office v OpenOffice. Ray Phillips told a different story and explained that software developed by the community for the community is actually better than standard commercial software.

Organisations are geared up to buy expensive software and don't really know how to buy things that are free. Traditional procurement procedures are long and expensive and are based on making a decision strictly on cost. Thus makes the cost of buying more expensive than the thing that is being bought and leads to the wrong questions being asked.

The talk and questions over, the food and second round of drinks arrived and it was full hurl in to the networking, which is where LIKE excels.

The conversations flowed.

Among these was a long session on Information Management methods with Debbie and Ben, comics with Laura, holidays with Sally-Ann, the BCS with Conrad, bears (again!) with Marja and future LIKE topics with Nova.

I may have volunteered to lead a session on personal information management (e.g. email techniques) but hopefully this will have been forgotten.

There were more conversations with more people but pen and paper were put away by then so I have to rely on a memory that has never been very good with names. However, I think that you get the point that the talking and the mixing both work very well.

It's rather like speed dating but without the embarrassment of finding out how few people want to see you again at the end of the evening. Besides, you already know the answer to that as most of us will be back there again next month.

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