At a time when the nation’s economic future seems shaky, many school and public libraries are moving to open-source library management systems, which tend to be cheaper, more flexible, and fulfill the same mission a library serves: making a valuable contribution to the greater good.

Open-source software puts the right to make changes to the software in the hands of the public, rather than a company. Users can change, improve, or fix problems encountered in the software, then push it out to a community of users for their consumption. It is free to download, use, and adapt–though there might be costs associated with adapting and supporting it.

School and public librarians list flexibility, low cost, and convenience as some of the major benefits of migrating to an open-source library management system. Some of the best-known open-source library management products include Koha, Evergreen, and OPALS (OPen-source Automated Library management System).

Many larger libraries pay a hosting site, such as Equinox Software or LibLime.com, to help with the initial implementation and then pay a yearly fee for hosting. Equinox Software and LibLime.com also provide staff training, support, software maintenance, and development.

Open source can work for schools and libraries both large and small. LibLime.com’s customers include the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Toledo Diocese in Ohio.

OPALS developed out of six New York state library systems that banded together to create a catalog to provide web-based interlibrary loan services for the 300 schools in those regions. That database, “SCOOLS” (South Central Organization of Library Systems), includes more than 1 million titles and manages the interlibrary loan process entirely online.

New York school library systems that are SCOOLS members include the Broome-Tioga, Cayuga-Onondaga, Delaware-Chenango, Greater Southern Tier, Otsego-Northern Catskills, and Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga districts.

Equinox Software hosts the open-source library systems for the Georgia PINES, a consortium of more than 270 public libraries in Georgia that originally created and still uses Evergreen, as well as the South Carolina Library Evergreen Network Delivery System, a statewide consortium for a shared catalog headed by the South Carolina State Library.  The initial South Carolina pilot group includes 11 libraries, 1.3 million people, and 2.5 million books and volumes.

The Indiana Open Source ILS Initiative is a statewide project intended to implement Evergreen in the same manner as the Georgia PINES.  As of March 2009, 24 libraries in the state have migrated to and are fully live on Evergreen.