“The best thing about open source is that once one person solves an open-source problem, [he or she] can share that solution with everyone, and everyone is allowed to share whatever that improvement is,” West said.

Open-source users might pay $1,000 or $1,500 a year for hosting and support, but the money they save can be redirected to other areas of a library.

Libraries in Texas’ Plano Independent School District went live with Koha on Jan. 5, but started the open-source process more than a year ago.

“We feel that this empowers our students,” said Diane Lutz, director of learning media services for the district. “It’s web-based, our teachers have anywhere, anytime access, and it all helps build that fundamental part of an exemplary education.”

Servers under the district’s existing ILS needed to be replaced, and public-access catalogs would have to be reconfigured–a costly undertaking, and one that prompted Lutz and her colleagues to explore new options, including open-source offerings.

Lutz and her colleagues tested Koha on a laptop for six months before making the migration during the 2008-09 winter break, which involved moving 1.1 million records.

“It’s been an amazingly smooth transition,” Lutz said.  “We have many things we’re still working on, but I am very pleased.”  Plano ISD uses LibLime.com as its support company.

“Our goal on Jan. 5 was to circulate books, and we were able to do that,” Lutz said.  “Our librarians have been quite willing to be at the receiving end of learning.”

Lutz said schools, districts, and public libraries that are considering a move to an open-source ILS should talk to others who have made the move, determine their individual support needs, and keep colleagues and staff up to date on developments.

Aside from cost advantages and flexibility, many library experts say one of the basic concepts of open-source software–to contribute to the community–is right in line with a library’s goals.

“From a values perspective, it totally lines up with what libraries … want to do–share that data that we so carefully put together,” West said. “I think open source encourages libraries to own and maintain the system they use to manage their data, and you have more of a handle on your data when you’re running or paying attention to the systems that are layered on top of them.”