Are OSS ILSs redundant? Carl Grant and the SirsiDynix kerfuffle

Carl Grant, President of Ex Libris North America, has weighed in on the SirsiDynix – Open Source Software kerfuffle. For the most part I agree with Carl’s take. But I disagree with him and Clifford Lynch that the development of Open Source ILSs lead to un-necessary redundancies. Redundant solutions are a good thing. They keep everyone honest. If there was only one ILS vendor, we would be beholding to them.

If libraries can’t afford redundancies, how do we explain the redundancy in the proprietary ILS marketplace? Don’t “[w]e simply have more important things to do”? Why should we believe that redundancy is acceptable in the proprietary ILS world but Open Source competition is not? Not only is there redundancy between proprietary competitors (really how much difference is there between a SirsiDynix. III, or Ex Libris ILS? I’d hazard a guess a lot less than when one compares these to an Open Source ILS such as Koha or Evergreen), Ex Libris itself is doing redundant development with Voyager, Aleph, and now the URM.

If libraries can’t afford redundant development how can the customers of Ex Libris ILS offerings afford redundant development by Ex Libris? The answer is that redundant development is not an issue to be worried about. When it comes down to it, at least in my opinion, redundancy isn’t the issue at all, in fact I think it is a red herring. Return on investment is the issue that matters. For some places an ILS like Koha might provide the best return, while others might need a more full featured ILS like Voyager or Aleph. If an Open Source ILS is cheaper (either through a contract with a service provider or by self support) and provides the required functionality or the library can add it, investing in the “redundant development” is appropriate. Maybe it doesn’t move librarianship forward, but it does move the individual library forward by allowing them to re-invest in other areas and/or their staff. As I mentioned on a previous post on the SirsiDynix and Open Source Kerfuffle, each library should evaluate all the options available and invest in whichever one suits them best.

Having worked with both current Ex Libris ILSs, I can tell you for the most part they do the same thing and both are pretty good at doing what they do. They allow libraries to catalog books, circulate materials, budget expenses, etc. However they both have different strengths and weaknesses. While I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either ILS to a library, it is clear that Voyager is better suited for some libraries and Aleph is better suited for others. This is why Ex Libris is still selling and supporting these “redundant” efforts. Depending on your library, one or the other may offer a better return on investment.

1 Comment

  1. Warren Layton said,

    November 9, 2009 at 10:11:54

    Good response!

    The whole “redundant effort” argument sounds a lot like what some commercial UNIX vendors were saying regarding Linux development, circa 1997-1998. They, too, neglected to mention that there was already “redundancy” among the commercial UNIX vendors (HP-UX, Solaris/SunOS, AIX, SCO, Tru64, etc).