Book review – Practical Open Source Software for Libraries

Practical Open Source Software for Libraries book cover
Practical Open Source Software for Libraries by Nicole C. Engard

The profile of open source software (OSS) in the library world, if not the use, has risen exponentially over the last 12 months so it’s great to see a book about open source solutions aimed specifically at libraries. Practical Open Source Software for Libraries by Nicole Engard, is both an extensive (and, yes, practical) introduction to OSS and a whole raft of case studies for those looking to learn more.

The case study interviews with people using open source in libraries around the world covers everything from day-to-day, web access and applications, media, collections, research tools, and automation software. And for those new to open source, there’s both an introduction and an overview of common barriers faced, both real and imagined.

Defining open source is no mean feat (as the recent controversy around Google’s use of the term demonstrates) and ​​​​Engard provides a great,​​​​ condensed version of the philosophy behind it​​​​​​​​. The rest of the book consists of the​​​​ case studies Q&As; ample ammunition​​​​​​​​​ for those looking to make a case for open source in their workplace. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ It also demonstrates the various ways libraries and librarians can get involved, beyond contributing code.

The bigger OSS names are all here; Firefox, Open Office, Dspace, Koha and Evergreen. But the case studies are a great way to find out about some of the lesser known options. For example, there’s Libstats for data gathering and LimeSurvey open source survey software. SubjectsPlus also looks interesting, a tool for creating online subject guides. LibX is also an impressive project that sometimes gets overlooked in these discussions.

There’s a nice balance of libraries who have made a conscious choice to use Open Source Software and those who have used it where viable alongside proprietary systems. It’s a shame the book doesn’t explore the common misconceptions about open source software in more depth. Barriers such as security concerns and a lack of awareness are still there but increasing financial pressures on libraries are going some way to force a rethink.

Practical Open Source Software for Libraries doesn’t go into the depths required to fully explore open source today, but it’s a good introduction and analysis from a librarian perspective and a great guide for those looking to use or develop open source solutions in their libraries and information services. There’s also​​​​​ a​​​​​​​​​ companion website with up-to-date links and facts available at:

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