Always Read the Labels

As more and more libraries realize the benefits and strengths of adopting an Open Source system we have seen others in the industry incorporating the term "open" into their marketing materials. Terms like Open APIs, Open Architecture, and Open Systems are becoming more and more prevalent in sales and marketing language for systems that just.... aren't open. Here is a rundown of the popular tag words I have seen and the description of each:

Open APIs: This term typically refers to the fact that the vendor will allow their customers to code for them to expand the APIs available for a given product. Most of the time this openness comes at an additional cost to the library or developer. So not only are you doing the work to connect to external APIs yourself, you also have to pay for that privilege. Not so open in my opinion...

Open Architecture: This term typically means that the underlying technologies used in a given product are open source. This does not mean that you have access to to those underlying technologies, or that the system this architecture supports is open source. It basically just means that the company did not have to pay for the back-end tech that supports their product. In most cases, those savings are not passed on to the end user, so again, not really open

Open Systems: This was a new one for me and the term typically refers to a platform that will work with other systems. And that's really all it boils down to. This sets the bar pretty low when it comes to actually being open. It has nothing to do with the access, community, or underlying ethics surrounding the use and support of Open Source. It is literally a term that means a product works with other products (most of the time for a fee) and that the product does not exist as an island. The fact that in some cases this interoperability only applies to products owned by the same large conglomerate is often glanced over. This concept is one that has been adopted by open source products in the library world for over 20 years and has been a given in technology outside of libraries for even longer.

Open Source software means that all of the software and underlying technologies and associated connections are in place and are free to access, use, change, share, and improve upon at no cost to the user if they have the will and ability to go it alone. For the rest of us who need help, the companies who support these products must focus on service and support in order to survive. This translates to direct benefits for libraries in the form of giving those libraries options. With OSS, libraries can choose what they want regardless of the size, scale, and needs of the user. They can choose who supports their products and are free from vendor lock-in. Libraries that use Open Source products are also insulated from the consolidation we see happening in the library world because of the options they have for vendors and the ability to use different products in a seamless manner because of the lack of barriers to doing so.

In summary, just because a product is labeled as "open" does not mean that it is Open Source. Always read the labels!!

Read more by Nathan Curulla

Tags Open Source, koha, Aspen