Technology provides the structure and process for the entire range of operations in libraries. It has become the integral backbone of how libraries provide access, services, programs, and perform internal functions. Yet, there seems to be a range of anecdotal communication around the idea that library systems are effective, but not quite a good fit. There is a feeling that if they could change but a few aspects of their software and applications they would be able to work more efficiently or provide better service. However, feelings are subjective. What has been objectively noticed is that while library professionals recognize that their systems are at times not the most efficient or the most current they are slow to upgrade because of the cost and effort involved, and they do not have enough pull in the market to attract developers to create products that are the best for library environments. Libraries are not a big enough consumer to make it worthwhile for software companies to create leading-edge solutions for library systems. Instead, they use systems that mostly fit their needs without the ability to make changes to the software to better suit those needs. As Dan Chudnov writes, "few systems truly serve the access needs of all of our users, failing to meet a goal - access for everyone - that most public libraries strive to achieve at more fundamental levels of service" (Open Source Library Systems).
Not only do libraries settle for products that may not best serve their access goals, many systems do not best serve the operating needs of libraries. However, libraries currently face budgetary restrictions that affect their ability to purchase the most current and effective software packages, assuming they exist, and they can rarely afford the time and staff for implementation and training of new systems. As well, solutions can not come from internal sources due to the fact that "libraries cannot compete against industry salary levels, [so] neither vendors nor libraries have produced many software developers available to build library applications" (Chudnov, Open Source Software). This essay will explore an alternative that may allow libraries to play a role in the development of the most effective library software that conforms to the profession's ideals of access and service. As Chudnov states, "libraries…might do well to enhance their services by leveraging community-owned information systems - which open source seems to promise" (Open Source Software).
While proprietary software and its vendors have served libraries well, it may be time for libraries to look for new solutions to their technological and budgetary issues. This essay will explore the idea of using the open source movement and open source software (OSS) specifically to be able to develop library systems that are the best fit, that are effective and efficient for operations, and that allow for innovation in access and service. By looking at what open source software is, the philosophy and process of the open source movement and development in regards to libraries, the issues surrounding using OSS in libraries, examples of current OSS projects, and the future of OSS in libraries, a picture will be created that presents an alternative to proprietary software and an opportunity for libraries to make better technological decisions for the future.