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Foreseeing an Open Source Future With FOLIO
by
Posted On November 1, 2016

Libraries have always been spaces where members of a community can gather to gain knowledge, whether through books or through events and activities. But where can library staffers go to do their own learning? They need designated spaces too, which is why the Open Library Foundation is so important. This new organization encourages everyone in the library and library services communities to share their ideas for an open source future.

The Open Library Foundation was created “as an unbiased, independent not-for-profit organization designed to ensure the availability, accessibility and sustainability of open source and open access projects for and by libraries,” according to its About page. It provides the infrastructure that allows librarians, technologists, designers, service providers, and vendors to work together to develop resources for the library community.

The foundation’s first project is FOLIO (the Future of Libraries Is Open), which is getting its primary funding from EBSCO Information Services. Index Data is developing the initial platform, and the Open Library Environment (OLE) is loaning out its developers to help create the coding. “The [Open Library] Foundation will hold the intellectual property created in FOLIO, provide collaboration tools to partners, enable wide and persistent distribution of software, and [be] the locus of engagement and support for the sustenance of the code,” says Michael Winkler, managing director of OLE and an Open Library Foundation board member. “Simply put, the Foundation hopes to better serve the library community by engaging both libraries themselves and their service providers to offer choice. That is, more options, flexible options, scalable options, and right-priced options for the management and growth of libraries and the improvement of the service they provide to their users.”

Why FOLIO Is Necessary

Today’s library services platforms use traditional functions such as bibliographic management, making them limited in their scope, says Christopher Spalding, EBSCO’s VP of open source platforms and communities. “Libraries are also facing increasing financial burdens of maintaining both front- and back-end systems along with the cost of library materials themselves (books, databases, journals, etc.). Libraries are challenged with managing workflows through systems that are expensive, hardware-heavy and staff-intensive. The desire for interoperability, flexibility, choice and cost-efficiencies has shaped what libraries are looking for as they move forward.”

Enter FOLIO. This collaboration among more than 1,000 stakeholders from libraries, vendor companies, consortia, and web development organizations focuses on using open source technology—and leveraging various sources of expertise—to create a new and improved library services platform. FOLIO got started in 2015 and garnered almost immediate interest from libraries and service providers, says Spalding.

“As the challenges facing libraries became more and more apparent, the idea for an Open Source Library Services Platform (OS LSP) was born—a model that moves away from the one-size-fits-all model, offering a custom fit,” says Spalding. “FOLIO is modular and gives libraries the platform to build new services, to better integrate with the institutional and domain infrastructure of research, teaching and learning. FOLIO aims to bring a modern architecture and an open and common infrastructure, with an eye for market relevance and choice for deployment and hosting models.”

What FOLIO Will Do

FOLIO’s initial function is to bring together base application modules that library staffers can adapt, share, and expand on, says Sebastian Hammer, team lead for the FOLIO core developers and co-founder of Index Data. These modules will include tools for help with acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, data conversion, the OPAC, and resource sharing. “With extended applications, the possibilities are limitless. While this isn’t a linear process, ideas for possible extended applications include support for or integration with: Content Management Systems, Data Mining, Grant Management, Institutional Repositories, Learning Management Systems, Linked Data, Predictive Analytics and Research Data,” says Hammer.

Spalding says, “No license fees and more choice (of applications and services through a competitive marketplace) means lower costs for libraries. FOLIO is expected to drive down costs for vendor-driven systems that leverage substantial investments in infrastructure to support hosted services. With no software licenses and open
codebase, service providers will be able to more easily integrate added-value tools and services unique to these vendors.” This means that libraries that don’t have many technology resources or staffers can easily use this hosted solution.

Time to Get Coding

FOLIO’s initial code was released on GitHub in September 2016. Developers from around the world are invited to experiment with it, review it, and comment on it, as well as build on top of it to create functioning library management modules. “The ‘developer’s preview’ shows community members that the foundational elements of the platform are visible and coders can envision how they would create their own apps on the platform,” says Hammer. It also offers sample modules and documentation. He notes that initial feedback has been positive—developers have responded to how straightforward the code and documentation are.

Because it is offered under an Apache v2 license, anyone may work on the code for personal, academic, or commercial use, as well as build on the work of others when it is published openly in the database. It will be updated on a regular schedule. FOLIO aims to foster partnerships among any representatives of libraries, service providers, and vendors. Spalding says the FOLIO team has also been reaching out to organizations outside the library environment (such as repositories, data management companies, research support organizations, and teaching and learning communities) to increase participation.

“By creating visibility and transparency and opening up the specification and development process (through open-to-everyone FOLIO Forums, Slack teams, the website and other collaboration tools), community members have a true sense that this is an open process in the best sense of open source,” says Spalding. “FOLIO participants have been active at conferences, made site visits, and held meetups to build the community and increase institutional awareness to further outline specific ideas and needs related to the initiative.”

To get involved with FOLIO, visit discuss.folio.org.


Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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