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Is a Free Library Management System Really Free?

Free. It’s the catchiest word on the internet! There are all sorts of free things there, even free library software. Of course, most “free” things aren’t really free, but you know that, right?

There are some free library systems that come with basic functionality, and if that is all you need, then why not use one? But just how many fully functional library systems are truly free? We would suggest there are none.

If you want a flexible, customizable, feature-rich library management system like Liberty, it doesn’t just happen.

Why Not?

A great library management system involves passion, hard work, research, skilled staff, and a significant financial investment to develop. In the same way you expect a return on your library’s investment in technology, so too does an LMS vendor.

Don’t be fooled by the word “free”. It may seem like a jackpot moment, but the term free is often misused, especially in the context of software. The Free Software Foundation explains it very well,

“Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. Think of ‘free’ as in ‘free speech,’ not as in ‘free beer.’ Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distributes, study, change, and improve the software.”

How Can Companies Deliver a “Free” Software Product?

Once you investigate or use ‘‘free” software, the reality hits. Companies that offer “free” software will recoup their investment in many ways. Here are 5 to consider:

  1. Using free code: Many open-source software products depend on a community of developers, who believe in open source, to produce code without payment. They continue to provide updates and enhancements for their community of users to evolve a basic product into an increasingly feature-rich one. While some open-source software evolves to become a valuable product, this is not a quick and easy process. For libraries that implement this software, it requires patience and significant IT resources.
  2. Donation: Many open-source companies often ask for donations to use their software after a prescribed period.
  3. Hidden fees for features: Finding “free software” often comes with conditions. In particular, the functionality you need is not included in the basic “plan”. To use the full suite of features, you may need to pay a significant amount over time.
  4. Stealing your data: In this era, data is money! The use of your organization’s information is frequently the cost of using free software. If your data is valuable, consider just what the ramifications are. You may need to pay IT and security providers to secure it, making the free software as expensive as, if not more than, some proprietary software.
  5. Infecting your computer with malware: Some free software may include a malicious software package that disrupts or disables your computer. You may find that only the company offering the free software can “solve” the problem, and at high cost.

So, ‘Free” is Sometimes Not so Free

In most instances, “free” is a misleading term. Issues requiring support and maintenance can be costly to your organization. Also, access to prompt responses to your requests for help may be difficult.

In the case of bona fide open-source software, there is the need to rely on its user community to respond to address issues and problems. Again, this may mean a quick resolution is not possible.
The possibility of malicious users, who can potentially view and exploit any vulnerabilities, is also very real. This can result in high costs to remedy the resulting problems.

Development is being done by many disparate programmers, at different times and different paces. Version control can be time-consuming. Additionally, the need for staff able to update new features, sometimes code piece by code piece is another cost impost!

Free, open-source software is increasingly promoted as a valid alternative. For those libraries with staff that possess software development skills, this may be suitable. However, for many libraries, that is not the case. The reality is that the advantages and reassurance that proprietary products deliver to most libraries, their staff and users, is reassuring.

A stable, functionally rich LMS is not free, but it won’t break your bank. What it will do is give you a high return on your investment (ROI)!

So What Then?

You could take a look at Liberty, Softlink IC’s library management system. It is designed, and continues to be enhanced with the help of librarians. The result is a system that meets the changing requirement of special libraries, like yours.

Ask us for a demonstration by clicking here, then click on the big red Request a demo button and we will get back to you promptly. You’ll be glad you did.