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Challenges of implementing online library database management systems in developing countries: a case for adopting Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in Zambia. by Charles B. M. Lungu & Augustine Mwamba Abstract Libraries, the world over, have seen a huge change in the area of knowledge access management and delivery. For many libraries committed to serving their clients effectively, require the use of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) and Internet services to enhance their operations and be able to access other knowledge bases. In order to take advantage of the changing technological environment and the ever increasing generation of knowledge, libraries require using modern library management systems that can assist in efficient information resource management and delivery. The idea of adopting a library management system is essentially to take advantage of the technologies and make the libraries visible worldwide. Implementing a library management system is however, not an easy task. Depending on available resources, both financial and human, there are choices to make. Apparently, most libraries do not have the financial capacity to acquire commercial licensed software. Given this scenario of dire scarcity of resources, it is high time that libraries considered adopting free open source software in their quest to implement ILMS. Keywords: Library automation; Free open source software; Library management systems; Library cooperation; Licensed software; Koha; eIFL

Introduction The future of library resource cooperation lies in the systems interoperability and open resource access by libraries and resource end-users. With the stringent financial budget allocations for information resources in almost all libraries, it would be prudent to develop a mechanism that would facilitate visibility of various library collections. The visibility of individual library collections can be achieved through library management systems that are able to talk to one another and or accessible by anybody globally.

An integrated library management system, therefore, becomes a major tool in the

infrastructure of the library. Its prominent significance to libraries is its integration of an online catalogue and ability to manage workflows efficiently. In this paper, it is submitted that, implementing online integrated library management systems in libraries would mitigate some challenges of library cooperation. There are several options that may be considered in the process of implementing automated library management systems. These may include off-the-shelf purchase of the library systems, home-grown or in-house developing of a library A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


management system or out-sourcing the hosting of the ILMS by a commercial or non-commercial entity. These options may require a deeper assessment and understanding of the undertaking to be implemented. Given the fact that almost all libraries experience similar problems in information resources stocking and restocking, it is argued that if collection records in various libraries could be shared online, libraries would be in a better standing to extend their mandate of effectively and efficiently delivering quality service to their users. The scenario in Zambia at the moment is a combination of sad factors that ultimately impinge on not only the concept of information resource mobilization, but also resource sharing as well. To begin with, not all libraries in Zambia have automated catalogues. Those that have are probably a combination of independent DOS based systems as well as varying web-enabled systems. Those in the modern webbased category are also not interlinked. It would be interesting to carry out a quick survey to illustrate this point. This means for searching purposes, one has to access each individual database separately. Basically there has been very little development associated with automation in our libraries since independence. Since automation in our libraries has lagged behind in this manner, libraries can be considered as having had very little positive impact on the development of the nation as a whole. With the fast changing scenario of increased learning institutions such as High Schools, Colleges and Universities, not to mention increased research institutions and other specialized agencies, the greatly expanded cities and towns etc, there will obviously be increased need and demand for information. The question we should be asking ourselves as information managers is, without any significant levels of automation this far are we ready to meet the challenge of playing a significant role in the development of Zambia? Can we continue masquerading as information specialists when we have failed to live up to expectation, and have adjusted to the culture of a non-reading society? This paper will look at the pressures the changing information environment is placing on the continuing development of the ILMS as the central point of access to library mediated information resources. Significantly, we weigh benefits that accrue through implementing open source software as opposed to the costly commercial licensed software.

Library automation: a general perspective

A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


Computer systems are now a common feature in most offices including libraries. Since computers and associated software are the starting point for automating library operations, it is from this background that those libraries that are not automated yet can start moving into the global knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Simply presented, library automation refers to the use of computers to automate the typical procedures of libraries services (Wikipedia). Automating library operations is primarily aimed at improving the level of service and quality of output and fulfilling the needs that cannot be achieved by manual systems. Consequently, the end benefit is the effective sharing of resources and the promise to increase efficiency, productivity and enhancement of user satisfaction.

In Zambia, it is evident that few libraries have automated their services. There are many reasons advanced for the status quo. Prominent among these explanations include inadequate funding to libraries, insufficient executive appreciation of libraries’ role in the institutional structure, motivation factors among library managers and lack of local ICT skills to implement new developments. Library management motivation factors and lack of ICT skills are issues that affect most of our libraries. However, libraries should take a bold step and persuade institutional managers to appreciate developments that are taking place in other institutions through advocacy programs. Networking is essentially a key for the development of library automation. Librarians in Zambia should create network linkages through which they would be able to share experiences in their quest to automating their services. In the near future, libraries in Zambia should pool their efforts together to establish the “Zambian Library Information Network system� (ZaLINeS). This network system will lead to the achievement of collaborative library operation in a network environment. Libraries should therefore shift their concentration from isolated systems management to cooperative systems management, from traditional document delivery services to networked information services (Wu Weici, Xu Guiju)

As libraries appreciate the benefits that can be derived from implementing ILMS, they need to integrate library automation projects in the institutional strategic plans and distinctly defining the plan of action through conducting needs assessments and identifying the required automation infrastructure. The critical factor in the automation process would be the selection of library management software. Where institutional Strategic Plans do not exist, librarians need to mainstream ICTs in defining the future of their services and operations. A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


Integrated library management systems (ILMS)

The Wikipedia describes an integrated library management systems or library management system (LMS) as an enterprise resource planning system for a library. This is basically a system that is used to manage library operations. Integrated library management systems are applied on the understanding that their implementation would help in cutting costs and enhancing the efficiency of library services. Therefore, these systems are absolutely necessary for the management of housekeeping operations and management. However, small and medium- size libraries face a difficult situation not only due to the high cost of commercial library management systems, but also due to the low levels of computer literacy associated with most staff in these libraries.

University of Zambia and the Copperbelt University libraries are among the pioneers in the automation of library operations in Zambia. At the time that these institutions decided to use automated library systems, the choice of ILMS was very limited. Much of the available systems on the market were strictly commercial (Turnkey) and substantially not fully developed. Not fully developed in the sense that system developers were constantly required to develop patches to remedy deficiencies their customers detected. These systems were also DOS-based ILMS that could not be accessed over the Internet and system maintenance was significantly vendor dependent as there were no local skills at that time.

Initially, University of Zambia adopted the Dynix Library Management system from Dynix, UK and the Copperbelt University implemented Stylis LMS from Denel Infomatics, South Africa. Obviously these systems were independent from one another and could not be linked in any way to share resources. Subsequently, the two institutions decided to migrate to web-based systems. It was understood that these institutions were going to acquire common software and implement it in a consortial arrangement. The understanding was that these institutions were going to share the cost of implementation, resources and local skills in the management of the system.

In the process, CBU was quick to respond to the vendor offer by SoftLink, UK and adopted Liberty3 LMS while UNZA upgraded Dynix LMS to a web-based version, Unicorn LMS. The initial arrangement to implement a consortial system was a futuristic plan to embrace eventual automation plans of other

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institutions. In the current state, the two systems are not linked in any way and the institutions continue paying license and annual maintenance fees.

For the future, libraries will have no choice but to implement automated library management systems capable of serving end users effectively, efficiently and timely and able to support library collaboration. These ILMS will need to offer more than the presentation of the library catalogue but offer links to collaborating libraries and online information collections. Therefore, librarians will have to be actively involved in these developments so that the choice systems would level up with demands of end-users. Apparently, ILMS vendors are keenly following the changing trends in the information search behavior of library users and are hastily making user centered customization in their system upgrades. This is one way of trying to maintain their customer base as they meet competition with the free open source software movement.

Commercial versus FOSS Integrated Library Management Systems

Given the generally low institutional funding base, many libraries in Zambia are not sufficiently funded to meet the cost of implementing the commercial ILMS. These systems are costly as they also attract the after sale license and maintenance charges. Commercial software packages may have the advantage of easy application and functionality because they are delivered with pre-packaged recommended modules and user interface (UI). In addition, system vendors often provide training on the management and use of their systems. However, these operations are still costly and are transient in nature. They are frequently abandoned when system developers develop upgrades. Developers often cease to support superseded systems rendering such systems vulnerable to collapse following the withdrawal of vendor support. This is because vendors keep the source codes secret or inaccessible to customer libraries.

Alternative to commercial licensed systems and cheaper solutions to LMS implementation lies in the free and open software. Future developments in free and open source software will accommodate the needs of all types of libraries. Considering the substantial cost aspect involved in implementing commercial licensed systems, many libraries have been contemplating adopting free and open source software. This is software that is distributed free of cost and can be customized to local needs. Apparently, numerous libraries and development donor agencies in the developed economies are strongly supporting the free and open source software movement. Significantly, the Electronic A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


Information for Libraries (eIFL) is in the forefront advocating for and encouraging libraries, especially in less developed economies, to take the way of implementing FOSS. Zambian libraries, especially those that have not been able to apply any form of automated library management system, can now use this advantage to apply the technology.

A glimpse into the future of libraries’ automation prospects in Zambia indicates that free open source software is a cheaper and versatile solution. Adopting common software will create a strong base for library collaboration and resource sharing in terms of skills in systems management and development.

Free and Open Source Software

Globally, libraries and their umbrella institutions are confronted with a huge share of difficulties in keeping up with the cost of commercial library management systems and their attendant licenses. Libraries in the less developed economies are worse disadvantaged. These libraries are economically disadvantaged and are often unable to even afford acquiring modest requisite equipment for internal staff and patron use. In this scenario, open source software is perhaps a solution to mitigating the major challenges that libraries face especially when it comes to shrinking budgets. Naturally libraries without much financial resources need cost effective measures to automate their services. To a certain extent, free and open source solutions could provide an alternative solution to costly commercial application software.

Free and Open Source Software is essentially software that users can obtain free of cost and they have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, share and improve to meet their requirements (Free Software Foundation.) The technology is free and the software is available free of cost including the source code. Considering this aspect of software distribution, libraries are able to harness the necessary infrastructure for implementing ILMS at their premises at a minimal level. Apparently, Librarians in these libraries may not be aware of the available free software. If they are, there must be lack of willingness to implement the technology. It is high time that Zambian libraries took a decision and a strong commitment to implementing FOSS- ILMS and convince the institutional executives to come on board and support such ventures, because they will facilitate modernization of their library services at very minimal cost.

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To take the idea further, librarians in Zambia should adopt collaborative interventions and the idea of implementing a common library management system. This approach could enhance collaboration and sharing skills in the management of the systems and resolving common problems. The initiative for libraries to act together would benefit all types of libraries in the country in more ways than one. First, collaboration would pool national expertise for the benefit of all libraries to facilitate resource-sharing. Secondly, such collaboration would help the country create some form of automated Union Catalogue, as a fulfillment and improvement on one of the original dreams of the ZLA which has remained on paper for over forty years, - the dream for a National Union Catalogue for Zambia.

The Free Open Source Software movement is active in the development and distribution ILMS. This is done through user groups located in different places around the world. The same user groups are available to assist institutions that are taking up the software and through user group postings attend to requests from various users. The following are some of the free and open source library management systems that libraries can consider in their implementation:

Evergreen CDS Invenio Koha NewGenLib PhpMyBibli Greenstone OpenBiblio PhpMylibrary

Among these software packages, Koha has received much attention, support and advocacy. It has attracted a fairly large following through the Koha user group and developers worldwide. As such, many prospective users of a free distributed library management system prefer to adopt Koha on the conviction of its popularity and support. Evergreen and Greenstone are scantly used although they also have support through user groups. Simply stated, Koha LMS is developed and sponsored by libraries of varying types and sizes, volunteers and support companies from around the world (Lee, 2011)

Koha (FOSS Integrated Library System) A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


EIFL (2011) describes Koha as an Integrated Library System with a range of features including:

Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) module which provides a simple and clear interface for library users to perform tasks such as searching for and reserving items and suggesting new items.

Full catalogue module which enables library staff to capture details of all library items. It is MARC compliant, and also z39.50 compliant, meaning data entry and exchange will be greatly simplified.

Circulation module which fully automates borrowing and item management, integrating with the OPAC so users can see which items they have outstanding, for example.

Acquisitions module which assists librarians with both acquisitions and more generally with budget management. Serials management and reporting modules perform functions that their names would suggest.

EIFL affirms that Koha is a well-established FOSS ILS and perhaps one of the most successful library FOSS tools currently available. Further, eIFL maintains that Koha is the first free and open source software library automation package (ILS) and that the case for FOSS advocacy around Koha is stronger than it may be for software that is less well known (eIFL 2011)

Benefits of Implementing Koha Library Management system

Among the notable benefits of KOHA as a Library management system are the following factors: •

Easy access to information for library staff and users due to effective searching and issuing of items.

Automation of alerts to remind patrons and staff about, for example, overdue items or arrival of new items.

Reduced time of processing of library items, due to MARC and z39.50 compatibility.

Online supervision becomes possible, reducing the line management responsibilities of senior staff.

Library management becomes easier through automated collection of data.

Through the acquisition module budgets can be more effectively managed.

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Koha brings together library users and staff, as both can see various aspects of the system and can work together more effectively to achieve each user's goals.

Libraries in Zambia can now turn to major open source ILSs such as Koha and Evergreen. Common reasons for the choice are to avoid vendor lock in, avoid license fees, and participate in software development.


Free Open Source Software offers a strategic response both to the opportunities of the functionality of ILMS and networked environment. This means that FOSS provides a response to both the challenges of library house-keeping activities, as well as networking capacity with other libraries. This response can be applied immediately, reaping both short-term and on-going benefits for all kinds of libraries in Zambia. Free and Open Source Software such as KOHA provides Zambia and other developing countries an escape route for bridging the digital divide with developed countries. Whatever few demerits one can associate FOSS with; the advantages far outweigh the advantages. FOSS provides Zambia an opportunity to leapfrog into the electronic information age and leveling the platform for both big and small libraries to share information resources electronically. This generation of information managers therefore, needs to grab the opportunity now for the sake of playing a positive role in the ICT enhanced development of this country.

________________________________________________ Acknowledgements

Breeding, M. and Roddy, C. 2003. “The competition heats up” Library Journal, April 1, pp. 52- 64

Free and open source software in Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia. Available:

Kenney, B (2003), “The future of Integrated Library Systems: An LJ Round Table” Library Journal, 6/15/2003 Available: A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


Koha-FOSS-integrated-library-system (2011), Available:

Lee, Matt (June 2 2011) What is free software and why is it so important for society? Available:

Lombardi, John V. (2000), “Academic Libraries in a Digital Age” D-Lib Magazine, vol. 6, no.10, October 2000. Available:

Tennant, Roy (2003), “Digital Libraries” Library Journal, February 15, p.28

Wu Weici, Xu Guiju (2011) “Present Status and Future Prospects of Library Automation and Networking” The Journal of Library Science in China.

A glimpse into the future: Redefining the role of Libraries in a fast changing environment |


Challenges of implementing FOSS in Zambia  

Paper presented at the 2011 AGM sem9inar

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