Overlooked Open Source Tools for Libraries

This guest post has been contributed by Nicole C. Engard, author of Practical Open Source Software for Libraries.

I’ve been teaching and researching open source software for what seems like ages, so sometimes I forget that other librarians don’t necessarily know about all of the great open source tools I do. There are a few must have applications for every library (and a few more specialized tools) that I’d like to share with you all.

First off, Zotero! So many academic libraries these days are paying for tools like Endnote and RefWorks and their students don’t even like using them. Zotero is the open source alternative to these two products, and while I have nothing to compare it to (having never used the other applications out there), I’ve heard it’s the better option. Zotero lets you save your bibliographies to a public or private library. You can sort your information using tags, folders and notes. And best of all it’s open source and free of cost. I use Zotero nearly every day to save the latest article on how open source is being used or taught. In fact, I share my bibliography publicly so that others can learn from what I’ve found.

Next, how many times have you answered the same question at the reference desk? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just send people to a tutorial video? That’s what I do. I record a weekly tutorial video and post it to the web so that I can use the links to those videos when answering questions. Libraries can (and do) do this too. Why not try Camstudio or Webinaria if you’re using Windows or RecordMyDesktop if you’re a Linux fan? These applications let you record your voice over your moving screen so that you can walk patrons through searching your library catalog or finding new tools on your website. All three are open source and relatively easy to install and use.

Lastly, and this one was totally new to me until a few weeks ago, Cybera. This tool isn’t meant for libraries, but a library I visited recently is using it to manage their public PCs. There are any proprietary options out there, but I’m always hearing people complain about them, so why not give a free of cost and open source solution a try instead? At least then you have some possibility of directing change in the software. Cybera controls access to the public computers in your library both by offering paid and free access. The library I visited loaded in patron card numbers daily and gave each patron an hour for the day (per their policy). The patrons just have to walk up to the computer, log in with their library card number and they’re in. The library then gets to track usage of the public computers and control how long users spend on them.

To find more open source software for libraries check out FOSS4Lib. I also like the list posted here a few weeks back and the list compiled by SchoolForge which both have a broader but still related focuses. I also keep my own list of open source tools that I find in my day to day research that might be of use to you.

Overlooked Open Source Tools for Libraries is Copyright Nicole C. Engard and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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