Open Source FOLIO LSP Nears Launch, as Lehigh U. Library Partners with Index Data

Lehigh University Library has partnered with software developer Index Data ahead of the library’s planned summer 2020 launch of the FOLIO  open source library services platform.

Folio logo with beeLehigh University Library has partnered with software developer Index Data ahead of the library’s planned summer 2020 launch of the FOLIO (the Future Of Libraries Is Open) open source library services platform (LSP). Lehigh’s staff will manage the FOLIO install with secondary support and cloud hosting by Index Data.

Lehigh has been a contributor to the Open Library Environment (OLE) initiative and FOLIO since each project’s inception, and Index Data is the lead architect and developer for FOLIO, so both organizations are heavily invested in its success. During the past fifteen years, third-party development houses such as ByWater Solutions and the Equinox Open Library Initiative have demonstrated—primarily in the public library market—that open source integrated library systems (ILS) such as Koha and Evergreen can be viable options for libraries that do not have developers on staff, or don’t wish to commit significant staff resources to open source projects. Academic libraries, which for years have been limited to platforms offered by a handful of commercial ILS vendors, will be watching as Index Data, EBSCO Information Services, ByWater, SirsiDynix, and other third parties build out their FOLIO hosting and support services, potentially offering an alternative to commercial systems.

Bruce M. Taggart, Vice Provost, Library and Technology Services for Lehigh, told LJ that the library's decision to get involved with OLE in 2009 was made partly due to dissatisfaction with commercial options and partly due to the appeal of collaborating with other libraries to rethink how these systems should work.

“We just couldn’t get that right, new [commercial ILS] product that was going to make a big change for us,” he said. “One of our systems librarians, Tim McGeary, who is now at Duke, came back from a meeting and said, ‘there’s a group coming together to do open source library development project.’ From a technology standpoint, I thought, this is going to be great—designed by librarians for librarians, for research libraries…. One of the reasons I got Lehigh got involved was to change how our librarians were thinking creatively, not just with libraries around the United States, but around the world. We look at workflow differently, we look at e-resources differently…. It has changed the entire thinking of our library.”

OLE had other prominent early backers as well, including the University of Chicago, Duke University, Indiana University, and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as financial support through a series of grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. But many within the academic library field questioned its ability to appeal to institutions outside of the core group already engaged in its development—particularly colleges and smaller universities.

As Carl Grant, currently interim dean of the University of Oklahoma libraries, noted in a 2012 blog post, “it's not yet clear if OLE can acquire enough support among academic and research libraries to sustain itself over the long term. The product is clearly being designed primarily by and for research libraries….  It's an assumption that other academics will want to use the product, but I know from my own experience that medium to smaller academics are radically different environments than research libraries. They need products with less overhead, less complexity, and as much back-end efficiency as possible.”

At the Code4Lib conference the spring of 2016, Index Data cofounder and president Sebastian Hammer announced that the company had been working for a year on a new open source, cloud-ready, multitenant, scalable system capable of electronic and print resource management. Shortly afterward, the project was named FOLIO, and EBSCO announced that it would provide primary funding for the development of the platform, with OLE libraries partnering on the project. Index Data would build the kernel, system layer, default user interface, and application programming interface (API).

Aside from the open source aspect, FOLIO partners expect the system’s modularity to appeal to academic libraries that aren’t part of the original OLE cohort. Apache 2.0 licensing allows libraries, vendors, and third-party developers to create free or for-fee applications for the platform, which could ultimately offer extensible functionality tailored to fit varied needs. In turn, the smaller scale of open source app development, compared with committing to a major open source project such as OLE, could encourage smaller institutions to contribute to FOLIO.

Currently, in addition to Lehigh, several universities are planning to launch FOLIO in mid-2020, including the University of Chicago, Texas A&M University, the University of Alabama, and the Five College Consortium in Western Massachusetts (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst). Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden, went live with the FOLIO platform last month, with cloud hosting services provided by EBSCO. Like Lehigh, all of these libraries are long-term contributing developers and supporting partners of the project.

But implementation rates will soon have the potential to grow. By the summer of 2020, FOLIO will be a “market-viable platform,” Lynn Bailey, CEO of Index Data, told LJ. “It will be an LSP that covers all of the bases, essentially. Functionality of an ILS and ERM [electronic resources management] that covers 90 percent of the [commercial] market. It’s not going to have a lot of the bells and whistles…. But we believe the platform itself is a ‘wow feature’ because it’s more than a platform—it’s an ecosystem. It’s going to have apps that work together, but it also has ways of managing data and workflows that are unique.”

Index Data is also building out support services for FOLIO, Bailey said, although a standardized menu of offerings such as migration, staff training, and app development is not yet established. “We’re customizing our services to the needs of the academic institutions. Because FOLIO is so new, it’s hard for us and the institutions to know what they might need. Because we’re small and nimble, we can enter into arrangements that make sense. As we go, we may need to tweak it a little bit. But we’ll be here to provide a full range of services for whatever an institution may need.”

Taggart vouched for the newly announced partnership with Index Data, explaining that Lehigh has had “implementation assistance, [help with] what is the hosting going to look like, and also service and support. Because the sustainability of open source software systems—whether it’s FOLIO or Kuali [OLE] or anything else—that’s always the big question of most universities. ‘Who’s going to support me if something doesn’t work, or we have a problem?’ So there’s always this hesitancy, and you want assurances that you can get the content expertise in the event of any type of issues.”

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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