What Is OSS ILS?

  • The ILS is key to the operation of most library systems
  • Proprietary systems are controlled by vendors and closed to libraries

The Integrated Library System represents one of the largest commitments for any library and has largely been the domain of proprietary vendors who charge yearly fees to maintain the system. With the advent of Open Source Software Integrated Library Systems (OSS ILS) such as Koha and Evergreen, librarians now have the option to gain greater control over their data than ever before.

  • Source code is freely available for use, modification, and re-distribution
  • Software is free to download, install, and use

OSS ILS refers to Open Source Software Integrated Library Systems. The open source software movement is based on the belief that users should have access to the source code of the software they use. Users are generally free to use, modify, and redistribute the software back to the community.

  • Fully featured software that provides the same functionality as proprietary software
  • Libraries can customize and build new functionality as needed
  • User-created code is donated back to the community

OSS ILS have all the functionality of proprietary ILS – including modules for the acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation of materials and serials, as well as online public access catalogs (OPACs) for users – with the source code for the software being available to the libraries themselves. The availability of the code enables libraries to change and improve their own ILS without having to go through a vendor with a commercial product.  Most libraries using OSS ILS name these features as the biggest benefits: the flexibility to control one’s ILS and data and the ability to turn to a robust community for support and information sharing.

Evergreen and Koha

The most prominent OSS ILS in the United States are Evergreen and Koha. Evergreen was created by the Georgia Public Library System in 2006 and is now used in all types of libraries requiring significant scalability, such as large public library consortia. Koha was created in 1999 by Katipo Communications in New Zealand and is more common in smaller libraries, especially in schools.

Other OSS ILS include NewGenLib (NGL), the Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) Project for research libraries, and Collective Access for archives. Many libraries also make use of OSS CMS or content management systems such as Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, and Library a la Carte. Scriblio combines CMS and OPAC functionality.

There are a number of other OSS resources available specifically for libraries. Kete is an OSS for community digital libraries. Pre-Book is a PC booking and reservation computer software platform. SubjectPlus enables libraries to manage their websites and subject guides. The Social Opac (SOPAC) offers a discovery platform for library bibliographic data.

Other ILS

OSS ILS other than the popular Evergreen and Koha include three main options: NewGenLib (NGL), the Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) Project, and Collective Access.  If you are in a non-traditional library, then you may need an OSS ILS that is more specialized. For example, museums, archives and ditigal collections are going to want to use Collective Access instead of Koha or Evergreen. Listed below are some of the other OSS ILS.

NewGenLib logo NewGenLib (NGL) is an OSS ILS created by Verus Solutions. It includes modules for technical processing or cataloging, circulation, acquisitions, serials management, administration, reports, and a web OPAC. NGL recommends first becoming familiar with these modules and their features and then downloading the software from its website, migrating existing data into NGL, and getting trained on NGL. NGL offers expert support for migration, implementation, and maintenance free of charge.

Kuali FoundationThe Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) Project calls itself "the first system designed by and for academic and research libraries for managing and delivering intellectual information." It supports a wide range of resources and federation across consortia, interoperates with other enterprise systems, and provides workflow design and information management capabilities. It is currently under development and is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and contributions from various research libraries.

Collective AccessCollective Access is a highly configurable cataloging tool and web-based application for museums, archives, and digital collections. It is available free of charge and requires little to no customization for support for various metadata standards, external data sources and repositories, popular media formats, and multiple languages. Current users include museums and archives from a range of disciplines, including art, anthropology, film, local history, architecture, conservation, libraries, and corporate archives. It was developed by Whirl-i-Gig.

An article from the Public Library Association describes a number of lesser known OSS ILS options:

Avanti MicroLCS was created in 1998 by Peter Schlumpf for small libraries. Development did not pick up until 2004, however; the cataloging and patron access modules were released in 2008. MARC is supported, and the system will run on Windows or Linux. It is limited to 128,000 titles and 256,000 items.

Emilda was created in 2000 by CompanyCube in Finland with the assistance of various school libraries. Today's version conforms to MARC and Z39.50 standards and can run on any operating system. Circulation and patron access catalog modules were released in 2005.

GNUTeca was developed in Brazil for academic and special libraries; several school libraries also use it. Cataloging, circulation, and patron access catalog modules were released in 2008. Its programming languages are Perl and PHP, making it not very scalable. It operates under Windows and Linux operating systems and supports MARC. Documentation is available in Portuguese, Spanish, and English.

Learning Access ILS was created by the Seattle-based non-profit Learning Access Institute for small public libraries. It was based on a Katipo product and offers modules for cataloging, serials, circulation, and the patron access catalog. It supports MARC, Z39.50, and Unicode standards. Perl and PHP are its programming languages. It can run on Windows, but Linux is preferred.

OpenBiblio was developed mainly in 2006-2007 and includes cataloging, circulation, and patron access catalog modules. The programming languages are PHP and LAMP, which do not have reliable scalability. The operating system is Linux, and UNIMARC is supported.

PhpMyLibrary was created in 2001 in the Philippines for small academic and special libraries. There is little documentation, and the owner has most of the control over the source code. Cataloging, circulation, and patron access catalogs are available. Linux and Windows operating systems are supported, as is SUSMARC. The system has limited scalability.

PMB (PhpMyBibli) was developed in 2002 by a public library in France with available modules for acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, the patron access catalog, and the selective dissemination of information. Documentation is available in English and French, and UNIMARC and Z39.50 are supported. The programming language is PHP, and the system has limited scalability.

PYTHEAS was created in 1995 by a librarian at the University of Arizona and then picked up by a librarian at the University of Windsor. Circulation and patron access modules are available, and the programming languages are Java and XML. There is limited documentation, but the system is highly scalable.

WEBLIS was created in 2008 by the Institute for Computer and Information Engineering of Poland with assistance from UNESCO. Cataloging, circulation, and patron access catalog modules are available. Documentation is available in English.

SLIMSSenayan Library Management System, or Slims, was created in 2006 by the Library of the Ministry of National Education in Indonesia. Built on a GNU/Linux base, it was released to the public in 2007 and is currently on version 5. The development team believes that the ILS is in use in at least 218 libraries and other institutions, and it has been downloaded over 250,000 times.


What is an ILS?
It stands for Integrated Library System, the software that librarians use to manage acquisitions, build catalogs, check out materials, and keep track of library users.

Why choose an Open Source Software (OSS) ILS?
OSS refers to concept of "free" software developed by a community of interested users who share that software with each other. ILS have traditionally been expensive, complicated systems owned by proprietary companies that charge a fee to libraries for use and maintenance.

What OSS ILS options are available?
Although there are many OSS ILS that have been developed in many countries and for many types of libraries, the most common choices in the U.S. are Evergreen and Koha. Evergreen is usually chosen for larger consortia, whereas Koha is used in smaller school and special libraries.

Are OSS ILS really mature enough systems?
Some OSS ILS have been being developed for over a decade, and most of them offer the ILS modules vital for library service (circulation, cataloging, acquisitions, etc.). Many librarians using OSS ILS characterize them as ready for "primetime" or "going live."

How much technical expertise do I need to implement an OSS ILS?
Technical expertise is definitely helpful when migrating to and maintaining an OSS ILS. While there is a community and documentation to support you in solving technical problems, there is no proprietary vendor present to "fix" bugs for you. However, if you work at a small library without a technical staff, you can consider hiring a vendor to provide support for your OSS ILS. Equinox, LibLime, and ByWater Solutions are some of the most frequently used support vendors in the U.S.

What are the system requirements for OSS ILS?
The system requirements for OSS ILS vary by individual system. The main requirements for Evergreen are available on its documentation page. This Slideshare presentation provides information about the hardware and software requirements for Koha.

Who develops OSS ILS?
OSS ILS are developed by a community of the most technically skilled programmers and developers who create new modules and fix reported bugs.

How does open source fit with the mission of libraries?
Libraries have always been very engaged in issues like free access to information. In today's digital world, the issue of access has evolved to include such topics as the digital divide, open access journals, and open source software. Many librarians using OSS ILS say they believe in the vision and community open source creates and sustains.

Which OSS ILS is best for my library?
Generally if you are a small library go with Koha, if you are in a consortium go with Evergreen.  For more on this decision look at the following pages:  ILS Evaluation, Evergreen Evaluation, and Evaluation

What are the requirements for setting up a demo site?
Demo installations of Evergreen or Koha can be set up on a moderately powered PC running Linux. It's possible to get working installations up and running in a few hours.


Acquisitions: An ILS module dedicated to ordering, receiving, and invoicing materials.
Apache HTTP Server: Open source server software required by Evergreen and Koha.
Cataloging: An ILS module dedicated to classifying and indexing materials.
Circulation: An ILS module dedicated to lending materials to patrons and receiving them back.
Collective Access: OSS ILS developed for museums, archives, and digital collections.
Documentation: Online resources, usually in the form of a downloadable manual, than OSS communities make freely available to guide users in how to implement, use, and customize recent releases of a system.
Evergreen: Popular OSS ILS in the U.S. Especially common in library consortia because of its scalability.
ILS (Integrated Library System): A resource-based planning system for a library used to track items owned, orders made, bills paid, and patrons who have borrowed. Modules generally include acquisitions, cataloging, circulation, serials, and the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog).
Kete: OSS for community digital libraries.
Koha: Popular OSS ILS in the U.S. Commonly used in smaller school and special libraries.
Kuali Open Library Environment (OLE) Project: OSS ILS developed specifically for academic and research libraries.
Linux: An open source operating system that is required for the installation of Evergreen and Koha. It comes in many varieties called distributions. These include Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, and Ubuntu.
NewGenLib (NGL): Another OSS ILS more popular outside the U.S.
OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog): An ILS module dedicated to creating a public interface for users.
OSS (Open Source Software): Computer software that is available in source code form, allowing users to study, change, improve, and distribute the software. It is usually developed collaboratively.
Scriblio: Combines OPAC functionality with a CMS (content management system).
SQL: A query language designed to manage data in a database management system. ILS systems use open source relational database management systems (RDBMS) to maintain and manipulate data. Evergreen uses PostgreSQL, while Koha uses MySQL for its database.
Serials: An ILS module dedicated to tracking magazine and newspaper holdings.