The National Library of Finland has embraced open source when it comes to developing software. Essentially this means that we strive to publish and use code that is available under an open license and developed openly as much as possible.
By Matias Frosterus, Timo Laine, Osma Suominen and Artturi Lehikoinen, Library Network Services, the National Library of Finland
We publish our own code in the GitHub code hosting service (https://github.com/NatLibFi) and take part in various open source projects that we use ourselves. The international forum offers unique possibilities for collaboration and using open source software means independence from closed system support networks: if we need a new feature or something does not work, we can try and fix it ourselves.
As an example of an open source software use, the Finto service is based on Skosmos, which is developed as open source software at the National Library. Skosmos is also used by other organisations around the world, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the Rhineland-Palatinate spatial data infrastructure initiative in Germany, and the University of Oslo Library in Norway who have contributed bug reports as well as new features into Skosmos. Reciprocally the Finto team has contributed to the Apache Jena project, whose components are used in Skosmos, and also other open source libraries including rdflib and EasyRdf.
“Using open source software means independence from closed system support networks: if we need a new feature or something does not work, we can try and fix it ourselves.”
Another project, Melinda, which develops the Union Catalogue of Finnish Libraries, also releases most of the specific implementations as free software. Not all can be released openly due to license agreements, however.
The National Library’s Finna provides access to the collections and services of archives, libraries and museums in Finland. The development team enthusiastically participates in improving VuFind, the component used by the public user interface of the service. With the adoption of VuFind 2 later this year, the collaboration with the global development community is set to become even smoother, as the new version has a more modular structure that permits the addition of new, custom components without forking.
The combination of having access to the source code and being able to make any modifications and a closer relationship to the participating organizations gives us a unique opportunity to offer a better service. The work done on Finna has also given valuable insights on how to manage an open source project with many stakeholders with diverse needs. Agile development methodologies help us to respond quickly to changes and to the needs of the participating organizations.
Yet the need to provide a stable, functional service obviously requires quality control, particularly in the form of change management and problem management. The work done in these areas is by no means complete, but the position of the National Library as a centralised service provider enable us to allocate more resources to quality control.