As universities and libraries finalize their budgets this year, the message to stakeholders is that we’re doing more for less, or more simply, just doing less. Severe budget cuts are happening everywhere due to effects of the pandemic.

Slashing a budget can have devastating effects on staff, students, and patrons, and some will howl in protest when trusted services and systems are no longer available.

But every budget tells a story about circumstances and values, particularly those items that are critical to leaders. If you can talk about investments in open initiatives, which are more fair, sustainable, and supportive of the open scholarly ecosystem, you’ll have a better narrative to share, which can make cuts easier for your users. 

Many universities and libraries understand the range of benefits offered by open source and member-supported software, and have adopted these tools at all levels of the organization. Tools built on initiatives like Kuali, Sakai, Drupal, DSpace, Fedora, and VIVO are built into the infrastructure of universities around the world. When looking for savings, it’s tempting to skip over memberships and contributions to open communities. Unlike vended systems with big contracts, systems created with free or open source software continue working even if you don’t pay for them.

However, open source, member-supported, or “community source” platforms are not free. Modest memberships of $500 to $20,000 cost a fraction of vendor contracts, and provide critical resources that enable oversight of programming contributions, infrastructure, events, and strategic planning. These roles, whether full-time or fractional, help ensure that open source communities continue to progress and grow in a sustainable way. 

For many VIVO members, the flexibility and customizations enabled by an open source platform are paramount because they enable each university to tailor their VIVO to their own needs. 

Long-time VIVO member Terrie Wheeler, Director of the Samuel J. Wood Library at Weill Cornell Medicine, says “Even at the highest level of membership, VIVO is a low, five-figure cost annually. We don’t need any high-priced vended systems to sustain our VIVO environment. It’s all open-source code and local tools, and the VIVO community helps provide support. My budget is safe because I pay for the VIVO platinum membership and no other systems.”

Bruce Herbert, Director of the Office of Scholarly Communications and Professor, University Libraries, at Texas A&M University agrees. “Platinum membership gives us greater input on the direction of the very tool that we implement. We can advocate for specific features or improvements, and help steer work in those directions. For us at A&M, the ability to implement a tool that is very customizable helps us best serve the faculty at Texas A&M, and people find our VIVO useful.”

Open source and member supported software platforms make sense in so many ways: local control enables platforms to adapt quickly to changing requirements, to address defects, and to customize implementations for unique needs. Other community institutions provide expertise and best practices. Students and faculty are enthusiastic about technical freedom, and often prefer organizations that support open initiatives. Owning your own data is important too. 

And when budgets need to be dramatically reduced, investing in open initiatives not only provides excellent value, but it lets you talk about your organization’s values in support of the greater good: to help sustain tools that are collectively owned and maintained by organizations like yours.