Library software licences explained

This article explains the different types of licences available for library software.

When purchasing library software, the traditional model for software licences has been a licence in perpetuity, in other words the licensee can use the software forever. Unlike a computer or other property, software licences can not usually be transferred to another organisation, i.e. it is not your property to re-sell second hand. The trouble with the traditional model of a perpetual licence is that it tends to give software vendors the financial incentive to keep chasing new sales instead of concentrating on their existing customers and you would have to find a lot of money upfront.

Increasingly, library software vendors are switching to offering subscription licences renewable every 12 months and paid monthly or annually. These are more common for cloud or web-hosted library software, because the hosting charges are bundled in the complete package. The subscription contract typically includes a licence to use the software during the subscription period and the support and maintenance for the same period.

When everything is bundled together this is known as Software as a Service or SaaS. This gives the software vendor a regular income from existing customers and thus more incentive to keep them happy, while the customer has the opportunity to pay smaller amounts over the lifetime of the product. The advantage for you as a customers is that you don’t have to make large upfront payments or account for the expenditure over a number of years. This makes it easier to get higher management to agree to the purchase.

The key advantage of the subscription or SaaS model is that updates to your software are applied overnight by the software vendor and there is no need involvement by you or your IT. Overnight backups are also part of the package.

Within either licence there are different definitions of usage:

  • Site licence – this type of licence usually covers all users supported by the organisation when working on their premises. It may be extended to home or remote users, and this should be clearly stated in the contract. It typically covers one installation of the software on a central server. You need to check if it covers users at other sites which have access to the central server via a Wide Area Network (WAN). The advantage for you is that there is no need to keep a head count of users with access to the software and it is suitable when public access is allowed.
  • Concurrent licence – sometimes called a simultaneous licence, this licence will allow a limited number of users to use the software at the same time. This licence is useful when only a proportional of your users are expected to use the software at any given time, e.g. 10% of users will be searching the library catalogue at peak times during the day. The only trouble is if you have a concurrent licence for 100 users and user number 101st tries to use it, they will not be allowed and will be told the system is busy. Library staff need to be prepared to monitor use to ensure that the correct number of licences are purchased.
  • Named user or personal licence – a named user licence is granted to specific users and is advantageous when only specific individuals are expected to use the software, because you only pay for those licences. These could are typically used for library managers and helpers using the administrator functions of the library system.


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