Join the Community: Open Source is Nothing Without You


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The open source method for developing software works best when everyone contributes a little bit to the process. Do you benefit from open source? Do you wish the open source you use was a little better? Don’t know why the community nature of open source is important? Hear what you can do to make the world a better place by nudging your favorite open source project along a path to perfection.

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  • The theme of the day is community and sharing. As a library community we do all sorts of sharing: bibliographic records, interlibrary loan, consortial purchasing and licensing. Today I want to talk about one particular type of sharing: communities of action around our technical infrastructure, and in particular open source software.
  • I think there are five characteristicsof open source software that makes it particularly useful to libraries, and in this ignite session I want to tell you about these characteristics and offer a call-to-action.
  • Working in library communities and open source communities throughout my career, I’m struck by the close alignment in their philosophies. They share a desire for openness, a tendency to help others in the community, and a drive for mutual benefit.
  • It is not uncommon for open source software to have more than one provider of hosting and support. For instance, the Koha and Evergreen integrated library systems have more than one provider, and you can change providers without having to migrate to an entirely new system.
  • Open source gives you the ultimate level of control over your systems. If something doesn’t work the way you want, you can directly change it or advocate for your desired change in the community of users. You can even band together with others to contract with someone to make the change (and contribute that change back to the community).
  • Cost is often cited as one of the main drivers for libraries considering the adoption of open source, and there is a grain of truth there. With open source you don’t pay for the right to run the software – it is out there for anyone to download and run.
  • You have more control over your destiny with open source. If the last provider of support disappears or the community fades away, you have the source code to the system and the right to carry on. Or you can use your view of the source to understand your data and migrate to another system.
  • You might be saying, though, that you don’t have the technical depth in your library to adopt an open source system. I say that there are service providers out there to help with the technology, and you can join and further the software’s community in other ways.
  • First is to participate in the community – join the forums or mailing lists, get a feel for the community norms and the roles that others are playing. This is the first step to getting engaged in the software’s adopted family.
  • If you find something that doesn’t work, report it! Find the bug reporting process, create a good, comprehensive description of your problem, and post it to the group. Chances are you are not alone and your report can help the developers triangulate on the problem.
  • Open source may be free to download and run, but that doesn’t mean it is free to write and maintain. Some software packages are backed by foundations or community homes. If your library’s operations are relying on a piece of open source, use some of your budget savings to support the supporters.
  • *Help*
    As you gain experience, think back to you process of getting acclimated to the community.
    The project's forums have newer people that can benefit from your experience.
  • *Triage*
    A step up from "help" and the other end of "report" is triage.
    Review the bug report and feature requests, attempt to reproduce them and add additional details that can help the developers triangulate on the problem, link reports to existing issues in the tracker to reduce the clutter, suggest workarounds when they exist.
  • *Document*
    OSS is often criticized -- rightly so -- for poor documentation.
    Use your experience to answer FAQs or create how-to tutorials.
  • *Translate*
    You can do this without understanding how to code.
    Advanced open source projects use services like
    Don't forget about translating the documentation, too.
  • *Test*
    If you have your own development environment, try out the latest releases of code to see if they work for your environment.
    Some projects also have sandboxes where cutting edge versions are running.
  • *Request*
    If an application doesn't do exactly what you want, file and advocate for a change request.
    Being part of the community.
    Although it may not cause a developer to work on it, you might find enough like-minded users to form a collaborative to get it done.
  • *Criticize*
    Propel the project forward with constructive criticism.
    "X" would work better if...
  • *Code*
    If you have understanding of the programming language used, try fixing a bug.
    Some projects have mentoring programs that Marc you up with an experienced developer to help you through the process.
    Pick something at is small but annoying -- scratch your own itch -- but something that the mainline developers don't have time for.
    Extend the software by adding features that you need, and contribute those changes back to the mainstream project.
    Typical path is to file a bug (or feature request), attach a patch to it, and let the community leaders know it is available for review.
    Do this often enough and you might be recognized by the community as a valued developer and given "commit" privileges to the code repository.
  • Join the Community: Open Source is Nothing Without You

    1. 1. Join the Community:
 Open Source is Nothing Without You Twitter: @DataG This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. Other rights are available; please contact the author for more information.! ! Attributed photographs from Flickr or Wikimedia Commons; used under Creative Commons derivatives-okay licenses.
    2. 2. “Community” by niallkennedy
    3. 3. “Netscape Navigator 1.1 Diskette” by Robert Occhialini
    4. 4. Philosophy “Symbol of Faculty of Philosophy SPbGU” by BiOBER
    5. 5. Flexibility “Foot-in-Mouth” by Jason Trommetter
    6. 6. Freedom “Freedom of Thought Ben Franklin” by Cirt
    7. 7. Cost Cost “stacks of money” by tristam sparks
    8. 8. Continuity Continuity “Möbius strip” by Ttog
    9. 9. Participate "Raise your hand if you're a geek! Keep them up if you don't care!" by colorblindPICASO
    10. 10. Report "Leo Reynolds" by Leo Reynolds
    11. 11. Financially Support "Donations" by Matthew Burpee
    12. 12. Help "Helping Hand" by Michael Kalus
    13. 13. Triage "Sort out these wires.. #thingsiwanttodothisweekend" by whatleydude
    14. 14. Document "Stack of Howl books" by Cria-cow
    15. 15. Translate "Engrish!" by prettydaisies
    16. 16. Test "Blue Screen di Windows" by Alessandro Demetrio
    17. 17. Request "Talking and Listening" by mtsofan
    18. 18. Criticize "No Pictures!" by Rick Hobson
    19. 19. Code "Code on the Wall" by Nat W
    20. 20. Peter Murray • Open here! “Open here” by Nick Sherman Twitter: @DataG