Open source software in Georgia Libraries


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Presentation given for Georgia Library Association, November 17, 2010.

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  • Not a programmer, not a systems librarian

    Why am I interested in oss?

    Some of my favorite software, tools I use daily, are OSS
    I’m writing a book about the open source research tool Zotero

    I’m fascinated by the fact that the internet makes it possible to create and distribute software that does amazing things, for free

    I think the OSS movement’s mission of sharing information for free is one that librarians should recognize
    people and orgs who create OSS are “on our side” and we should advocate for it

    I like free stuff

    What I want to cover today:
    What’s OSS
    What’s good and bad about OSS
    Some examples of OSS that libraries are using
  • One definition:

    Open source
    When programmers sit down to create a program, they write what’s called “source code”
    This is the raw material, the ingredients, the actual programming instructions that make software work
    When finished, it gets converted into a file that you can download and run on your computer
    Open source software means that the source code is available openly, for free, for anyone to examine and alter
    It’s like if you go to a restaurant and they include the recipe along with their meal
    Companies like Microsoft and Apple don’t release source code – they just release the finished product
    By altering the source code of a program, you can change the way it works
    If you don’t like the way internet explorer works, you can’t do anything about it
    If you don’t like the way Firefox works, you can (if you’re a programmer) look at the source code and find a way to make improvements
    Change the “recipe” and cook a new version

    OSS is often also called “free software”. Next I want to talk about some of the different things we mean by Free in this context
    [next slide]:
  • Without cost -- gratis
    An early model of this was called “freeware,” which means without cost but not necessarily open source
    Free of cost is one characteristic of OSS, but doesn’t define it

    Why do people give this stuff away?
    The same reason that universities publish scholarship: to share information
    The same reason that libraries provide free information to the public
    Because it is a worthwhile public good
    Sometimes OSS projects sponsored by a nonprofit
    Sometimes individuals join together ad hoc

    “Gift culture”/gift economy:
    (Anthropology): what you give away determines your social status
    programmers gain prestige by giving their time and energy
    See “Homesteading the Noosphere” by Eric S Raymond

    Why is free as in beer/gratis an important concept?
    Obvious: free is good
    Individuals: Take it with you if you leave GSU
    Library budgets: obvious benefits, but drawbacks too (see kittens)
  • Free Software Foundation’s definition
    Run the program for any purpose
    Study how it works and change it (access to the source code)
    Redistribute the software and any changes

    Why does this matter?
    Producers of commercial (non-free) software “have a vested interest in locking users into their own proprietary formats” (quote Trevor Owens at Zotero)
    OSS generally designed on open standards to import/export from other programs
    Tends to have frequent upgrades and improvements, “to many eyes all bugs are shallow”
    Not dependent on a single entity since someone could take over the source code
  • “free” can sometimes include a burden
    Free kittens aren’t really free even if they’re without up-front cost
    Free software doesn’t generally include tech support

    Cost in staff time, energy, problems
    Support available?
    Can you install w/o your IT department? Will they install something that’s in permanent beta?

    Open source does not always mean better. Commercial does not always mean more expensive.

    Is using OSS worth it even if you have to support it yourself? Maybe.
    We do a lot of our own tech support anyway
    By solving our own problems we learn more about how the tools work
    OSS often has very active community support as good or better than commercial tech support

    Some specific examples of OSS that libraries are using:
  • All software we use at GSU, software you might not know is OSS

    Possibly the most widely used blog software in the world
    Many library blogs are using this; if your lib has a blog, it’s probably WP
    Designed to be extensible by third parties: thousands of plugins
    Easy to install, easy to use
    We use it for our blog

    One of the most popular browsers on the web, 2nd most used browser
    Designed to be extensible by third parties
    Most web designers consider it a superior browser because of its standards compliance

    Originally written for Wikipedia
    We use it for our intranet

    Apache web server
    Most widely used web server since 1996
    Your web server probably runs on Apache

    Pidgin chat client
    Used by many libraries for chat reference
    Designed to interact with many chat networks (open standards)
    Most libraryh3lp libraries use it as their client
    Works on any OS

    Next some OSS that you might not be using yet that GA libraries are
  • Audio editing
    Used at GA Tech radio station
    I use it in podcast production
    A little harder learning curve than Garageband but free & runs on any OS
  • Virginia Tech U Libraries

    Search box built into browser
    Adds library links to amazon, google results,

    GALILEO has a version (second link)
    Create custom editions for your library

    Example of OSS extensibility – Firefox designed to allow mods like this that alter how it shows web pages. (IE version now exists but was much longer coming)
  • What is it

    CHNM at George Mason U
    By academic researchers for researchers
    Wanted an alternative to expensive difficult commercial reference managers
    The browser is the common tool of almost all researchers, provides a unified workspace for saving references
    Recognized that Firefox is designed to allow third parties to create add-ons that give it new functions
    Built on open standards:
    Imports/exports to other citation managers
    Because OSS, users have contributed localization help, available in dozens of languages
  • Complete free open source reserves system

    Developed by librarians and library programmers at Emory U

    Allows users and library staff to upload and manage files; can be set up as self-service (users manage everything) or library staff manage everything

    Demo at

    Development status? Not sure, last update May 2009
    Another library could download the source code, give it to its programmers and start adding new features
  • (Some of you may know a lot more about Evergreen than I do)

    Open source ILS developed by PINES, a consortium of 51 GA public library systems
    Found no commercial ILS that met their needs, developed their own
    “free as in kittens”: shifted budget from commercial software licensing to support/infrastructure needs

    544 libraries now run on this open source ILS: 275 in GA, more in Canada, Michigan, Indiana, SC, TX, CT, elsewhere in the US and 20 in India planning to come online

    The more libraries that use it, the larger the development community becomes and the more ideas and improvements can potentially happen
  • OpenOffice:
    Complete free office suite compatible with MS office
    Runs on any operating system
    Deployed by many governments to save money on MS licenses

    Complete free operating system, replaces Windows or MacOS
    Many versions, link above is to my favorite version Ubuntu which is easy to install and use
    Small libraries can put linux on public workstations; if all you need is a browser you’ll never notice the difference
    A friend of mine, med librarian, has customized their linux workstations to look and behave exactly like Windows
  • Open source software in Georgia Libraries

    1. 1. Open Source Software in Georgia Libraries GLA webcast, Nov 17 2010 Jason Puckett Georgia State University
    2. 2. What is OSS?
    3. 3. Free as in beer (gratis) Freeware ≠ Open Source Gift culture: Raymond, “Homesteading the Noosphere” homesteading/ “Thanks for the Zotero info! I feel like I just stole something!” --GSU student
    4. 4. Free as in speech (libre) The Free Software Definition
    5. 5. Free as in kittens Tech support Staff time and energy
    6. 6. WordPress Firefox Apache MediaWiki Pidgin OSS you (probably) already use
    7. 7. Audacity
    8. 8. LibX
    9. 9. Zotero Jason’s Zotero guide: (copy it)
    10. 10. ReservesDirect
    11. 11. Evergreen 544 libraries
    12. 12. OSS you might not be using (yet)
    13. 13. Q&A? All images I used in this presentation are Creative Commons licensed and are © their creators. I thank them for sharing their work on Flickr.