You may be wondering why I came all this way to talk to you about openness in libraries, so I thought a bit of a background on me might be of help to you. The best place to start is at the beginning. Growing up, I remember the library fondly. We would go to the public library and pick up as many books as I was allowed (there were limits on how many books I could take out at once) and then quickly devour them. When I had a project for school my mother would take me, not to the public library, but to the local university library [shown above]. There I would sit on the floor between the stacks and read book after book on the topic I was researching. When I graduated college with a BA in Literary Studies and Computer Programming [shown above], I wasn’t sure where I’d end up - but it was America’s oldest law library that snatched me up and further instilled in me a love of libraries. In my 6+ years at Jenkins Law Library in Philadelphia, I learned so much about developing software for libraries and about the way librarians work, that I decided to go back to school and get my Masters in Library and Information Science [shown above]. It was around the same time that my passion for open source software began. I had used it (as we all have) for years without any understanding for, or care about, the philosophies behind open source and what it meant for libraries for years. It wasn’t until I started learning more about the Koha Integrated Library System that I became the passionate advocate of open source software in libraries that you see before you today. It is this passion that brings be so far away from home to share my knowledge of and love for free and open source software.
While my job is to educate librarians about open source software for and in libraries - it’s important to note that open source software is not the only way that libraries can be open. Libraries are known for openness in general. This is what makes libraries so awesome, so powerful and so popular. If it weren’t for our open policies, we wouldn’t have the kinds of patrons we do today. That said, today’s topic is why libraries should care about free and open source software - so let’s get down to it. Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eduardozarate/3827672749/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/24343741@N06/4049306395/ http://www.flickr.com/photos/edmittance/512336828/ ht tp://www.flickr.com/photos/cavort/151687944/ http://ww w.flickr.com/photos/svensson/45394401/
There are so many reasons I can give for libraries using open source, many have been said over and over again in articles, blog posts, books, etc. The most obvious reason to me is that libraries and open source have the same ideals, ethics, codes of conduct, and general beliefs. These points were first presented by Glen Horton at a library conference in the US. After reading through several codes of ethics from library associations around the world, I can accurately say that (with the exception of the last bullet point - which is pure opinion) these parallels are true. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cobalt/2886340385/
While this quote from Jeff Howe sounds a bit utopian, I have found it too to be extremely accurate. I have worked on projects alone, with only the customer to provide feedback and I have worked in a community of like-minded open source developers and I can say without a doubt that the products that came out of the community were far superior to those I wrote by myself - in a bubble. Think also about the catalogs we create in our libraries, to a geek like me, this is a beautiful collection of data put together by librarians who love gathering and sharing data - maybe a stretch for some to think of this as a connection between open source and libraries, but as a cataloger, a librarian and an open source participant, it makes sense to me. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/reedinglessons/2239767394/
Libraries are facing people who think that Google can answer all problems, they’re trying to compete in a battle they cannot win, and so it’s time to provide more and better services in our libraries instead of trying to ‘be more like Google.’ We’re also facing increasingly shrinking budgets. In the US this fall, Philadelphia (home to Benjamin Franklin who is know for many things - one of which is forming the first free public lending library in America) faced such severe budget cuts that all of the city libraries were preparing to close their doors for good. Other speakers here today will address what open source is and how to combat the falsehoods that are commonly spread regarding it, but I want to mention a couple areas of risk that we need to keep an eye on in libraries - areas of risk that Free and Open Source software can help us with. The biggest risk we’re facing as libraries is the economy and that means companies closing their doors, merging or buying each other out. This can mean big headaches for libraries since the systems they’re using are owned by only one vendor. Open source does not suffer from this risk. If you’re using an open source system it is owned by no one company and that means that if your support company goes out of business, or merges with another you can still use the software whether they continue to support it or not. Another risk area I want to mention - and not because I think it’s a risk, but because it’s the biggest falsehood I hear about open source software - is software security. The fact is that software is software - just because it’s open source or just because it’s proprietary means nothing when it comes to software security. A study was done in 2006 by one man where he watched the security of IE and Firefox. In the end he found that IE was insecure for 284 of 356 days and Firefox only 9 ( http://blog.washingtonpost.com/securityfix/2007/01/internet_explorer_unsafe_for_2.html ). This is because of the way open source is developed, over the Internet in the public eye with many many people fixing bugs all of the time, not because the software itself is open source. So that is why I say that open source is just as secure if not more secure than proprietary systems. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/auntie/102849109/
All of this adds up to freedom. This simple distinction is one that has to be brought home for many librarians. Free and Open software is not always free of cost, but it always comes with freedoms previously unknown to many in the library industry. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/programwitch/2505184887/
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive enough to think that because you have all of these freedoms that open source software is going to be an easy transition for all libraries/librarians. Librarians are so used to the old way of doing things (yes, we all know that the old way is actually open source - but that’s not the way libraries think) that they sometimes can’t wrap their heads around the idea of a software application coming with the freedoms associated with free and open source software. This is why we need to educate our colleagues, this is why you’re all here. If you don’t feel comfortable teaching others, then maybe participation is the way for you to go. By writing code or documentation or simply troubleshooting you can make a huge difference in the direction an open source project develops. The stronger the community, the stronger the software. Photo: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3063/2969152376_bc19665708.jpg?v=0
The answer is simple. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/unnamed/47093936/
What I’d like to see come of this conference - is more people participating in open source projects that effect and empower libraries. David Eaves has an awesome post ( http://eaves.ca/2009/07/28/remixing-angie-byron-to-create-the-next-million-mozillians/ ) on his blog about those who participate in open source. In his post he uses diagrams to show that a very small number of people involved in open source take the final step and say “I can do something about this” and power the open source project forward
When David zooms in on the image, he shows that the number of people doing things to make open source better is actually a very small number. David goes on to say - pretty much what I have said to here already - if those people who power open source took a little bit of time to educate others then the level of participate would be significantly higher.
Today I want you to leave here with a bit of homework. I want you to take what you learn here today and go home and experiment. This can mean installing new software you learned about or simply doing a bit of research on libraries using open source. If you’re really excited you can even sign up for a mailing list or two and talk to other libraries who are using open source and see what they’ve learned in their transition. Don’t miss the opportunity to go home tonight and try something new and come back here tomorrow to share it with your colleagues.
Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to go out and educate your colleagues and participate in open source projects that will power our libraries for years to come.
“The best person to do a job is the one who most wants to do that job; and the best people to evaluate their performance are their friends and peers who, by the way, will enthusiastically pitch in to improve the final product, simply for the sheer pleasure of helping one another and creating something beautiful from which they all will benefit.”
- Howe, J. (2008). Crowdsourcing: Why the power of the crowd is driving the future of business. New York: Crown Business. p.8