Announcing Open Library

Someone asked me during one of my talks if I knew of any projects that were actually trying to open source cataloging records and the idea of authority records. I said I didn’t, not really. It’s a weird juxtaposition, the idea of authority and the idea of a collaborative project that anyone can work on and modify. I knew there were some folks at the Internet Archive working on something along those lines, but the project was under wraps for quite some time. Now, it’s not. Its called Open Library and it’s in demo mode. You can examine it and I encourage you to do that and give lots of feedback to the developers. Make sure to check the “about the librarianship” page

Imagine a library that collected all the world’s information about all the world’s books and made it available for everyone to view and update. We’re building that library.

Open Source Software in Libraries

Casey Bisson has written a Library Technology Reports issue on Open Source Software in Libraries with a chapter by yours truly. I got to install and run Mac and Windows versions of the more popular desktop open source applications and take screenshots and make recommendations. Of course it’s not hard to recommend something like Firefox with all its sexy add-ons and Greasemonkey scripts, but you might not know that VLC is a pretty good media player, or that for advanced users Gimp can do a lot of what Photoshop does for no cost. Now if we can just get our style guides properly updated to not suggest hyphenating it all the time, we’ll be golden.

Just say “NO” to RTFM or why there aren’t more women in open source?

This is loosely related to libraries, but it is related to FOSS [free and open source software] which many libraries are using or contemplating. One of the things that is consistently stressed as a benefit of open source stuff is that when you pay for people to work on your software, you are hiring talent, not paying for licenses at giant megacorporations. For some of us, this is an unqualified good thing. However, compared to megacorporation software projects, there are many fewer women working on open source projects.

Some of this has to do with the nature of the open source community, some of it has to do with technology generally. When my little video got a ton of views on YouTube, I sort of made a joke that I would know it was a success when the marriage proposals started trickling in. Other non-techies looked at me strangely when I said this, but sure enough when you look at the comments, you’ll see it. I find it all pretty amusing and not some sort of “evidence” of any sort of sexism, but I do think it points out that a woman with even a passing competency in this areana [and I'm techie but nothing like, say, Karen Coombs] is such an anomaly that people just stop and stare. I’d like more nerdy lady friends who do this sort of stuff, so I’ve been reading up on it. I found a few good things to read and I’d like to share them with you.

On Donated Technology

This week at work I went back to one of the teeny libraries to help them get their three donated computers running. There is a local insurance company that upgraded and gave the library their old computers. For a library that has two computers total, including the one the librarian uses for all her work, this is a boon. Sort of.

I plugged in the computers and turned them on and was greeted with a Win2K registration screen of the “enter your product key” variety. I asked the librarian if the computers came with software and she said “just what’s on them.” You may have read about this part in last week’s post. I asked the librarian to call her friend and see about the product codes and we’d try again. I work at this library about 90-120 minutes a week. This week I showed up and the librarian said that her friend has said the product key was on the side on a sticker. “Doh!” Sure enough, there were 25 characters and I dutifully typed them in. No go. Turns out the sticker on the side of the machine is a Win98 product code and somehow, mysteriously, these computers have Win2k Pro installed on them. No one knows how. I ran down the options with the librarian. 1) Buy an XP license or three from Tech Soup. 2) Hassle her friend to figure out wtf is up with the software on these computers. 3) Wipe the drives and install Ubuntu.

I’m pushing for #3 and the librarian just doesn’t want to do #2. My friend on IM is pushing for a fourth option, a Linux thin client solution where all the machines run off a central server. It’s an appealing idea but I’m not sure if I can even explain it in a way that makes it sound like less of a risk than a life rich with Windows nonsense. So, we start with #3 and figure we have #1 as a backup. I start downloading Ubuntu and it’s going to take two hours, minimum. My class starts in four hours and it’s an hour away, so this project is going to take at least one more week to accomplish. While I’m futzing with the computers I notice that one of them doesn’t seem to be running the monitor correctly, or not at all. I do a bit of brief troubleshooting and determine that both monitors work but only one CPU seems to work to run the monitor. I look in the back of the computer and notice the vent fan is pointed sideways. I have no idea what to make of this. I do know that if we want to get rid of this computer in any sort of approved way it will cost us money.

Meanwhile we’ve bought 50′ of ethernet cable to wire up the computers in the basement (we’ll pay the electrician to drill the hole in the floor and run the cable), cadged a donated switch from a friend, bought three surge protectors and carried three computers and monitors down a narrow flight of stairs. I spend the last 30 minutes of my time there uninstalling IM clients — well not uninstalling them but setting them not to autorun on boot and not autologin when they start. The librarian was getting a bunch of messages for studman1234 when she started her day. She’s a practical gal, but everyone’s got their limits. I didn’t have time to run Windows Update or do any defragging.

I told this story to a local friend of mine who said “Geez, you can buy a new Dell for less than a thousand bucks, what a headache all of that is.” I had to explain to my friend that the library runs on a budget of less than 20K so a thousand dollar computer (and I think it’s more like $500 now) is not really in their universe for now. I’m sure there are well-meaning people who would love to help the library out, but it’s tough to find the time to sit down and compose thoughful and considered letters to them when you’re open 18 hours a week.

So, I don’t want this to be an entire “looking the gift horse in the mouth” post, but mostly I wanted to highlight that there is a range of costs associated with “free.” Most libraries I know don’t even want to take tech donations because they’re concerned that just this sort of thing will happen. On the other hand most of them are running Gates Foudation hardware from several years ago and they’re thinking about upgrades and considering their library’s future technological directions. Meanwhile I bought an old IBM X31 Thinkpad from ebay and I’ve been messing with it in the evenings to get it running the way I like it with an open source OS and software. It cost less than $300, but that’s only really a bargain if I don’t count the cost of my time. Since it’s a hobby project for me, I don’t, but when I’m on the clock it’s nice if things don’t take forever.

open source software in libraries, a query

I’m putting together a little piece about open source software, sort of showcasing how it is or can be used in libraries. Some of the tools, like Firefox or Open Office, are somewhat well known while others like VLC or Paint.net are much less familiar. If your library is using an open source tool and liking it, would you mind putting a note in the comments or dropping me an email over the next week or so letting me know what you use and why you like it? Thank you.

Here are a few little things I’ve been reading on the subject this week.

- Dan Chudnov’s Talk slides: “FLOSS for Libraries: For Administrators”
- LifeHackers Geek to Live: Top 10 open source Windows apps
- Eric Goldhagen’s Open Source for Librarians powerpoint presentation.

learn to FLOSS @ your library

FLOSS is an acronym standing for Free/Libre Open Source Software and it’s the term people use when they’re trying to describe the intersection of what’s free and what’s open source. Eric Goldhagen gave a great talk about FLOSS (ppt) at the Simmons Skillshare and sent us off with a list of FLOSS tools that can replace what we’re already using in libraries, from Open Source IM clients to whole free operating systems. It made me happy, then, to read about Howard County Library in Maryland moving to a user experience on their computers that they call Groovix. This web4lib post has the details but it’s an ubuntu-based system that covers all the bases of what people use PACs for using free (not always open source) tools. They end their post with this note

Howard County Library is a pioneer in Maryland in using Open Source software on public and staff machines. Because Open Source software is available free or at a very modest cost, the Library can provide public computers at a fraction of the cost using comparable commercially-available software.

Sounds neat, doesn’t it? I’ve often though, and said in my talks, that a lot of software problems are management issues disguised as money issues. We say we can’t afford to change, when what we mean is that we don’t know how. FLOSS-curious? Check out this Wikipedia Free Software portal. Yeah I said Wikipedia, for all of its flaws, at least they’re not trying to sell you anything.

librivox serendipity

A few people had sent me a link to LibriVox before I left on the trip and it was in the queue to look at when I got back. I ran into Hugh McGuire at the Open Content Alliance Open Library Launch (his blog notes) and was happy to be able to say “Hey your link is in my inbox” and then get to talk to the man himself about the work that he does with group of dedicated volunteers. With a tagline like “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain” you’ve got to believe they have big plans. The specific project involves volunteers recording chapters of books and making the audio files available. The broader vision is to have “all books in the public domain to be available, for free, in audio format, on the internet.” You can have a copy of Call of the Wild to use however you want and whenever you want, thanks to LibriVox and the four volunteers who read and recorded the chapters. What are you waiting for, go volunteer to read something! Hugh is also on the board of Canda’s oldest lending library in case you were skeptical about his librarian cred.

Koha support from the folks at LibLime

Are you open-source-curious but reluctant to move to a product without built in support? The folks at LibLime want to help make the move to open source library systems easier and less fraught with peril. They sell and support their own version of Koha [yes one of those features is spell-check, do I have your attention now?] as well as an intranet product which enables blogging, photo sharing, and web site updating. If you must filter, they’ve got an open-source answer to that too. I’m still in the data-collection phase learning about LibLime but Koha is a tested dependable ILS and now that there is a supported version, I’d love to see more people jumping on the bandwagon.

open source stuff you may already be using

Open Source software can save your library money. Two great posts, one by Meredith at Information wants to be Free, and one by Karen at Library Web Chic — two smart women using open source blogging software — about what open source software they use. Links galore!

open source ILS project releases pre-alpha demo

The open-ILS blog has announced a release of their open source integrated library system demo available, if I am not mistaken, as a Firefox plugin/extension.