Dale Askey has written a great column on how libraries “share and fail to share open source software” and looks into some of the reasons that might be the case.
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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.
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.
My favorite thing about blogs beyond the personal interactions that they afford is reading what people think about more products than I can usefully evaluate on my own. Two reviews that came through my reader lately have been true gems:
1. Mary “LibraryLaw” Minow discusses LibraryElf: My library elf – the joy and the horror
2. Sarah “Librarian in Black” Houghton tries a beta of QuestionPoint’s Flash interface: New QuestionPoint Flash Interface: LiB’s Review
Meredith “Information Wants to be Free” Farkas also does a lot of good no-nonsense reviews.
I’ve been meaning to link to some of Dan Chudnov’s essays for a while now. He’s a librarian programmer, or a programmer with an MLIS, who works on some pretty interesting tools. Unlike many other people who can codeswitch between high-tech and low-tech aspects of the profession, he hasn’t eschewed one for the other. In fact, he spends an awful lot of time trying to bridge the gaps that exist. His work log should be on everyone’s rss feed list. The latest entry is about library development, not fundraising, but coding. Dan codes, for a library. Dan thinks more of us should learn to code. I’ll let him tell it.
There seem to be two levels operating here of relevance to library types: First, you cannot afford to be slow, so whatever it takes to learn how to do things faster and better. Second, don’t be stupid about being faster and better – the means exist today to design scalable platforms on top of scalable platforms, and tools on top of tools. So you’d better know what you’re doing, and you’d better be good at it. Or, you’d better know whom to emulate and take every possible advantage of their good work when it can get you up your own curve.
This kind of message needs to be broadcast profession-wide – at the TLA meeting this past April several audience members challenged my assertion that “more of us need to be coders.” My response was, and remains, that in the aggregate, our profession is borderline incompetent w/r/to software development, and the more people we can get who understand this stuff, the more likely our chances of basic survival as an industry.