Open Minds, Open Books, Open Source is an article in this week’s InsideHigherEd which addresses the reasons why libraries are moving to Open Source software. The St. John’s Libraries’ are part of a trial project using the OS application KohaZoom, and trying out LibLime support, on behalf of our WALDO consortium partners. As our own library director mentions in reference to the article: “Please note that many of the reasons given by other libraries for moving away from the proprietary systems are those that pushed us toward KohaZoom.” Not explicitly mentioned in the article, is the fact that our use of OS is also in keeping with StJ Libraries’ commitment to the University’s Social Justice mission. When we spend money to develop features for our Library System, libraries in impoverished areas — with little or no technology budgets — can benefit. (Note: A new blog dedicated to OS in Libraries can be found here)

If you have ever wondered about the “fuss” over Open Source in general, the article suggests reasons why anyone or any organization considers using Open Source software:

With a bit of grant money and some eager developers, institutions have begun creating their own open-source solutions that are fully customizable, free for others to use and compatible with existing systems. …[T]he increasing availability of open-source software has nudged some libraries [and we could add, universities, organizations, businesses] to reconsider the role of their in-house technology gurus, and to wonder whether it would make more long-term financial sense to hire more developers than to continue paying for products over which they have limited control.

When proprietary software puts a technological or financial barrier in the way of the user accomplishing what s/he needs, OS code offers the opportunity to harness the power of collective intelligence. Of course, “freely available code” does not mean OS is without “costs”. Large organizations spend money “saved” from vendors to hire in-house developers to improve software functionality; the idea is that directed in-house developers can design changes with a quicker response time than vendor developers can. Open source software isn’t just about access to code but also about distribution criteria as well, so that, on smaller scale, tech-saavy individuals, small organizations and developing nations benefit from distribution of improvements to software. The latter may “get more than they give”, but any contribution means all users benefit from OS’ technological symbiosis.

To get the gist of the types of OS software that individuals might use, check out The Top 50 Proprietary Programs that Drive You Crazy — and Their Open Source Alternatives. The list reflects one person’s ideas, but the reader gets a sense of the variety of extant OS programs. On the organizational and business level, OS isn’t strictly for “radicals” either, check out this entry on the “hidden” prevalence of OS in use in everyday operations: “A day without OS.” (The comments on that entry are worth a gander too!)

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