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An Open Source Interview

Sep - 17 - 2008
Nicole C. Engard

I recently talked to Ellyssa Kroski about open source. Here are my notes in preparation for the interview.

1. You are the Open Source Evangelist, (a fantastic title by the way), for LibLime, a company which provides commercial support for libraries using OSS. Can you start by telling us a bit about LibLime and what exactly you do in your position there?

Sure, LibLime’s primary role is to provide support for open source products in libraries. One of the biggest fears that libraries have when it comes to using open source is that they have to do it all themselves, that’s where LibLime comes in. They help libraries with migration issues, development, hosting and training. Primarily, LibLime supports the Koha ILS and the YakPac OPAC, but we also have customers who are using MasterKey Federate Search Engine and OpenTranslators. My role at LibLime is primarily to educate librarians and library staff about what open source is and how it can be used in our libraries. I am the documentation manager for the Koha ILS and the author of the Koha 3.0 manual. I also try to keep up with Koha by doing onsite and web training for new LibLime customers who will be migrating to Koha.

2. Your background is in technology, and specifically working with some major open technologies such as PHP and MySQL, can you tell us a bit about how you first became involved with OSS, and your experience working with these technologies?

To be honest, I just sort of fell into it. I learned PHP and MySQL because that’s the class I could take first. I was anxious to change the way we were working at Jenkins Law Library, where I was at the time, and I wanted to learn how to create database applications to make our lives easier. I started by automating a lot of my duties as Web Manager. I didn’t think it was a good use of my time to make daily updates to the website and so I wrote scripts to change to the library homepage on a set schedule and to empower the librarians to add content themselves. My biggest project was the Jenkins Law Library intranet – a complete content management system built in house by RayAna Park, the web assistant, and myself. I think the key reason I became interested in open source tools and software is because it empowered me to customize applications to the needs of our library. I’m also a control freak and when I can’t access my data and manipulate it the way I want I get very frustrated and tools like Koha, Drupal, WordPress, etc all allowed me complete control.

3. What are some of the ways that you are using OSS today both professionally and personally?

Personally, I am a huge Firefox fan. When I go out and teach open source at library meetings, I always make a point to tell people to switch to Firefox as soon as they leave. Professionally and personally I use Adium for my instant messaging client, and open source client for Macs and Filezilla as my FTP client. I am also a fan of VLC – an open source media player, it has been much more user friendly than Quicktime. I find that many people (myself included) are using more open source software than they realize – usually we just find the software that meets our needs and use that.

4. Do you have any future OSS projects you’re thinking about, maybe some technologies that you would like to learn how to use?

Since Koha is programmed with Perl, I’d love to learn Perl, but right now I’m loving my job as writer, trainer and educator.

5. Libraries are increasingly opting for OSS tools, how do you see the use of OSS evolving in the field of librarianship?

I certainly see it becoming more common – if for no other reason than the fact that our library budgets are shrinking and everyone is looking for new ways to save money without losing quality. I also hear from a lot of those who are switching that they’re frustrated with the current business models they’re used to in libraries. I think that as people like myself go out and train libraries on what open source is and how it can be used in our libraries, we’re going to see more and more libraries making the switch. That said, I’ve already talked to many librarians who are using Firefox, Ubuntu and Open Office in their libraries already – so usage of open source software in libraries is already on the rise.

6. Have you any favorite examples of libraries using OSS and/or people or organizations that you look to for ideas or inspiration?

Howard County Library! They are doing some amazing things with open source – in fact they’re going completely open source in their library. They are already using Linux on their public machines and will be migrating to the Koha ILS. They’ve also replaced several other applications in their libraries with open source, but I’m not sure where they are in the process thus far.

7. Why do you think it’s important to librarianship to promote OSS?

At computers in libraries this past spring, Glen Horton gave a talk on how libraries can help with open source, in one of his slides he put it perfectly – I’m going to read that slide to you:

Libraries and Open Source Both…

Believe that information should be freely accessible to everyone
Give away stuff
Benefit from the generosity of others
Are about communities
Make the world a better place

While that last point is subjective, I agree with this slide 100%. I have read up a lot about what open source means and both libraries and the open source community have the same ethic. One author I read actually said “[Librarians] are almost ethically required to use and develop open source software.” And another said “The open source movement and libraries have a lot in common, not the least of which is the belief in free and open access to ideas and information”

I have to agree with all of those who came before me and say that it just makes sense that libraries use and promote open source.

8. Have you anything else you’d like to tack on about OSS, your own experiences, how it relates to librarianship, etc?

Don’t let fear get the best of you! I hear stories all of the time from librarians who are interested in learning more but are being held back by fear within their organization. Education is the only way to combat the fear and you can’t make educated arguments if you don’t go out there and learn and play. It may not be possible for a library like yours to do what Howard County is doing, but there are lots of ways you can benefit from the work done in the open source community in your library without making a huge change.

One Response so far.

  1. Amy De Groff says:

    Super interview! You or anyone interested can keep track of Howard County Library’s work in the open source world by reading our blog

    http://hclibrary.org/opensource

    or visiting our website and reading the articles and updates we offer under “How do I.. Use a public computer?”

    Regards, Amy


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