Open Source Culture

This past weekend I had the pleasure of spending time with some local librarians. As it always does, the discussion of open source and my opinions came up – in particular what my opinion was of the ‘in-fighting’ going on right now in the Koha world. For those who have spoken to me (not just read my words here) you can guess how impassioned I became in trying to explain that what others saw as in-fighting was really the polar opposite. What outsiders are seeing as in-fighting is in reality a community banding together against a perceived threat to their way of life.

Sounds kind of dramatic doesn’t it? But so does assuming that community members are acting like a bunch of kids trying to prevent the new kid from joining them in the sandbox. The fact is that open source (as I’ve said and written so many times before) is about more than just software, it’s about people! Those who work on open source projects become a sort of family – I use this word instead of ‘community’ because it holds more closely to what members of an open source project act like. The dedicated users and developers think of the product as their child. In this case, the community is wide spread and far reaching, but that doesn’t make it any different than the community in your neighborhood or city. This community/family is fighting for a culture that they nurtured for years, a culture that (for all appearances) the new kid seems to think ineffectual – a culture the new kid just doesn’t get.

When teaching open source I tell people to judge the software no differently than they do any other software product, look at how it works and how it meets your needs. When it comes to judging if the project is a success I say to look to see if there is an active community. One of the number one concerns people have about switching to open source is that there won’t be support. Not all open source applications have companies to provide support and so you have to look to the community for support. The dedication and strength of the community is a testament to the strength of the product and despite what people might think with all the back and forth going on right now Koha is strong!

Let’s take a look at this from a different angle. Think of the attacks we’re seeing lately on libraries and library budgets. I have read some horrible comments from members of various communities around libraries where the people who live there think that libraries are obsolete and a drain on funds. We read these comments (as librarians and people in the know) and say ‘what an ignorant person’ because we know that our libraries are full of people making use of our services, and that we are not obsolete by any means. In an attempt to educate these ignorant people sites like SaveLibraries and Losing Libraries have popped up. And yet this doesn’t get labeled as in-fighting – it is simply an attempt by members of the library community – the library family – to educate those on the outside about the value of libraries and the culture around them.

This is exactly what’s going on with members of the Koha community right now – they are trying (and to be fair getting tired of trying – and so getting angry) to educate others so that they understand the way things are done in our world. Someone has come in (whether misguidedly or on purpose I have yet to determine) aging that the community around Koha is not necessary and can’t do the job that a corporation can. Coming in and spitting on all that made Koha what is it and saying we don’t need you anymore we can do this without you.

When in reality, to some, what looks like a mess is really a carefully thought out model. A model that has worked for Koha for 10 years and for other apps like it for much much longer. The only way to see the beauty of that is to come in with an open mind, ready to learn from those who went before you and to respect the culture they have built.

One final note – why (you might be asking) do I keep repeating myself on this? Well the best way to educate is to repeat the same thing in different ways. I mean no disrespect – I want only to try to educate others in any way I can. If you don’t agree with me – that’s your right – but be aware that the option to comment is open only to those who want to have a discussion (in agreement or disagreement) – not to those wishing to be negative and name call (as has been done in the past when I wrote about this topic).


  1. Beautifully said Nicole.

  2. Great and important post here, Nicole! I’m glad open source has you as a passionate and understanding advocate. 🙂

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