Online KMWorld CRM Media Streaming Media Faulkner Speech Technology Unisphere/DBTA
Other ITI Websites
American Library Directory Boardwalk Empire Database Trends and Applications DestinationCRM EContentMag Faulkner Information Services Fulltext Sources Online InfoToday Europe Internet@Schools Intranets Today ITIResearch.com KMWorld Library Resource Literary Market Place OnlineVideo.net Plexus Publishing Smart Customer Service Speech Technology Streaming Media Streaming Media Europe Streaming Media Producer



Magazines > Computers in Libraries > September 2004
Back Index Forward
 




SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Vol. 23 No. 8 — September 2004
Online treasures
Considering Open Source Software
by Janet L. Balas

This month's theme of Making the Most of What You Have often leads to following the "do-it-yourself" approach. The phrase "do-it-yourself" brings a number of pictures and images to mind. I see a young child insisting loudly, "I can do it myself." I also think of library patrons looking for do-it-yourself books and video materials on many subjects including landscaping, home remodeling, and automobile repair. Some choose the do-it-yourself route out of stubborn independence (the young child), while others choose it out of frugality (library patrons), but there are some who choose it because they have an innovative idea. In describing those who are driven by innovation, I would say that they are often risk-takers. In the words of an Apple ad campaign from several years ago, they "think different." In a more eloquent statement by Robert Frost in his famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," they take "the one less traveled by."

For librarians working with automated systems, it can be scary to embark on a do-it-yourself project. There was an old saying in business that no one ever was fired for choosing IBM. That statement now probably would be modified to say that no one ever was fired for choosing Microsoft Windows. In the early days of library automation, vendors offered turnkey systems that bundled hardware and software, promising computer-shy librarians that these systems would practically run themselves. While current library automation systems are more complex and generally require you to design and manage your own network, it still seems safer to choose an established library automation vendor whose product runs on a Windows network.

At the Monroeville Library, we selected an established vendor for our new automation system, but we did not follow the usual conventions in setting up our network. Instead of being Windows-based, we set up a Macintosh network with Xserves, iMacs, eMacs, and Airport base stations. No network is ever perfect right from the start, and there have been some problems to solve. However, some problems, such as virus infections and the need for frequent security updates, have been fewer. There has also been some resistance from those who are uncomfortable with change. As the person responsible for managing and maintaining the network, I feel that this Mac implementation has made my job easier.

Choosing Macintosh over Windows was a much smaller risk than those taken by other librarians who wholeheartedly have been "do-it-yourselfers," implementing open source automation projects in their libraries. Those librarians who have taken giant steps in innovation can encourage those who are only taking small steps by sharing their successes. Many pioneers in library automation have documented their projects on the Web, so librarians looking for inspiration (and maybe a little push to try something new) have only to turn to their colleagues on the Web.

What Is Open Source and Why Are We Interested?

Before turning to colleagues for information on their open source projects, it may be helpful to learn more about the topic. One place to start is the Open Source Initiative Web site. The Open Source Initiative, also known as OSI, defines itself as a "non-profit corporation dedicated to managing and promoting the Open Source Definition for the good of the community." Site visitors can learn about the OSI certification mark and program, read about successful open source software products, access current news on open source, and subscribe to an announcements mailing list.

Armed with a basic understanding of open source, you can begin to contemplate the possibilities and to learn from librarians who have already begun open source projects. Over the last several months I have been watching WebJunction develop and grow as an online community for librarians to exchange ideas about using technology. Each month WebJunction chooses a focus topic; a recent one was open source, and the materials collected at that time are still available on the site. Librarians who have just begun to explore open source might want to begin with the group of articles prepared by WebJunction to provide technical overviews and a discussion of basic concepts. These include "What is Open Source Software?" by the Gates Foundation's Ed Sargent, "Open Source Application Primer" by Eric Lease Morgan, and "Open Source Library Systems: Getting Started" by Dan Chudnov.

WebJunction's focus on open source also includes Reports from the Field from locations as far away as New Zealand, the University of Windsor, and, based on my location, as close as Meadville Public Library in Meadville, Pa. In these reports, the librarians involved in the decision to use open source explain the reasons for their choices and the outcomes of their projects. Librarians interested in online discussions could follow links to WebJunction's Access Policies and Practices forum and the Software forum. In addition to the page devoted to open source as a focus topic, WebJunction also has another page with links to additional articles and resources.

Librarians who are seriously interested in implementing open source should visit the oss4lib Web site. The site states that its mission is to "cultivate the collaborative power of open source software engineering to build better and free systems for use in libraries." To accomplish this mission, the site maintains a listing of free software and systems designed for libraries and tracks news about project updates and related topics. The site, in keeping with the open source tradition, is a volunteer effort, and frequent visitors are encouraged to support the site by purchasing oss4lib apparel and housewares. Also in keeping with open source tradition, visitors are invited to submit news stories for inclusion on the site.

There are also links to various open source projects of interest to librarians. Those wishing to learn more about open source can visit the Readings section of the site to find links to bibliographies, articles, and an annotated list of book titles. An electronic mailing list, oss4lib, is available for new project and product announcements and general discussion. Complete information on subscribing and a link to the list archives are available on the site. The site also offers an RSS feed for its headlines.

Another resource is the bibliography prepared by Brenda Chawner as part of her Ph.D. studies at the School of Information Management, University of Wellington, New Zealand. The bibliography was created in October 2002 and was last modified in September 2003. In addition to announcements, journal articles, and Web documents on open source in libraries, it also includes articles on specific open source applications (including Koha, Greenstone, and MyLibrary) and provides links to the Web sites for these products.

Using Open Source for Digital Libraries

You can find a collection of links to Web sites that offer open source and other shareware and free items on the Library Automation Tools for You page, which is part of the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications, and Computation Web site. In addition to the links to the MyLibrary, Koha, and Greenstone sites, there are links to OpenBook and the e-smith Linux Server appliance. I was especially intrigued by one product name, PYTHEAS, which is an acronym for Powerful Yet Tactfully Helpful Electronic Arranger of Sources, but none of the links I found for this project appeared to be current.

Another source of links to free software for library systems is the UNESCO Free Software Portal, which has a page of annotated links to software for digital libraries. The now-familiar Greenstone and others are on this list, but additional products include CERN Document Server Software, EPrints Archive Software, and MIT's DSpace. Some of the links on this page are no longer valid, even though the page was supposedly updated on the day I visited the site.

Librarians interested in using open source software to build a digital library system might want to learn more about the Fedora Project, which is described as an open source digital repository management system. The project, which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, uses the Flexible Extensible Digital Object and Repository Architecture, aka Fedora. Visitors to the site can read about the history of this project that was developed jointly by the University of Virginia and Cornell University; they also can access the support resources, the usage FAQ, and the technical documentation. There are also links to publications on the project and additional development resources. Seriously interested visitors can even download Fedora release 1.2.1.

There's No Room for Error

At the beginning of this column, I spoke of children who don't want help and adults who are proud of being "do-it-yourselfers." We know that both children and adults can overestimate their abilities, and many do-it-yourself projects can end in failure. A failed library automation project would not only be embarrassing, but also expensive. An open source library automation project must be carefully planned and thoroughly researched before implementation so that in the end, as Robert Frost did in his famous poem, you can say, "I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Resources Discussed

The Road Not Taken, Frost, Robert, 1920. Mountain Interval http://www.bartleby.com/119/1.html

Open Source Initiative OSI—Welcome http://www.opensource.org

WebJunction's Focus on Open Source http://webjunction.org/do/DisplayContent?id=1216

oss4lib—Open Source Systems for Libraries http://www.oss4lib.org

Open Source Software and Libraries Bibliography http://www.vuw.ac.nz/staff/brenda_chawner/biblio.html

Library Automation Tools for You http://www.smecc.org/library_automation_tools_for_you.htm

UNESCO Free Software Portal: Software/Digital Library http://www.unesco.org/cgi-bin/webworld/portal_freesoftware/cgi/page.cgi?g=
Software/Digital_Library/index_shtml&d=1

Fedora: The Flexible Extensible Digital Object and Repository Architecture http://www.fedora.info/index.shtml

 


Janet L. Balas is library information systems specialist at Monroeville (Pa.) Public Library. She can be reached by e-mail at jbalas@telerama.lm.com or balasj@einetwork.net.
       Back to top