Yesterday I attended a Free and Open Source Software for Librarians program by Scott Dexter and Samir Chopra, based on their book Decoding Liberation: The Promise of Free and Open Source Software. Before you read my report back, you should know that the content is familiar territory to me. My spouse, Eric Goldhagen, gives a similar talk in his half of our "Radical Reference: Community Librarianship and Free/Open Source Technology" (and other talks) road show.
I tell you that in order to excuse my scant note taking--I only wrote down things that were new to me or prompted new thoughts. And also because good as I thought this event was, I think Eric does a better job, especially of speaking to librarianly values and concepts.
Still and all, Dexter (who gave the prepared part, and was joined by Chopra for the Q&A), organized and presented his thoughts really well. I really admire that in good professors--the ability to present their material in a clear, well-ordered manner, so that even if you are already familiar with the concepts, you feel like certain parts of it are simple and obvious for the first time.
- The social goals of open source are
- User agency--the individual having control over her own computer
- Education--being able to study/learn from the source code
- From the Open Source Initiative, the concept of open source as going through a process of "distributed peer review." I think that's a great selling point for academics.
- Other juicy quotes from OSI, "transparency of process" and "an end to predatory vendor lock-in." That second one is loud and clear to librarians, I hope!
- He framed the ethical mission of open source as a "social good," which I think is useful when talking to librarians.
- I knew about copyleft, but I hadn't noticed "All rights reversed" before. Awesome.
- "The technical is political."
- They provided a bibliography, which I think is smart when dealing with readers. The two titles that most interested me were Hacking Capitalism: the Free and Open Source Software Movement, which they said has a Marxist angle, and Two Bits: the Cultural Significance of Free Software, which is more anthropological.
- During the FAQ, I think it was Jason Kucsma who reported that at ALA Clifford Lynch warned that open source is not without its problems. The LITA blog puts it, "...Cliff Lynch who first wanted to react to the comments about open source that previous panelists had made. He asked that we be smart about it and not overreact in any one direction - it’s not necessarily a panacea for us!" I'd like to hear more about this (but I don't want to listen to the podcast!) if anyone wants to share.
- During the questions I got to thinking about how libraries/librarians are cautious about the vendors we deal with. Engaging a monolith seems to make us feel safe, and yet I am of the opinion that a small company is nearly as secure and much more likely to be responsive to our needs and return our phone calls. e.g. ALA never wants to be a vendor's biggest client and therefore is never any vendor's most important client. I think that's a mistake. If you hire a small or local open source vendor, or better yet hire temporary or permanent staff to customize an open source tool for your library, they are going to give you what you ask for (provided you ask for it at a sensible time in the process, of course), rather than making only the changes that their non-MLS, non-technical sales staff thinks will attract future customers.
This was a nice event even beyond the content. It started at a sane hour (10:30--kisses to Jill Cirasella for the scheduling), and they provided breakfast, including vegan cream cheese. Plus getting to City Tech was a breeze for me, and I liked seeing other library buddies and new Facebook friends.