Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Standing Up for Open Source

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Standing Up for Open Source

Article excerpt


It is time for librarians to stand up for open source. Based upon shared values of openness and accessibility, the library world has common cause with the open source community. Further, open source solutions offer many functional and practical advantages, including potential answers to some of the issues currently frustrating libraries. However, libraries have thus far adopted open source solutions at a rate far below other sectors and, notably, have not made a commitment to development of open source integrated library systems (ILS).

This trend not only means that libraries will continue to depend on expensive, proprietary products but also suggests other, more dire consequences in the future. Lacking experience with open source tools, which represent both core functionality and cutting-edge innovations in the online world, libraries risk becoming increasingly marginal as these new technologies shape the coming information world. Librarians who embrace open source and work for its adoption in our libraries and its integration into our community will gain the tools we need to adapt and evolve in order to become leaders of the information age.

For our purposes, the term "open source" includes an assortment of efforts promoting collaborative development and free exchange of software. These voluntary communities created the tools that gave birth to the Internet, their products still form its backbone, and their initiative and oversight guides its future development.

The case for open source solutions in general and the special relationship between open source and libraries are well established, as can be seen in Brenda Chawner's bibliography. Why then has the library community hesitated to adopt available open source solutions, partner with open source developers, and take the initiative in creating tools and materials using the open source scheme?

The answer can be traced to a lack of appreciation for the potential of open source solutions in libraries combined with a failure to understand that how we do business is integral to the business we are in: we cannot operate in an "information as commodity" mode without undermining the principles of freedom of information we try to promote.

In response, we look for remedies to this situation in a series of possible strategies for raising awareness within our community and overcoming other hurdles. Choosing to stand up for open source requires that we accept a new role, that we become the "shape shifters" who can help librarianship find a new path and ensure that the library's future is not a repetition of the past.

Open Source


Literally, "open source" refers to the Open Source Initiative of 1998, but for the purposes of this article we use the term inclusively to encompass a broader array of allied movements: free culture, free software, open source software, open access, open content, open archives, and open standards. All share principles of freedom of access and shared creation of resources for the common good. These initiatives are defined by two features: free distribution and collaborative development. Open source resources are shared without cost, provided with the means to customize and enhance them, and are managed through a licensing process that protects the rights of the creators and their collaborators while allowing users broad access. Adopters may evolve into developers, and all belong to a community centered on a product.


The open source instinct may be traced to the earliest days of computing--freely shared software was more the norm once--but the current movement dates from the 1980s. Important milestones include:

* 1983--GNU Project was launched to create a free software movement based on open source code and collaborative development.

* 1985--Free Software Foundation was established by Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project, to support the goals of the free software movement. …

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