Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Guest Editorial: Balancing the Playing Field

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Guest Editorial: Balancing the Playing Field

Article excerpt

As a member of the University of Arizona's Digital Library Initiative, I see exciting and new developments in library technology, services, and software. Virtual reference services, library portals, electronic reserves, e-books, the Semantic Web, you name it; the list of new methods by libraries and librarians for serving information to the public continues to grow and emerge. These new opportunities also push us to constantly reexamine our core services and products, as well as our underlying philosophies in how and what we serve our customers. In reexamining ourselves, we must look at our relationship with technology and software and our role in the software development process. Up until now, this process has been (primarily) the sole domain of commercial vendors. Vendors are an integral part of the technology environment in libraries, especially in software development. However, it is up to libraries and librarians to ensure that they are equal partners on the software development playing field. We no longer can afford to let technology and technology companies dictate to us what we can do and how we can do it--instead libraries need to dictate the functions and features of the software they use, and take an active role in maintaining our technology ecology. To do this, we need to expand the library community's knowledge of and expertise with software development and technology--otherwise, to use a football analogy, we'll always be the visiting team.

Open source software (OSS) is both a philosophy and a method that can be used to gain that homefield advantage. Simply put, OSS allows the user to customize, augment, change, and enhance the software so that it better meets their needs. It accomplishes this by providing the source code of the software in addition to the executable program. By doing so, anyone who owns a copy of the software can become a developer as well. It does not mean that every user must become a developer; in fact, in most cases, this won't happen. What is important is the opportunity given--the opportunity to examine and contribute to the source code, which, at a minimum, allows libraries to better understand their tools and systems. …

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