Beyond SHOWING people what OSS can do, we need to find ways to make it
easier for people to adopt these programs. Let's not forget we are
talking among a group of people who are relatively comfortable with the
OSS environment . However, to move OSS out to the mainstream, we need to
remember that most of the people in the library views Unix, Perl, etc.
with trepidation. They either don't have IT people in the library, don't
know how to communicate their need to their IT people in their
institution or need some ways to gain some hands-on experience and
confidence before jumping in. We tend to think that writing programs is
the difficult part. The reality is that for people who has no prior
experience, adopting an OSS program is harder.


Rachel makes an excellent point here.


The hands-on NERCOMP workshop I organized in April to give people a
chance to walk through the process of adopting Prospero and MyLibrary
was a good example. In theory, this was supposed to be easy. However,
plenty of things can go wrong when you actually sit down to do it. Until
you are comfortable with the environment, you need all the help you can
get. If our purpose is to widen the acceptance of OSS in the libraries,
we need to find ways provide hands-on trainings.


I was one of the speakers at the NERCOMP workshop, and one of the messages I had tried to express (were it not for my painfully discovered limitations as an extemporaneous speaker) is the importance of packaging.  In a way we're preaching to the choir.  Almost all OSS software assumes so many things about not only the competence of the user in installing the stuff, but also the operating environment.  All too often it assumes one has a Unix box with MySQL, Apache, &ct. available and installed in a particular odd way, and that the user is competent to integrate the software into that environment..  Although it may be an indication of the relative immaturity of OSS in libraries, this does absolutely no good for perhaps 90 per cent of libraries out there that might be able to benefit from OSS for libraries, especially the small ones with no IT staff that are priced out of the commercial automation marketplace.

This is one of my eventual goals for the Avanti project, as primitive as it may be at present.  I want it to be a platform independent product that assumes as little as possible about the operating environment, and the user.  I may go as far as to develop a complete hardware/software solution... a library automation server appliance, if you will.

User training is important.  But good software design, including the installation process, is critical and must meet the user part-way in ease of installation and use, if it is to be successful at all.


Peter Schlumpf
North Suburban Library System
schlumpf@nslsilus.org