This discussion is quite interesting.  very thoughtful remarks by

David makes excellent observations.  In response to his remarks about
the dearth of programmers in libraries and the lack of leadership for
successful adoption of in libraries, I would say that we have a lot of
bootstrapping work to do, especially in light of the fact that libraries
are, as organisations, conservative.

Right now OSS for libraries is in a very formative, nascent stage.  A few
projects here, good compelling ideas there, mostly found in academic
libraries... a motley collection of efforts that is very similar to the
hobbyists and their microcomputers back in 1976, too small for the radar
screens of the likes of IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation.
Consider what has happened since.

Like the hobbyists and their microcomputers in the 1970s, we are basically creating a disruptive technology (and methodology). Disruptive technologies generally take root and develop slowly at first, on the periphery of the marketplace, their true significance often misunderstood or go unnoticed altogether, even scorned, by the leaders until one day we

find these technologies  have profoundly changed how we do things. 

In the mean time, those of us creating and using this disruptive technology,  OSS in and for libraries, will have to take upon ourselves the leadership role.  We will have to set the example and show what is possible, one project at a time.  If we are sufficiently motivated it is definitely possible for us to change the order of things.

Peter Schlumpf
North Suburban Library System
200 West Dundee Road
Wheeling, IL, 60090
Phone: 847-459-1300 x 7155

-----Original Message-----
From: David Dorman
Sent: 5/21/01 10:17 AM
Subject: [oss4lib-discuss] Open Source Software and Libraries


You've posed some very ambitious questions for Monday morning.

I think we all recognize that there are many similarities between the
ethics and culture of the open source software movement and
libraries:  libraries have been cooperating and networking for years
and have structures for the "care and feeding" of many library
activities, most notably cataloging.

Libraries would already have enthusiastically and successfully
embrased open source software, except for three critical barriers.
The first barrier is that there are fewer and fewer programmers
working for libraries because. by and large, only large academic
libraries, large library systems, and very large public libraries can
afford to hire programmers.  The second barrier is that this country
does not have a national libray that takes a leadership role in
coordinating national initiatives.  The third barrier is that most
libraries as organizations are very conservative.

Let me elaborate on this second barrier.  We can all envision how
open source library application software could be developed and
maintained, but we also see that at present there are only a small
scattering of people working to make it happen--far short of the
critical mass there needs to be.  Where are the library leaders
calling for institutional and funding mechanisms to make open source
happen in libraries?  The Library of Congress cannot give us this
leadership--they have neither the mandate nor the resources to do so.
CLR could take a leadership role among academic libraries but has not
chosen to do so.  ALA initiatives have always been more general and
political in nature.  OCLC, which has in the past few years acted
more like a national library than LC, and has initiated many far
reaching and innovative programs and services, seems too caught up in
generating revenue from its own propriety software to embrase the
open source model.

So how can we break down the barriers?  Looking at the history of
cooperative cataloging is instructive.  Between 1905 and 1968 LC
provided the only shared cataloging available.  In the mid 1960's it
provided the leadership, through Henriette Abrams, in developing a
Machine Readable Cataloging standard.  What really made shared
machine readable cataloging successful, however, was a group of
libraries in Ohio that began the Ohio College Library Cooperative in
1967 under the leadership of Fred Kilgour.

What we need today is small group of libraries and and another
visionary leader to launch an open source library network--an OSLN
that could manage and form the core of a growing open source movement
within libraries world wide.  The need for leadership than will turn
heads, change minds and harness open source library programming
resources is so palpable we can all feel it.  An OSLN could
eventually transform the library landscape even more thoroughly than
OCLC has done.  I have no doubt that in the long run libraries will
embrase the open source model, because it makes sense and because of
the many dedicated liberary-related programmers who are already
engaged in making it happen.  But in the long run we are all dead,
and time's a wasting.

>What do you think the current state of open source software is in
>I have been given the opportunity to talk about open source software in
>libraries at ALA this year. The specific topic is a bit wide open and
>consequently I plan to do three things. One, I plan to revisit an essay
>wrote quite a number of months ago comparing and contrasting open
>software to libraries and gift cultures:
>Two, I plan to share my experiences with one particular open source
>project, MyLibrary@NCState:
>Three, I plan to give a brief overview of the state of open source
>in libraries. To do this I plan to look at some of the open source
>available for libraries:
>I believe open source software definitely provides many opportunities
>libraries. There is no doubt about it, but these opportunities come at
>cost. Open source software is as "free" as a free kitten. In other
>open source software requires "care and feeding". It requires a "good
>in order to "grow up big and strong", and sometimes I wonder whether or
>the library profession has enough "good homes." Are there enough people
>libraries who know how to install and configure open source software to
>allow the software to mature? Are there enough people with the
>skills to enhance the software when necessary? The success of open
>software requires lots o' communication, and based on my experiences
>mylib-dev, I wonder whether or not people are talking the time to
>record their discoveries and share them on mailing lists.
>So, some of my questions are: Do you think the professional ethics of
>librarianship are similar to the ethics of open sources software? Why
or why
>not. What do you think the future of open source software is in
>and what can we, as developers and people of this forum, do to create a
>synergistic whole of the software that is currently available?
>Eric "How's That For A Monday Morning?" Morgan
>see also

David Dorman
Lincoln Trail Libraries System
1704 West Interstate Drive
Champaign, IL  61822-1068
Phone:  217-352-0047
Fax:  217-352-7153
Web Site:

see also