The Challenges and Rewards of Open Source

Note!Below is the text of an article I wrote for the LYRASIS member newsletter in which I talk about how a community of users of open source software is as important (if not more so) than the code. I’m reposting it here for the DLTJ readership.



One of the challenging and rewarding aspects of open source software is building and sustaining the community that surrounds the software. It is challenging because people and institutions use open source software for a variety of reasons. For some, having the computer source code means that they are empowered to adapt the software to fit their needs. For others, contributing talent and budget to a communal effort – something arguably aligned with the general ethos of libraries – means that ultimately a better solution is created for their own users. Yet another group sees an open source solution as simply the best tool to solve a particular problem.

The leaders of an open source software community can find it challenging to focus this wide array of motivating factors in a way that keeps the project moving forward and satisfying to everyone. This is particularly true once the first phase of the software is written and published. Will a community form around this project that has consumed a lot of local resources? What if we’re swamped with so many questions and requests for tweaks that we can’t get our own jobs done? What if we put it out there and no one notices?

Ah, but consider the rewards. Working with open source software can enable you to join a community with the potential for impacts that go well beyond what one can do with off-the-shelf software. Whether you are an active user submitting bug reports and feature requests, a software developer adding fixes and new functionality, a documentation writer, or just someone who answers questions from peers based on your own experiences, you can become part of the active life of the project. The transparency of open source projects allows you to more clearly see the fruits of your efforts and determine whether a particular piece of software is going to meet the needs of your users now and in the future.

One such community is now forming through LYRASIS. LYRASIS Technology Services, a new option for members, is starting to offer consulting and hosting options for open source software as well as selected commercial and hybrid applications. Whatever your motivations for considering open source software, I hope that you will not only think about the software itself, but also consider the impact the community will have on you and your effect on the community.

For additional information about LYRASIS Technology Services, please contact Peter Murray, Assistant Director for Technology Services Development by email or telephone at 800-999-8558 x2955.

(This post was updated on 27-Sep-2011.)