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.

A History of the OCLC Tax-Exemption Status

One of the baffling elements I’ve found in discussions of the history of OCLC is that of its tax exempt status under Ohio law. The latest example of this comes from documents filed in the SkyRiver/Innovative-vs.-OCLC case that make disparaging remarks about how OCLC got its state tax-advantaged status. (The text of the remarks in those documents are included below.) I was curious about this a while back and so did some research on the topic. I had set it aside and forgotten about it until this latest lawsuit brought it up again. So, to set the record straight, here is at least one version — hopefully written from a neutral perspective — of what happened nearly three decades ago.

Views on Sharing (or, What Do We Want From OCLC?)

Within the span of a recent week we’ve had two views of the OCLC cooperative. In one we have a proposition that OCLC has gone astray from its core roots and in the other a celebration of what OCLC can do. One proposes a new mode of cooperation while the other extols the virtues of the existing cooperative. Both writers claim — independently — to “talk to librarians” and represent the prevailing mood of the profession. Can these two viewpoints be reconciled?

Early September Summary of the SkyRiver/Innovative vs. OCLC Case

On September 9th, OCLC filed its first substantial response with the court to the antitrust lawsuit file by SkyRiver and Innovative Interfaces. And in a motion where OCLC requests a change of venue from the Northern District of California to the Southern District of Ohio — something seemingly mundane — they certainly pulled no punches:

OhioLINK Seeks Executive Director

OhioLINK, my employer, is seeking nominations and applications for the position of Executive Director. The search is being conducted with the assistance of Brill Neumann Associates, and the position description is linked from their current searches page (direct link to PDF, cached link to PDF).

UDL: Universal Design…for Libraries?

This week I was at the Multiple Perspectives on Access, Inclusion, and Disability annual conference conference at the Ohio State University and was reminded again about the principles of Universal Design. The presentation was “Universal Design: Ensuring Access to All Learners” by Maria Morin from Project Enhance at the University of Texas — Pan American. Although she talked about Universal Design for Learning (encompassing assessments, instructional delivery and resource presentation), there was a point in her presentation that I snapped to Universal Design for Libraries.

Here were the two slides:

Extensible Catalog Project Seeking Developers in Innovative Ways

Last month, the eXtensible Catalog (XC) project posted job openings for Java developers. These are short-term, grant-funded projects and, having been on the hiring side of that equation before myself, I know how difficult it is to get good people for a one- or two-year project. The XC posting is different, though, in one important way: it is possible to have XC buy out the time of a developer on staff for the time that the development is happening.

Consideration will be made for qualified developers that are currently employed at another institution, but who may be available for loan to the XCO [eXtensible Catalog Organization]. The XCO would cover the salary and benefits of such individuals in the form of a direct payment to their host institution. This is an excellent opportunity for a library to invest in open-source software for libraries as well as a way to temporarily offset staffing costs in a difficult economic environment. Only staff that can be made available to XCO at 100% time (or close to that level) will be considered for this arrangement.

More on What Does It Mean to Be a Member of OCLC

Jay Jordan’s remarks during the OCLC Update Breakfast and the discussion at the Developers Network table at that breakfast generated further fuel for my previous philosophical thoughts on “Who is a member of the OCLC Cooperative?” In the context of things like Developer Network API keys1 this question of who is a member of OCLC the cooperative and who is not meets the on-or-off, ones-and-zeros nature of computers. One can’t “kinda” have an API Key unless that capability is programmed into the software (or a human chooses to override the established rules for who has a key).