A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Open Source and Open Access: A Perfect Marriage

by on December 13, 2016

The maker movement has been filtering into the public library sphere for years, and libraries all over the U.S. now have their very own makerlabs and digital media labs. A big part of that digital DIY culture includes open source software, which Phil Shapiro, an educator and blogger for opensource.com, argues needs to be more prevalent in the public library space.[1] Perhaps librarians do need to be better educated on open source. But arguably, we are already incorporating open source software into our regular programming.

Many public libraries are using arduinos, makey makeys, raspberry pis, littleBits, Scratch software and so much more to educate and explore with children all the way through adults. Public libraries like Skokie Public Library and the Chicago Public Library as well as my own library, Vernon Area Public Library District, in the Chicagoland area alone are all exploring open source software with technology. Want to make a banana piano? Purchase a relatively inexpensive kit through Makey Makey and check out their free apps or work with free Scratch software to come up with your own invention. Want to learn how to program code and work with a breadboard? Purchase a relatively inexpensive arduino, which is the hardware, and use their open source software to make it do something interactive.

But Shapiro is right, more public libraries need to make use of open source technology because in the end we can benefit not just by increasing our relevance as a source for digital literacy, but also save quite a lot of money in the long run as an institution. Charlie Reisinger, an innovative IT Director for Penn Manor school district in Lancaster County, discusses some of the incredible things his juniors and seniors are doing in a TED talk. His students are literally writing the code for an operating system that is run for the entire high school and used by all students and teachers.

Open source software allows the public to learn about innovation and invention, and collaboration, so that they are no longer “technology tourists” but have the control and confidence to be a part of this community as well.  One of the most interesting elements of this is that open source is actually more secure and stable than proprietary software or “closed” software because more people are looking at the code and constantly making it better, more reliable, and more productive. Whereas proprietary software can only be manipulated by the original “authors” of the code, open source allows for not only improvement but also the expectation that the code will continue to be shared by everyone. If the original authors no longer work with the code, the software will still be out there and available for public use.

Reisinger discusses how free and open source software is a “philosophy of free living.” It’s a way to study and review code, to modify it and give software control to the public, to the community, and to schools as well as public libraries. There are no costly computer programs where the “building blocks for coding are literally locked under glass.” (14) Public libraries are empowering their patrons in so many ways, why not also empower the institution itself? Something to think about.

Link to source article:  https://opensource.com/life/16/9/public-library-open-source



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