Libraries and Open Source

Photo Credit: Kuzeytac (will be back soon) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kuzeytac (will be back soon) via Compfight cc

In an article about how the use of Inkscape can possibly reduce the number of incarcerated people by Phil Shapiro, there is the following paragraph:

There are many excellent free software programs for audio and musical creativity. You see, to reach a more inclusive society, we need to be using and teaching a lot more free software programs. These programs can spur a culture of creativity, design, and invention that can bring about an economic rebound. You know that $17 trillion debt we’re facing? Greater creativity—widespread creativity and invention—is our best hope of reducing that debt.

He talks about how the use of the free and Open Source product Inkscape in classes can help give people who can’t afford the latest and greatest graphics software a way to create and produce that is not text based. Many people have much to contribute, but they aren’t wired to do well in a heavily text-based system. Allowing some students the freedom to create a story or essay in images (using Open Source products that they can then use on their own for no cost at home or at their local public library) would be one way to help students succeed in school. Success in school tends to depress the amount of illegal activities one does, so the basic premise is that using Open Source graphics software like Inkscape to allow students who are not textual learners to learn along with those who are more comfortable writing long essays.

All that being said, this is an excellent argument for libraries to put Open Source software – not just Inkscape, but GIMP and Open Office and any others that patrons might need to learn to use in order to make use of a hand-me-down computer that has nothing going for it but the ability to run light-weight programs like the ones listed above. If we are going to take on, as part of our mission, the teaching of technology, we need to do it in a way that is as accessible to those without resources to get the latest and greatest as it is for those who have those resources.

Web 2.0

Libraries as Entreprenurial Spaces

Libraries meanwhile may be associated today with an outmoded product in paper books. But they also happen to have just about everything a 21st century innovator could need: Internet access, work space, reference materials, professional guidance.”

via The Atlantic Cities

Co-working spaces, mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph I quoted above, are places for freelance or telecommuting workers to gather and make use of shared Internet access, printers and printing supplies and other people upon which they can bounce their ideas, just like in a regular office. Libraries have all those things – plus direct access to both print and online resources (databases, etc.) and people who are professionally trained to find things for other people. For those who are just starting out and don’t have the resources for high-speed Internet or even a printer, using the library as an office could be enough to push them into profitability (and if they are profitable, they pay taxes, which go back to the library and allow someone else to use those resources until they become profitable, ad infinitum). Of course, libraries have to balance the needs of small businesses and just-starting-out entrepreneurs with the general public and their needs and come up with limits to their levels of service. Will circ staff become secretaries for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs using the space? Will the reference staff limit the amount of time they can spend on business research? What kinds of office supplies will libraries stock and how much will they charge? Will there be limits for the amount of time a particular person can spend at the library, working? If content creation station(s) are put into place at your library, will you have to police their use so that a couple of individuals don’t monopolize them? Will you enter into a partnership with a commercial printer or printers or will you be in competition with them?

Considering all the angles can be difficult, but being open to the possibilities of welcoming struggling start-ups and brand new entrepreneurs into your library so that they can build a business can be a great service you can provide to your community. It can open up possibilities for community partnerships (how much would the Chamber be willing to provide to help businesses via your library?) and can help funnel money into local print shops, supply shops and other local businesses – all of which pay the taxes that support your library. Finally, how will this “service” be marketed? Will you need to compete with established co-working spaces? Can you support a rush of individuals using your library as a workplace? If you build it, will they come?

Libraries NEKLS thinking

Notes from an eGathering (Rich Harwood) and a realGathering (Daniel Pink)

Yesterday, I participated in Lyrasis’ yearly meeting via webinar – what they branded as an eGathering – along with a few other NEKLS staff and librarians. The main part of the eGathering that I wanted to see was Rich Harwood’s talk about the Work of Hope. He talked about how to get community involvement in organizations  – not just libraries, either – he’s seen some excellent progress on community involvement with public broadcasting, too – and how to stay “relevant” to your community today and into the future. Basically, he asked librarians to pay more attention to:

  • Basics – igniting a greater sense of compassion for our communities
  • Openness – more humility in the ways we engage with each other
  • Common Good
  • Small Local Actions

The one central task for the entire country consisted of restoring our belief that we could come together to get things done and make a difference. We need to be more concerned about action than just doing activities without regard to how they actually change our culture and our communities. More concerned with progress as opposed to just the process of doing *something*.

He gave 4 steps to strengthen community and enhance relevance for all libraries, too:

  • Talk to people, in their language, about their aspirations. What do they want, not what you want to do.
  • Focus on changing the conditions of the community – the underlying culture
  • Help people to engender the belief that together, we can get things done
  • Pay more attention to the narratives in our communities – not just stories, but narratives (he gave the example of a narrative of a community being that teens are troublemakers and up to no good – that narrative needs to be changed!)

Rich provided listeners (and any other librarians interested in the ideas)  Conversation Materials for Libraries. That will get you started on the idea of community conversations that change the narratives in your community.

All that is well and good – and there were a lot of great ideas in the presentation – but what struck me was the similarity and overlap of Rich’s ideas to the ideas in the Daniel Pink book “To Sell Is Human” that was the topic of my book club meeting the night before. A group of Kansan library-related women (we had a librarian who works for a vendor, a librarian who does freelance training, a librarian who directs a library, a librarian who works on a web team for a local library system and a librarian who works for the regional library system here in NE Kansas – and me) read and discussed the book. First off – my impressions of the book were varied. I think the ideas were sound and many of them practical. I think some of the exercises were interesting and the stuff he talked about doing in order to perfect your “pitch” were very interesting. Others were a little on the cheesy side, but there were a lot of exercises to choose from, so that’s ok. The book is about moving people to do what you need them to do, but without resorting to “salesman” tactics. In libraries, we frequently want to move people to do things – everything from reading a book we are enthused about to writing a check to support the library and its programs.

We also want to move the community to support their library – and this is where Daniel’s and Rich’s ideas intersected for me. They both talked about doing more listening and less talking and more understanding and less imposing. Daniel’s ideas on questions and asking “good” questions really seemed to be echoed in Rich’s talk about listening to the community and understanding what they want, not what we want to give them. The webinar coming so soon on the heels of the book discussion was a revelation for me – the ideas are still swirling around in my head! I feel much better equipped to go out to the libraries in my system and talk about how to meet the needs of their communities than I did before – so the koolaid has been drunk and we’ll see what the results will be!!

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