Interesting commentary on globalization.
Archive for May, 2008
At long last, the war is over–the war with my apartment complex.
Monday, May 5th, I finished my last final/paper for grad school at 11:20 pm, with 40 minutes to spare before the deadline. I uploaded my paper to the class website, and I thought, “Ahh… At last, tonight I will get some sleep!”
But no. That night, some animals got into the crawl space in my ceiling, and their scratching and tapping kept me up most of the night. Based on the sound, I assumed it was either a troupe of tapdancing rats or perhaps squirrels dribbling tiny basketballs.
When I got up in the morning, in addition to the scratching in my ceiling, I could hear fluttering and banging in my chimney. I called my apartment administrators and reported the sounds in my chimney and ceiling. When I got home from work that night, there was a note on my door that read, “bird removed.” However, while the maintenance crew was kind enough to remove the bird from my chimney, they apparently did not deem it necessary to remove it from my apartment, because it was still there. It was a baby bird, with some feathers, but not all. I took the poor thing outside and put it on a branch in a bush outside my bedroom window. (I think their nest is near there.)
But the scratching in my ceiling continued. The apartment people told me someone would take care of it on Friday. The scratching continued through Wednesday night. Thursday night the scratching had stopped, and the smell started.
I’m not sure if anyone came out Friday as promised. No note was left by the maintenance crew–they usually leave a note if they come to my apartment. I the apartment people about the smell. When I returned home that evening, there was a note that maintenance had put bird repellent gel in my ventilation shaft. I called to complain about the smell again. I told them that while I appreciate that the bird repellent gel will stop additional animals from entering the vent, it does not solve the problem of the dead animal smell permeating my apartment. They said they would send someone out to my apartment to assess the situation. Meanwhile the funk had filled my clothes closet with the unique stench of death.
The next day, the apartment administrators told me that they did not smell anything in my apartment other than pet odor. I thought, okay, maybe the smell is dissapating. But it was as strong as ever when I got home.
I tried to get someone to come with me to my apartment last weekend to take note of the smell, but to no avail. They said they would call me Monday. Did they call me? Of course not. I called them yesterday to ask what they were going to do about the dead animals in my ceiling. They again denied any smell other than pet odor in my apartment. Anger was bubbling up, but I remained civil. I change my pets’ litter boxes every week, and I thoroughly cleaned my apartment last weekend, but the smell could not be cleaned away. I told them this. They continued to deny the existance of any dead animal smell, but said that they would be willing to let me out of my lease.
Now I was mad. I asked them if I needed to call the Health Department. They said I should do whatever I felt necessary, and they would let me out of my lease. But I should not be forced to move because my landpersons refuse to maintain a sanitary living environment! I asked them why they would put bird repellent gel in my vent unless they believed that birds could get inside? And if birds can get inside, why could they not entertain the possibility that an animal had gotten trapped and died in there? At this point they had to put me on hold and confer about this point. Upon return, they said they would check my apartment one more time to see if they could detect a dead animal smell, but they said again that if they couldn’t smell anything, they would let me out of my lease.
When I got off the phone, I was so mad I could have chewed up a little bunny rabbit and spit out good luck charms.
But when I got home last night, my clothes were moved around in my closet, and there was a message on my answering machine, saying that they had removed two dead birds from my crawl space.
Well, whaddya know.
My paper on Open Source Software for KM/LIS 5043:
The Value of Open Source Software in Libraries
Public libraries organize information for the purpose of making information resources free and accessible to the public. Similarly, open source software provides resources in the form of free computer applications with publicly accessible source code that is open to revision and improvement. Open source software allows individuals to organize information according to the methods that best meet their needs, while proprietary software is much slower to accept and manifest revisions. However, if a contractor is required to develop an open source application from scratch and provide technical support, utilizing such tools can be costly. Open source resources rarely come with warrantees, and availability of technical support for unique open source programs is uncertain. Not all open source tools feature user-friendly interfaces, although improvements can be made. While it has some drawbacks, open source software is a rapidly evolving tool of enormous potential for the field of information organization.
Many library and information professionals feel that open source software aligns with public library values and First Amendment rights. Tammi Moe, a librarian working for the open source consulting firm Re:Evolve, explains, “The Open Source community shares common goals with the library community… Both work to maintain free access to information” (2004, 291). Freedom of expression and the right to seek information represent core values of the library profession (American Library Association). According to Moe, “Open Source is driven by the desire to create superior computing technologies,” rather than for profit (2004, 291). Libraries also strive to provide excellent resources to meet customers’ informational needs, not for profit but for the benefit of the community. Moe states, “Open Source code is transparent for peer review and modification…[meaning] software functions can be customized to fit the user’s needs” (291). By revising and refining open source code, libraries can “tailor technologies to meet the needs of the communities they serve, rather than having those technologies dictated to them” (292). The ability to provide sophisticated, customizable applications facilitates efficient and effective customer service. Customizing options also enable libraries to change and improve methods of organizing information within the system.
Linux is perhaps the most well-known open source program. Capable of functioning within proprietary operating systems, “Linux is stable, secure, can be modified, is free for use, and is cross-platform compatible” (Moe 2004, 292). Linux includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and email applications (292). Several open source integrated library systems (ILS) have been developed recently. Koha is an open source ILS currently utilized in New Zealand and British Columbia, including an OPAC, library system intranet, circulation tracking system, and acquisitions/budgeting system (Koha). The open source structure allows libraries utilizing Koha to expand and improve the system’s organization of content. Evergreen is another open source ILS with circulation, cataloging and statistical reporting modules, as well as acquisitions and serials modules currently in development (Evergreen). Open source tools have the potential to reduce overhead expenses. Bernard Chester notes that “sharing of improvements and applications within the [open source] community eliminates software maintenance and upgrade fees” (2006, 21). Since acquiring it costs nothing, open source software is a valuable resource for libraries with limited budgets.
Some advocates believe open source utilization is imperative to the library’s maintenance of currency and community value. Because open source applications “represent both core functionality and cutting-edge innovations in the online world,” Lee David Jaffe and Greg Careaga argue that libraries lacking experience with these tools “risk becoming increasingly marginal as these new technologies shape the coming information world” (2007, 1). Benefits of utilizing an open source ILS include local control, customizability, interoperability, vendor independence, and collaborative development (5). In addition, continuous peer-review and program improvements make open source software less vulnerable to Internet viruses (Moe 2004, 292). Jaffe and Careaga maintain that libraries should utilize open source software because it “returns local control of future systems, allows us to decide which features to change and when, gives us access to the inner workings of our systems and our data, and promotes interoperability with other tools” (2007, 13). Open source empowers libraries to actively participate in all aspects of the organization of digital information.
According to Jaffe and Careaga, the Open Source Initiative “was established as an attempt to re-brand the free software movement in terms that were less hostile to business” (3). Open source applications are more secure; “because code is in the public view it will be exposed to extreme scrutiny, with problems being found and fixed instead of being kept secret” (Nelson, Open Source Initiative). Peer review and rapid evolution of source code makes open source software “more reliable than closed, proprietary software” (Nelson, Open Source Initiative). Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, believes proprietary software is at least partly responsible for the digital divide because proprietary software licenses and restrictive copyright laws obstruct the free sharing of information (Stevenson 2006/2007, 64-65). If this assessment is accurate, it represents another way in which open source aligns with the library’s mission, as a means of helping to bridge the digital divide.
Though widely used, proprietary software causes libraries many difficulties. Moe argues, “Not only does commercial software lack the flexibility and scalability needed to meet a community’s broad range of use, but it is also cost-inhibitive for institutions with limited funding” (2004, 292). In the case of a proprietary ILS, librarians must appeal to vendors if they want to make a change within the system, and if their request is granted, they must pay for the changes (Jaffe and Careaga 2007, 7). Due to the inflexible way in which proprietary software is frequently packaged, libraries may have to wait a long time for critical updates, and then be forced to implement unwanted features (7). Proprietary software vendors “choose which interfaces to support and which development paths to emphasize” (7). Thus proprietary vendors may discontinue features they deem unprofitable, and choose not to develop potentially useful features in limited demand, no matter how much a specific library system may want or stand to benefit from those features. If a vendor goes out of business, libraries using the vendor’s software lose access to system upgrades and technical services, and may suffer significant financial losses. Studies show the number of ILS vendors is shrinking (Jaffe and Careaga 2007, 7; Breeding 2006, 45), and many vendors “offer highly overlapping products with marginal differentiation” (Breeding 2006, 45). Where proprietary ILS software is concerned, libraries “are buyers in a market with limited competition…[and] diminishing product choices,…in which the existing firms have a disincentive to innovate” (Jaffe and Careaga 2007, 7). Proprietary software limits the ability of librarians to customize, improve and control library applications.
Yet, for all its benefits, open source applications also offer certain challenges. While existing open source applications cost nothing to acquire and may cost little to customize, developing a new open source tool to meet unique and specific needs can be expensive (Jaffe and Careaga 2007, 9-10). Also, open source tools still require hardware, network access, system operators, and printing supplies to function, all of which costs money (10). Training staff to use the software adds additional expenses. Custom developments and staff training can potentially cost more than a proprietary product (Chester 2006, 23). It may prove more cost effective to directly hire programmers to support system operation than to contract with a software designer for support services (23). However, staff turnover among programming employees can cause gaps in support services and systems operation. Differences in programming style between past and new employees can cause glitches in systems operation. Chester cautions, “There are no warrantees provided with open source tools, although sometimes a third party will offer one for a fee” (21). Consulting and support services may also be limited (21). Open source applications without a large and active community of users and creators can be risky financial investments.
Although often difficult to customize, proprietary software has its benefits. Buying library software “shifts the development burden outside of the library,” as well as the burden of support and maintenance, helping to preserve limited resources (Coombs 2007, 24). When purchasing a proprietary system, the program is typically installed and operational in less time then it would take to develop an application internally (24). While open source software may be a valuable option for libraries with a fixed budget, Coombs warns that software revisions and user adaptation takes time (24). Marcia Jedd identifies another downside in that “open source solutions bring less appealing user interfaces than commercial products” (2007, 40). Providing “less sophisticated graphical user interfaces,” open source tools may not prove user-friendly (40). Choosing an open source platform with the expectation of full support from providers can result in vendor lock-in, just as with proprietary software companies (40). Unless using a fee-based supported model, availability of support is limited and uncertain, and users bear the burden of locating upgrades (41). Yet, choosing a well-supported model reduces such risks.
Open source software is not completely free in that it requires development, support services, staff training, hardware, and network access to operate. Existing open source applications are not always user-friendly, but neither are many proprietary resources. Support services may be limited for open source applications with small user and creator communities. Libraries can install and begin operating commercial systems in less time than it takes to develop and customize an open source system, but commercial systems provide limited customization options. Despite its challenges, open source software offers more control to the user. Libraries can customize open source tools to refine the way in which cataloging and circulation information is organized within the system, improving system operation, usability and customer service. Libraries stand to benefit greatly from the utilization of open source resources, especially resources with well-developed user and creator communities.
American Library Association. Issues & Advocacy: Getting Started. http://www.ala.org/ala/ (accessed May 1, 2008).issues/gettingstarted.cfm
Breeding, Marshall. 2006. Reshuffling the deck [Automated system marketplace 2006]. Library Journal (1976) 131 (April 1): 40-6, 48, 50, 52, 54.
Chester, Bernard. 2006. Open source document management: Pros and cons of using open source software. AIIM E-Doc Magazine 20 (January-February): 21, 23.
Coombs, Karen. 2007. Buy, borrow, or build. Library Journal (1976) part Net Connect (Fall): 24.
Jaffe, Lee David and Greg Careaga. 2007. Standing up for open source. Library Philosophy and Practice (June): 1-18. http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/jaffe-careaga.pdf (accessed April 30, 2008).
Jedd, Marcia. 2007. The open source option. AIIM E-Doc Magazine 21 (January-February): 38-42.
Koha. Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.koha.org/about-koha/faq.html (accessed May 1, 2008).
Moe, Tammi. 2004. Open source software and thin-client networking: Economical alternatives for public libraries. Public Libraries 43 (September/October): 291-295.
Nelson, Russell. Open Source Initiative. Open Source Case for Business. http://opensource.org/advocacy/case_for_business.php (accessed April 30, 2008).
Evergreen. Frequently Asked Questions. http://open-ils.org/faq.php (accessed April 30, 2008).
Stevenson, Siobhan. 2006/2007. Philanthropy’s Unintended Consequences: public libraries and the struggle over free versus proprietary software. Progressive Librarian 28 (Winter): 64-77.