Open source tools worth bookmarking

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One of my favorite workshops to give is the one that introduces librarians and their staff to open source software. After defining open source to them and debunking all the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) out there, I focus my talk on a list of open source tools that can be useful to libraries.

I've been collecting resources for years, but just haven't had a chance to use them all. I sometimes wish I could take a month long vacation from work and spend the time testing out all of the software I've been sharing with libraries for years (of course, spending that time on a tropical island would also be nice).

At a recent event, a librarian approached us (ByWater Solutions) to ask if LibKi, an open source Kiosk management system, could handle room booking. My colleague said no and that he didn't think there was such an open source tool... but he was wrong. I quickly jumped in and opened up a list of open source bookmarks I have on my laptop that includes links to tools like MRBS and OpenRoom. Then, this week at a training session, a librarian was talking about how she wasn't pleased with the options out there for subject guide creation—so, I pointed her to my list which includes SubjectsPlus and Library a la carte.

My full list of open source tools that I've found and archived over the years is public on Delicious. Do you have a list of open source tools you wish you had a use for or a chance to test out? Are there tools that I'm missing that should be on my list to share with libraries?

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holmja's picture
Open Source Champion

I've been meaning to pitch an article on this, but it fits pretty well here (since it isn't in your "full list of open source tools"), and I haven't managed to find the time to write up anything concrete...

Ren'Py, a open source tool for developing visual novels, is wonderful for making virtual tours, presentations, learning games, and more. Writing a basic script is super simple, and adding in basic game/programming logic (storing a variable, if statements, jumping to a different section of code) is not that hard. Writing a Ren'Py script is only a little more difficult than writing English. If you want to take it even farther, Ren'Py is built in/on Python, so Ren'Py can do anything Python can do.

Ren'Py is cross platform, and the SDK and games can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux (x86 & x86_64). Though, unfortunately, games makers don't always release versions of their game for all three OSes. There is also a build tool, rapt (Ren'Py Android Packaging Tool), to build Ren'Py games for Android. Rapt needs to be downloaded separately, if you want to use it.

There are over 500 games developed using Ren'Py. The games vary wildly in length, age appropriateness, and, admittedly, quality. However, with 500 examples to choose from, there is certainly something there that could provide that spark of imagination to create something yourself. Some of the best examples of what Ren'py is capable of are the commercial (non-free) games Loren The Amazon Princess (a fantasy RPG) and Planet Stronghold (a sci-fi RPG), both from Winter Wolves, and Matches and Matrimony (a Jane Austen inspired relationship game) by Reflexive Entertainment. Demo/trial versions of all three games are available to download. Though many of the free games on the Ren'Py Games page are excellent as well.

Like I stated earlier, creating with Ren'Py isn't limited to games, so if, for example, you want to create a nice virtual tour of your library with a cartoon version of your library's mascot showing children around and teaching them how to use the library, this is an excellent tool for accomplishing that task. And Ren'Py's documentation is very good, so there no major barrier to entry on that front. If you can write, you can use Ren'Py, no really coding experience is needed. Granted, you'll make a prettier product if you happen to have some artistic skills, but it isn't a deal breaker if you aren't a GIMP guru. If you want to bring in a fancier feature based on programming logic, the documentation shows how to do that without being overly technical. You don't need to be an IT wizard to use Ren'Py, you just need creativity.

jhibbets's picture

Joshua, our team can work with you and see if we can convert this into a feature article. We'll gladly add this to our to-do list.


nengard's picture
Open Source Evangelist

Awesome! Thanks for the link! I'll bookmark it now. I'm always adding new tools to my list :)

ScottNesbitt's picture
Open Minded

A very interesting mix of tools. Definitely have to give that list a closer look. So, I'll be duly bookmarking that set of bookmarks ...

Alan Jay Weiner's picture

Another one to add is Forge:

Forge is an implementation of Magic the Gathering that lets you play against a computer AI opponent using most of the rules of a real game. You can construct decks for you and the computer to play with, currently about 13076 (and counting) cards are available. We now include over 100 schemes, vanguards and planes. You can also play in a draft, sealed deck format or in a guantlet against the computer. There is a new variant game mode that lets you play against multiple computer opponents. Currently, this program only lets you play against the computer, you cannot play against another human player over the Internet.

(note: the description is theirs; although it says 'we' it doesn't include 'me' yet...)