Open source applications in libraries

How do you educate others on what open source really is?

fear, uncertainty, and doubt in open source
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I've been educating library professionals about open source software for nearly seven years now, and sometimes I feel like I've made huge strides and other times, like today, I feel like I have so much more work to do.

I recently offered to teach a workshop for a local organization on open source software for libraries and received this reply:

The "open source" topic suggested might not be relevant to us as most of our members work in an environment where the selection or application of the open source technology is not within their decision-making authority.

Additionally, open source requires tremendous amounts of customization. Although, "open source" is a technology oriented topic, it is not quite relevant to our member community.

Where to I begin?

As an educator I strive to teach people both what it means for an application to be open source and what it means to adopt open source in your organization. I actually start my talks not with "What is open source?" but with "What isn't open source?" so that I can get all of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) out of the way.

So, let's start with the simple fact that just because you aren't in a decision-making position you do work for the organization and have to use various bits of software as part of your daily responsibilities, so you should be able to bring recommendations to the decision-makers that might make your day-to-day a little bit more efficient. And, even if you aren't in an environment where sharing and outside opinions are welcome, you should never turn down an opportunity to learn about something new—something I feel very strongly about.

That said, how is it that people still think that open source requires so much additional work? Have they not heard of Firefox or LibreOffice or Ubuntu? All of these applications work right out of the box and I have never had the need to ask a developer to customize them further—not that that has stopped the developers from constantly improving these products. That's not to say that all open source applications are like this, but I do make a point to teach newbies about these types of applications first before talking about the freedom to develop and improve upon open source applications.

Obviously, I think the aforementioned group is the perfect candidate for my workshop because they need some help understanding exactly what open source software is and what it means to adopt it. But, I'd love to hear from all of you on how you combat FUD like this in your communities and fields.

What techniques do you use to educate others on what open source really is?

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About the author

Nicole C. Engard - Nicole C. Engard is a Content Strategist at Red Hat. She received her MLIS from Drexel University and her BA from Juniata College. Nicole volunteers as the Director of ChickTech Austin. Nicole is known for many different publications including her books “Library Mashups", "More Library Mashups", and "Practical Open Source Software for Libraries". Nicole can be reached at nengard@gmail.com.