How do you explain open source in education?

An elevator pitch for open source

Posted 25 Jul 2013 by 

44 readers like this
open source and education discussion
Image by :

Every year I attend the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference as an exhibitor. This year's conference was busier than any I've ever been to. So many people had either heard of us (ByWater Solutions) or Koha or just about open source in general. One librarian though approached our booth with caution. She informed me that she was told to come see what we were about by a manager but that she was very nervous. What she actually said was, "Open source scares me."

First off, I was really proud of her honesty. Most people who are scared come to us defensive, but not this woman. I sat her down and asked her why she was scared. She shared stories with me of her past experiences with open source software, software that didn't quite do what she wanted. Once I knew where she was coming from I could ease her fears.

I started by defining open source in the simplest of terms: that open source software is just software with a different development style and license. That open source software comes with extra freedoms that proprietary software does not. I told her that not all open source software is created equal; in fact not all software in general is created equal. I brought in examples of proprietary software that has let us all down and wrapped up my elevator pitch with a simple comment, "You're not afraid of open source software, you're afraid of all software, and that's okay. Let me show you how Koha is better than what you're using and how there is nothing to be afraid of."

When the woman left our booth she was much calmer and actually seemed quite excited to get a chance to use Koha. And who knows, maybe I even convinced her to try other open source software.

What's your elevator pitch for open source?


Ginny Hamilton

Thanks for sharing this glimpse into exhibitor duty and how you handled this skeptical librarian.

Vote up!
Vote down!

That's how it's done—one person at a time. Nice work, Nicole!

I posted my favorite open source pitch last summer.

Vote up!
Vote down!

My "elevator pitch" usually involves suggesting a particular open source program that could fill a user's need or replace what they are using now. I don't pitch "open source" per se, I pitch programs that happen to be open source. I frequently run into people who are still using the shareware file archiver, ftp client, etc., that they were first introduced to years ago, when they needed a piece of software to fill their needs. The vast majority of the time, they have never bothered to register the shareware and just put up with the nag screens. By suggesting that they use 7-Zip or FileZilla (to give two examples) instead, I can provide them with software that doesn't nag them to register/purchase, while usually doing the exact same thing as the program being replaced. I get to talk to them a little about the benefits of open source without getting overly technical or overly philosophical. The user gets a program that they can use, which doesn't nag them to register, and they learn a little about the open source way. It is baby steps really, but most of the people I'm working are end users with rather basic needs. I'm not in the position right now to try to sell Moodle vs. Blackboard, or Koha (or Evergreen) vs. one of the closed source ILS options.

Vote up!
Vote down!


I totally do that too! I usually ask people what browser they use and more times than not it's an open source one and I ask them if they like it and if it's scary, etc etc.

Thanks for sharing!

Vote up!
Vote down!

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 Documentation Manager for the Koha ILS and 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