Open Source at Meadville Public Library

John Brice, Meadville Public Library Director
–33 separate FOSS (free and open source software) packages being used
–1000 sq miles
–175 plus clients
–3.5 FTE IT dept

Instead of spending money in packaged software license, we use FOSS and invest the savings in staff training and higher quality equipment.

Participation Strategy: we want to be a big fish in a small pond

  • we have limited resources
  • Every FOSS project deserves support
  • Active involvement is in two projects: Koha & LibKi

Development of MPL FOSS guidelines

  • We have small budgets: select FOSS if available (it’s cheap); host the software ourselves (reduces costs)
  • Test drive everything first through a proof concept (old hardware first)
  • DIY Library (we like to tinker) — build own furniture, lay own carpet, renovate building themselves
  • Leverage our knowledge of FOSS

Selection of OSS criteria

  • Technical details: programming language; packages used; what license does it use?
  • What is the community like? Single developer in mom’s basement vs Multiple developers for the Fortune 500

Passive Participation in FOSS

  • Do nothing (or small, donations)
  • Contribute to the project along prescribed guidelines

Active participation

  • develop documentation
  • answer support questions
  • sign off on quality assurance
  • submit bug fixes
  • finding bugs and reporting them
  • participate in development
  • participate in community discussions
  • submit new features

Active Participation — Financial

  • Attend community meetings/hackfests (travel around the world!)
  • Hire a developer/company to add a feature

FOSS Community members

  • lead programmer
  • independent developers
  • library developers
  • hosting companies
  • library management types
  • librarians

Community influence

  • influence in FOSS community is based on participation and supported development
  • You do not have to do both
  • The more you work with a FOSS community the more the community will listen to your needs

Active participation staff requirements

  • a good communicator
  • or good writer
  • or good administrator
  • or good IT support person
  • or good programmer

All can contribute to a FOSS community — all types are needed. You don’t have to be technical and know code to participate in the community.

Where to implement FOSS in a library?

  • Hire a host company
  • Support the software yourself <– Meadville’s approach
  • Self support and hire a company

MPL FOSS Development routine

  • Proof of concept — IT Plays
  • Alpha version — IT modifies/demos/approvals
  • Purchase hardware — best available and overspec, because not also paying for licenses and software. Investment goes into redundancy and specs. Pays off in liability down the road
  • Beta version — installed software/staff tests
  • production — go live with use
  • Debugging

Own FOSS customized version of Koha (starting 2007)

  • needed features: fines; clubs and services; rotating collection; different page layouts

Custom software disadvantages

Difficult to upgrade (missed the rest of his points)

Now, community Koha version for last three years, easier to manage

Expect the unexpected

  • no matter how much you test production setting can produce unexpected results
  • Need feedback system for staff (Mantis)
  • Need support of management when things go wrong

Support issues

Many channels of support available

  • Start with the idea: you’re probably not first one with the problem; search available FAQs/past questions
  • Community channels — usually responsive for help

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway. –John Wayne — Meadville’s mantra

Library isn’t using the proven method that is taught in library school. But from John’s experience it is possible to do it, possible to succeed, and is possible to do it yourself, and have the courage to do it yourself.

Your mileage may vary

  • No hard and fast rules
  • Be flexible
  • Being stubborn also helps 🙂

2 thoughts on “Open Source at Meadville Public Library”

  1. Hi Heather,

    Is there any recording / podcast / transcript of this session? your notes are great, but being able to get a transcript is even better.


    1. Unfortunately, no. One of the organizers said the sessions were supposed to be recorded, but technical difficulties prevented this from happening 🙁 My notes usually are as close as I can get to transcribing a session/the slides.

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