I recently upgraded my laptop’s operating system from Ubuntu‘s “Dapper Drake” release to the latest release, “Edgy Eft.” The upgrade went more smoothly than the last time I upgraded (from “Breezy Badger” to “Dapper Drake”), when I had quite a few problems. I’m not anywhere close to being a topnotch Linux guy, so when I have problems with my system, I jump onto the Ubuntu discussion forums and ask for help. I usually get a quick response to my questions, and the people who have given me help have always been patient with me and my bumbling computer ways. And if the forums aren’t enough, there’s also an Ubuntu wiki, IRC channels, mailing lists, and local community groups. There are also multiple blogs where I can get news about Ubuntu and its continual development. On top of all this, any Ubuntu user can contribute ideas for how Ubuntu develops, what features and products it will have, what changes will be made.
The Ubuntu community is an open community, where anyone can participate, get questions answered, give suggestions and requests, and see how decisions are made, with many, many access points for participation. How many libraries and library associations are like this?
Linux is an open source operating system. Not only can anyone participate in Linux communities, anyone can change the programming, tweak it, which is why there are so many different distributions. Firefox is open source, too. Anyone can make an extension or theme for Firefox. WordPress is also open source, and it’s “easy to hack” (as Maire Kruppa said at Internet Librarian). Anyone can make a plugin or theme for WordPress. To quote the WordPress site, “You are also free to do whatever you like with the WordPress code, extend it or modify in any way or use it for commercial projects without any licensing fees.” The communities for Linux, Firefox, and WordPress share and spread these hacks. They make it easy for anyone to share tweaks, programs, extensions, plugins, and themes they’ve developed. How many libraries and library associations do this with their products and services?
Ubuntu’s latest release came out a couple of weeks ago. The developers (and community) are already working on the next release (“Feisty Fawn”), which is scheduled to come out in 6 months. Firefox and WordPress also release frequent upgrades. These upgrades are free (as in speech and as in beer) to all users and are announced with fanfare, not just to their communities but to the world at large. When new releases come out, people in the communities are excited, eager to start using the upgrades, even when there are glitches and bugs. How many libraries and library associations can say this about their products and services?
What if…? What if libraries offered:
- Frequent, free upgrades in services and products, promoted widely and supported by the community (of employees, volunteers, and users);
- Open source services and products that are easy and fun to hack;
- An open community (of employees, volunteers, and users) that is encouraged to participate in what the library is and what it’s becoming, that trusts and is trusted by the library;
- An enthusiastic community (of employees, volunteers, and users), fostered by the library, that is excited and positive and involved in change in the library;
- Every possible access point for members of the community to communicate with each other, exchange ideas, share problems and successes, ask questions and get answers.
Are there any good reasons why libraries aren’t doing this right this second?