Issue five of the code4lib journal is out. This issue looks to be just as good as the past four issues, but I’d like to highlight one article in particular: the column by Kansas State’s Web Development Librarian, Dale Askey: We Love Open Source Software. No, You Can’t Have Our Code.
Librarians are among the strongest proponents of open source software. Paradoxically, libraries are also among the least likely to actively contribute their code to open source projects. This article identifies and discusses six main reasons this dichotomy exists and offers ways to get around them.
If you’re at a library doing open source software, or if you think you’re doing open source software, or if you’re considering jumping into the fray, you would do yourself, your institution, your users, and the open source community (whatever the heck that is) a great, great service by reading this column. Srsly.
I’ve worked in academic libraries where open source was given lip service the likes of which Jimmie Walker would envy and yet, well, show me the code already!
See, here’s the thing, if you’re doing open source, or think you’re doing open source, it is necessary that you release code to the public under an open source license. The public includes your institution, your partner institutions, all of academia, random hackers in East Kaboomistan, and everyone else; if you make code available to partners only, that’s not open source; that’s multi-institutional closed source. It’s a walled garden with teleportation devices leading to other walled gardens. And we’re tired of hearing about your damned azaleas. We want to see them, and take cuts from them, and grow our own, and contribute some back to you.
Releasing code is necessary to claim you’re doing open source, yes, but it is not sufficient. There is some value in just throwing code over the wall. Sure, once the code is out there you’ve satisfied a definition or two and you can go off and pat yourself on the back and do the happy Ewok dance and maybe some more grant funds will come your way. But if you want to add value to your involvement in open source, and add value to user-facing services built upon open source software, and add value for the vast community of open source developers champing at the bit to get at your code and make it better and work with you towards crafting a shiny, happy world, for goodness’ sake, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall. Stop the madness; no more “just fork it because it wasn’t invented here.” Take commits from the world. There’s the value in open source.
Do we get this? I hope we get this. None of this is new. Some of us in libraries have been banging the open source drum for nearly a decade, some even longer. The rhythm is a well known one, but the drum quite apparently needs yet more beating. And louder beating. Thank you, Dale, for keeping the beat. Now, if only this rhythm section had a bassist.