Friday, May 11, 2007

Libraries and Linux

Due to woeful attention to the technology budget or any urgency regarding logical technology refresh cycles, the Grand Ledge Public Schools still relies on computers that were bought and installed when all of the school buildings were remodeled during the last bond process, which was completed in 1997. At the time, Grand Ledge teachers were excited about the advent of word processing and the notion of printers on their desks, universal internet and email access, and an electronic gradebook and attendance program that would save precious classroom administrative time. Thankfully for the collective futures our students, the local community voted their support for the Distrit's recent request for the sale of bonds, and the plan to remodel and update schools, in addition to purchasing new buses.

Yet, even as a Macintosh user at home, back during the planning process for the bond of the mid-1990s, I was at least, while not persuaded, but slightly open to the notion of a Microsoft and Windows world at school. And there were innumerable technology planning meetings to attend, and endless misinformation (I recall one propeller-head in a meeting saying Macs and PCs could not co-exist on the same networking architecture) people the District hired as experts and consultants described how technological monocultures were beneficial to the organization. But, as my old Mac hummed along at home, the PCs at work entirely too soon began to fail the users, and frustration levels grew with both the inadequate technology, and the inattentive technology department. With a wandering eye for acceptably sufficient technology tools, I began to be seduced by linux and open source software, and its potential ramifications for implementation in our library setting. It is easy and understandable to disfavor Microsoft for their pricing structures, and for their unjustifiably hegemonous operating systems and applications, so OpenOffice was my natural initiation into open source software. Flashback to 2000, my attention was drawn to a product called StarOffice when Sun Microsystems was creating a news splash over that office software suite's acquisition. Fast forward to the present, and OpenOffice is a tool I consider mission critical in my work at school, and at home on my iMac. OpenOffice and NeoOffice (the Mac version of OpenOffice) perform all the tasks that Microsoft's Office does, opens and saves files in Microsoft formats, and even allows the user to export PDF files, which is invaluable to me.

This open source software trend also caused me to consider what applications may be available for other areas of my professional life, notably library automation, and there seems to be options: Koha and Evergreen. With more library literature devoted to the movement, more magazine frontage devoted to linux and open source, and where internet searches naturally take one to open source systems and solutions for libraries, the notion began to form that this was the loose genesis for a library doctoral dissertation. Oh, but if there were the time...

In a micro-sense, now we are left with Jessamyn's linux installation video. In the macro-consciousness, what we see in linux and open source is the potential for organizations large and small to benefit from open technological solutions, and save real shareholder or taxpayer money as well. But, there is no outrage at how the monies are spent, how our young people are educated on closed, expensive computer systems, because the public is using the same systems themselves. The general public, mostly everyone, has been drinking Bill Gates' kool-aid, so why would they, or should they, care?

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