Open Source Librarian

Switching careers from one that had a geek element to one that is a geek element presents a lot of opportunities to try new things. Heck, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to switch careers in the first place. Stagnation doesn’t just lead to burn out, it leads to something that, in my opinion, is far worse — boredom. Being allowed to try new things is one of the many perks of a career change, even when those things are small and probably don’t matter so much to anyone but you and a couple of other people.

As a web designer, I can assure you that I neither look or act anything like this man.

When I came on board as a web content manager, I knew I wanted to approach things from an open source end. There are a bunch of reasons for this, some philosophical and others practical. Philosophically, I think a library should use open source software. OSS and libraries have a lot in common, though it might not seem so at first. Libraries should be into transparency and freedom. OSS is transparent and, with few exceptions, free. Libraries are developed and shaped by their communities and so is OSS. The public should understand their library and why it does the things that it does and the same goes for OSS. Even if I disagree with a direction taken by an OSS project or application, I can usually see the logic behind it.

Then again, that’s part of the point. I’m allowed to see the logic behind it because it’s open source, not some kind of secret. Apple and Microsoft have become famous for withholding information so there can be a “big reveal” that you may or may not care about, find useful, or even need. The biggest issue is, you certainly can’t plan for what you don’t know. Meanwhile, OSS doesn’t normally do a big reveal. Sure, there’s the six month cycle of Ubuntu releases, but the user knows what’s coming in the release, what’s new, and what they can use because Ubuntu and the community will talk about the upcoming changes and niftyness until they’re blue in the face.

Librarians, especially library administrators, like being able to plan for things. If you know something is coming, or getting removed, or getting changed, then you can plan for that. There are no secrets, which is also something libraries should embrace.

Practically, OSS has a lot going for it if you happen to have someone like me who’s a bit of an evangelist for it. Take this really nice work laptop. It was bestowed upon me so I could work from home, from branches, and from wherever I needed to be. It’s awesome. It also has all the tools I need to make stuff for the library’s website. It also doesn’t have most of the tools I have on my desktop back at the office.

Because the tools on that desktop are stupid expensive and limited in licenses.

Look, I like Photoshop and I like Dreamweaver. They’re awesome programmes and I use them on a daily basis. Thing is, we only have a certain number of licenses for Adobe CS5 and we’re stretched a bit thin on them. I’m sure we could put Dreamweaver on this laptop because there are only two of us using it. (I think.) Photoshop? Well, that’s different. There are a few people around here who really need that software. I like Camtasia Studio, but we’ve only got so many licenses for that. Buying more licenses is expensive, takes time, require justification, sign-off, and time for delivery.

Or I can install free, open source software and have all the tools I need, as many of them as I need, when I need them, as I need them, and spend no money, require no justification, and need no sign-off. Let’s take a quick look here.

First, we’re a Windows shop. So as much as I want Ubuntu Studio with the Cinnamon Desktop on this lappy, it wouldn’t do me too much good since everything else around me is Windows. So I’m running Windows 7 Professional and that’s fine because I really like Windows 7.

Now then, most all of the work I do on the website involves coding. There are a few times I can do things with WYSIWYG, but 95% of the time I’m coding. That’s the current nature of the beast and that’s fine. So do I really need a massive, expensive, web-development platform like Dreamweaver if all I’m going to do is code? Hell no. I can code HTML, ASP, JavaScript, and all of that stuff in Notepad if I feel so inclined — but I don’t. So I use Bluefish for some stuff and PSPad for others. Bluefish is what I usually get into when I’m doing some heavy lifting, making a new page or coding up a feature. PSPad is my workbench, I use it to hammer on existing code, make shorter things, and generally handle the lighter tasks. They’re awesome apps and work on Windows 7 without any issue. They provide the lovely syntax highlighting that makes bug tracking easier and both do exactly what I use Dreamweaver for, but at 100% less on the price tag and site licensing.

So while I’m not a graphics designer, I play one at my job. On my desktop I use Photoshop, because it’s already there and why not? On the new laptop, GIMPis my go to for graphics work and design. Now, I grant you, GIMP doesn’t do everything Photoshop does. To me, that’s not a bug, but a feature. Even when I’m doing “higher level” graphics work in Photoshop, the kind where I actually bothered to hook a digital tablet to the computer, I feel like I’m using about 30% of what Photoshop has to offer. In short, I feel like I’m driving a Lamborghini on the freeway. Sure, it’s a hot, sexy ride, but I can only go 75 mph… just like all the other cars. GIMP does everything I need Photoshop to do and it does it for far less.

Music isn’t exactly required to be a web designer and content manager, it sure as hell helps. I cannot recommend Clementine enough for this purpose. Clementine is a music organizer, cataloguer, and Internet streamer that works with a bunch of services. (I’m partial to SomaFM and a bunch of the stations on Digitally Imported. Chillout music helps for a happier, saner content guy.)

Sometimes, the quickest and easiest way to get files from one computer to another is via good ol’ FTP. I work directly on the server, but when I’m fiddling with graphics or files on my personal laptop, I need to get them up to a computer that can actually do something with them. FTP is fast, easy, and always works. For that, Filezilla is my go-to client. If there’s a better FTP client out there, I’ve not a clue what it is. Filezilla has never let me down.

Finally, while Evernote isn’t an open source solution, it’s a good way to shuffle writing about. I install the base Evernote client here on this computer, but it’s not unusual for me to pick up those notes and work on them on my Linux laptop. It’s running Ubuntu 12.10 with the Cinnamon desktop and Everpad, an open source client for Evernote that works a treat in Linux.

You don’t have to dump all your proprietary software and you shouldn’t. Most of it is quite good and it should be, given the amount of money you paid for it. There’s plenty of proprietary, closed source software that’s awesome and totally worth your time and money. My point here is that, if you step back and take a look, you might find that there’s also a good deal of free, open source software that’s just as good and just as worthy of your time and use.

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