process makes perfect

a webinar for lyrasis

Jennie Rose Halperin

Mozilla Community Building Team

"Free software sustains and enables the Internet."

David Berry Libre Culture: Meditations on Free Software

let's start with the basics...

Webinar outline:

I. Why choose open source software?

II. What is the state of open source software in libraries?

III. What is open source governance and how do you make decisions?

IV. Designing your governance structure

V. Some common problems

VI. Case study: Kuali

VII. Conclusion

why listen to me?

from a feminist zine archive

to curating exhibits about libraries

to working on an open-source project of Appalachian folk music

to interning at a Berlin museum and archive

to cataloging rare materials at a medical library

to fighting for a free and open Web!

I am passionate about open, DIY, messy, collaborative, free culture

I believe that...

radically transparent solutions, an emphasis on community, and consensus based decision-making will make your work more inclusive, more exciting, and maybe even more fun

but the thing about collaboration is...

it takes a lot of people

so we need your help!

What is free software, open source, and free culture?

Free != Open Source

The Free Software Movement: a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedom to run the software, to study and change the software, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. Founded formally by Richard Stallman with the GNU project in 1985

via Wikipedia

Open Source Software: computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose.

via Wikipedia

how is open source software produced?

Open Collaboration: any system of innovation or production that relies on goal-oriented yet loosely coordinated participants, who interact to create a product (or service)..., which they make available to contributors and non-contributors alike


This creates a "community of practice"

free culture is in constant conversation....

some free culture organizations you may have heard of...

  • Wikimedia
  • Mozilla
  • Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Creative Commons
  • Electronic Freedom Foundation
  • and...

Cultural heritage organizations everywhere.

The work of cultural heritage organizations cannot be separated from the free culture movement

For me, [free culture] is important for the same reasons I feel thrilled to step into a library and read, learn, and explore to my heart’s content. Initiatives that contribute to a truly global repository — or, more fittingly, library — of ideas almost always bring about about public good.

Lawrence Lessig


cultural heritage institutions use a lot of closed source products for their systems and patrons

Proprietary ILS

  • Auto-Graphics, Inc.

  • Biblionix

  • Book Systems, Inc.

  • COMPanion

  • Cyber Tools for Libraries

  • EOS

  • Ex Libris

  • Follett Software Company

  • Innovative Interfaces

  • Library World

  • Mandarin Library Automation

  • Polaris Library Systems

  • SirsiDynix

  • The Library Corporation

Open Source ILS

  • BiblioteQ

  • Evergreen

  • Koha

  • OpenBiblio

  • phpMyLibrary

Proprietary OPAC

  • Aquabrowser

  • Axiell Arena

  • Bibliocommons

  • Carmen (LANius)

  • CS Library


  • Ebsco Discovery Service

  • Encore

  • Libramatic

  • The Library Corporation (TLC)

Open Source OPAC

  • Avanti MicroLCS
  • Blacklight OPAC
  • Evergreen
  • Invenio
  • jOPAC
  • Koha
  • Omeka
  • OpenBiblio
  • OpenSiteSearch
  • PhpMyBibli
  • Rapi package
  • Scriblio
  • Social Online Public Access Catalog (SOPAC)
  • VuFind
  • Polaris Library Systems

  • Primo (ExLibris)

  • Prism 3 (Capita)

  • Retrievo (KEEP SOLUTIONS)

  • Serials Solutions Summon

  • VTLS Inc.

  • WorldCat Local (OCLC)

via Wikipedia

"Librarians are vendor-trained"

Mozilla Libraries and Open Source Focus Group, January 2014

Research says that open source is generally a good choice for cultural heritage organizations

(see Bibliography for articles on the topic)

But most cultural heritage organizations are still using closed source systems.

When considering how we can use technology, librarians must remember our core values, and our mission of empowering an informed and free citizenry.

Hugh Rundle, "Who are you Empowering?" In the Library with the Lead Pipe

Open source is not a check box

"Working in the open" does not just mean throwing your source code up on Github

While open source may not inherently mean "working open..."

The open source community is actively restructuring and reconfiguring governance models and ways of making decisions in order to be open to contributions.

"... when considering whether an open source project is right for your library, evaluating how your efforts will be received and valued by the open source community you are joining should be a key factor in your decision. And to make that determination, start by looking for how the community governs itself."

Peter Murray, "Governance in Open Source Software Projects"

There are almost as many variations of open source management strategies as there are open source projects

OSS Watch

"Empowerment of individuals is a key part of what makes open source work, since in the end, innovations tend to come from small groups, not from large, structured efforts."

Tim O'Reilly, The Architecture of Participation

How can your institution use open collaboration to design for participation?

Open source projects and governance can help your staff feel more engaged with their work.

This toolkit can be used for any kind of project, but the open source development framework provides cohesive governance guidelines and frameworks for open collaboration.

Open collaboration and open governance: a toolkit

Some major governance models within open source...

  • Benevolent Dictatorship
  • Meritocracy
  • Consensus-based democracy
  • Module system
  • Board of Directors
  • Membership Model
  • Community Source
  • some combination of all of these

on keeping governance lightweight...

In my experience, governance rules tend to grow organically and the reasons for why things are done a certain way are lost to the mists of time and mailing list archives.

Peter Murray, "Governance in Open Source Software Projects"

The goal of open is:

  • participation. rocket fuel for smart collaboration.

  • agility. speed. flexibility. getting shit done.

  • momentum. communities want to push boulders that are already rolling.

  • testing and rapid prototyping. iterating and refining as we go.

  • leverage. getting greater bang from limited resources. punching above our weight.

The goal of open is NOT:

  • public performance. creating the fake appearance of consultation.

  • endless opinion-sharing. never-ending “feedback.” bike-shedding.

  • magic “crowd-sourcing.” crowds aren’t smart — communities of peers are.

Matt Thompson, "How to Work Open"

"The bottleneck is never code or creativity; it's lack of clarity."

Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work

Getting contributors involved with governance is a fun and exciting way for people to become a part of your project

Contributions to open source are not only code!

Clear, solid governance creates clarity and structure in your project

A short(ish) lexicon of open source governance

Radical transparency: abundant networked information that increases the openess of organizational process and data.

via Wikipedia and "Digitally Empowered Development"

Consensus: a group decision-making process that seeks the consent of all participants involved in the decision.

via Wikipedia

a note on consensus...

Lazy consensus: a method used by some OSS projects to speed up the development pace by not requiring explicit approval from other community members before someone starts implementing something new (e.g. a feature). "Silent approval" is the default.

via Community Management Wiki

Forking: developers take a copy of source code from one software package and start independent development on it, creating a distinct and separate piece of software.

via Wikipedia

Benevolent dictator: final decision-making authority rests with one person, who, by virtue of personality and experience, is expected to use it wisely.

via Karl Fogel Producing Open Source Software

Meritocracy: the community is led by those who demonstrate ability and skill... Meritocracy is often espoused as being fair, in that anyone is theoretically able to rise to the top: all they have to do is demonstrate their ability.

via Geek Feminism

"Meritocracy is a lie!"

Ada Initiative

Consensus-based democracy: most decisions are made by consensus but voting happens when a decision truly cannot be reached.

via Karl Fogel, "Producing Open Source Software"

Modules: (in larger projects) a discrete unit of code or activity. An owner is the person in charge of a module or sub-module. A peer is a person whom the owner has appointed to help them. A module may have multiple peers and, very occasionally, multiple owners.

see: Mozilla Modules

Wiki: a web application which allows people to add, modify, or delete content in collaboration with others...While a wiki is a type of content management system...[but] the content is created without any defined owner or leader, and wikis have little implicit structure, allowing structure to emerge according to the needs of the users.

via Wikipedia

Bug, Ticket, or Issue Tracker: a computer software package that manages and maintains lists of issues, as needed by an organization... An issue tracking system often also contains a knowledge base containing information on each customer, resolutions to common problems, and other such data.

via Wikipedia

Attribution in open source: legally, all code must contain an attribution copyright or copyleft notice that acknowledges the identity of the original author(s). There are many, many different attribution models to choose from.

Gwyn Firth Murray, "Attribution Requirements in Free and Open Source Software Licensing"

you're probably asking...

what does this mean for my day-to-day work?

how do I decide which governance model is right for my project?

Design for Participation!

(thank you for the slogan, David Eaves!)

a step-by-step guide to governance in open source projects

step 1: Choosing an open source project

Factors to consider:

  • How good is the documentation?
  • How are changes or new code committed?
  • Does this project meet my institution's needs?
  • How much does this project cost in the short and the long run?
  • How strong is this community?
  • Can non-coders submit bugs?
  • What other institutions are participating in this project?

step 2: Do they already have a governance structure in place?

do you find this governance model open, collaborative, and inclusionary?

step 3: How will you/do they document support and project history in the community?

Popular documentation tools:

Wiki, Etherpad, Mailing List, Blogs, Github, Bugzilla/issue tracker, IRC Logs, Websites, Forums...

step 3: what level of open are you working at?


For example, anything involving personal data, security, etc.

1) “Not yet.”

SOON. We want to work open — but we’re not ready yet. We’re not ready for widespread attention. Or can’t meaningfully absorb offers from people to help. So let’s wait until we are.

This is a totally reasonable gear to operate in — but can also become a trap or semi-permanent holding pattern. Without forcing functions or test cases, it’s a recipe for going slow.


Matt Thompson, "How to Work Open"

2) “Open”

Our standard default setting. Working in public spaces like etherpads and community lists, instead of closed email threads.  Sharing signposts, drafts, prototypes and roadmaps on our blogs, etc. The primary goal is surfacing what’s needed to enable smart co-building. If we don’t, not only will our communities have no idea how to get involved — our immediate peers and colleagues won’t be able to help as effectively, either.

3) “Shout it from the rooftops”

Like: “Holy crap we’re releasing Firefox 4!” Or: “We’re ready for the cover of Rolling Stone!” Taking it up a notch to a higher order of magnitude. Participation at scale. From co-builders to more mainstream participants or consumers.

step 4: How are you dividing up the work daily?
monthly? yearly?

step 5: how does the community make decisions?

Open source decision-making tools:

Mailing lists, IRC (and bots with logs,) spectrograms, Etherpad +1s, Loomio, conferences, Wiki comments, dotmocracy...

step 6: Start building your community

"Community building is more than half the work"

Brad Wheeler, "Open Source 2010: Reflections on 2007"

Institutional question asking:

  1. Do staff members across the institution know how to achieve institutional objectives through work in multi-institution, distributed communities?
  2. Is the institution or key staff invited to participate in important community work that shapes community and software directions?
  3. Does the culture of the organization reward staff time and commitment to communities?

Brad Wheeler, "Open Source 2010: Reflections on 2007"

Some potential issues to consider...

"Consensus is broken!"

"We don't have enough coders on staff to make the project exactly fit our needs!"

"We have too many platforms to communicate!"

"People aren't filing bugs or tracking issues!"

"Our community is too small!"

"Our community is too big!"

"Our documentation stinks!"

"We have no institutional support or structure!"

open source is sort of like the Field of Dreams...

If you build it, will they come?

Don't be discouraged if it takes time to grow your community!

People genuinely want to help each other

Case study: Kuali's "community source" model...

2004: Kuali emerges  with a "community source" or "build together" model to solve the problems that many universities are trying to solve

Community source is a form of open source that is based on institutional, rather than individual, participation and adoption... this is software for higher education built by higher education.

Phil Hill, "Kuali: A Primer for Community Source Administrative Systems in Higher Ed"

It is a new model for both open source and the university system, but is uniquely suited to the university system because it involves collaboratively solving problems across the university landscape

"The mission is not for the Kuali Foundation to succeed­—the mission is for colleges and universities to succeed"

Brad Wheeler in Chronicle of Higher Education April 2014

bringing it all back home...

working open is not just about source code!

How can you bring open collaboration and governance into your work?

Empower yourself, your staff, and your colleagues to take control of their projects in a community of hackers, dreamers, coders, documenters, and above all...

Innovators who care about serving the needs of diverse communities

thank you for your generous attention!

Get in touch!



Want to be added to my bibliography on Zotero? Send me an email to see my sources!


By Jennie Rose Halperin