free culture, free software: making free software work for cultural heritage organizations

open source bridge, 2016, portland

Jennie Rose Halperin

Safari Books Online

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!

to traditional publishing

to building the commons for everyone...

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

this is not a talk about "how can I bring linux to my public library?"

(but I am happy to discuss this later)

What is a cultural heritage organization?

Cultural heritage organizations are fundamentally aligned with FLOSS.

What are some cultural heritage institutions that you regularly interact with?

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

We state these propositions neither lightly nor as easy generalizations. We here stake out a lofty claim for the value of the written word. We do so because we believe that it is possessed of enormous variety and usefulness, worthy of cherishing and keeping free. We realize that the application of these propositions may mean the dissemination of ideas and manners of expression that are repugnant to many persons. We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.

ALA Freedom to Read Statement


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.

"Libraries value open source options and yearn for less expensive software and flexibility often not delivered by proprietary products, but an alternative will prevail only if it has superior functionality. Regardless of the software license and development model, the outcomes depend on how the software aligns with the needs of the organizations it is intended to serve."

-Marshall Breeding, Library Systems Report 2016

By the numbers:

(via Marshall Breeding, 2014)

Koha (distributed by Bywater): ~1000 installs in the US (more popular in developing countries)

EBSCO (mid-to-large-sized proprietary vendor): 6000 installations in the US alone

A note on distributors of ILS 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

"... 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"

Research says that open source projects can help library staff feel more engaged with their work.

A few prominent FOSS4Lib projects...

(all images courtesy of their affiliated project)

These projects are cool!  Why aren't all cultural heritage organizations using them?


The first rule of proprietary software is you don't talk about proprietary software.

Lack of exposure/ knowledge/ perceived lack of technical expertise.

Let's help cultural heritage organizations reinvest in people, not products.

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?

"We have no institutional support or structure!"

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

Audience participation time!

What are some ways that FLOSS and GLAM can support 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

Case study: arches

bringing it all back home...

Improving FOSS4Lib empowers your community to take control of information, privacy, data, and working-togetherness.

FOSS is full of innovators who care about serving the needs of diverse communities

How to get involved!

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


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