ALA; Myths on the Cost of Open Source; Sharing in Positivity

I went to a discussion panel at ALA where a couple of library luminaries shared their views on library innovation. It was a good discussion all around and there were some great questions and comments from the audience. One recurring theme was the “reinforcement of the negative” that pervades the library landscape. For example, harping on how poorly some librarians are paid, how this or that branch closed down, or how people will rain down fire on organizations that try something new. The idea, basically, is that if we focus on the positive and shed our “culture of victimization” we’ll all have a more productive future moving forward. I couldn’t agree more.

At some point in the discussion, an audience member asked the panel to share their views on the effects of open source on library innovation. The panel members were all quick to say “well, yeah, obviously open source helps drive innovation.” Here’s the rub, though. One of the panel members works for a proprietary software vendor and you can guess he wasn’t going to let the conversation stop there. He started mumbling something about the total cost of ownership and how you have to hire real, hard-core developers to administer and maintain open source software. Obviously, we know where his bread is buttered and I expected no less, but I would like the opportunity for a rebuttal.

I would call the vendor’s response a good example of defeatism, exactly what the panel, and this person in particular, was railing at. Again, no real surprises, I’m just amused by public nuggets of hypocrisy. Additionally, I can provide mathematical proof that open source software with a vendor community is in fact better than proprietary software:

  1. Assume your open source software is proprietary software and hire a vendor to install and maintain it.
  2. We have thus proven that open source software is at least as sustainable an option as proprietary software
  3. Now add the OPTION of accessing and understanding the code, contributing to the code, contributing to feature discussions, etc.
  4. Having options is better than not having options. QED.

Oh, and no software licensing fees, having the option of changing support vendors mid-stream, getting support from public forums, blah, blah, blah…