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On Libraries: Every Open Source Developer Is Both An Author And A Librarian

I am running for election to the Board of Directors of the Library in Chappaqua, New York, where I have lived for almost twenty-two years.

I will carry out my campaign mainly via this blog. I have written many posts in the past about libraries and librarians, and will try to focus on this topic for at least the next few days.

I am also busy trying to get a project called “spitbol” off the ground. You can find its web site at Google Code, Spitbol Project. Spitbol is a software program. It is “open source” in that the source code is available to anyone for the taking, at no cost.

Working on both these projects at the same time has been given me new insight into both libraries and open source.

For example, as an author of this kind of software I am known as an “open source developer.” We developers collect each set of related files into collections called “packages.” Individuals, groups, or, in some cases, companies, aggregate these packages into what are called “distributions,” or more colloquially, “distros.” Red Hat is an example of a distribution, as is SuSe. Debian is a distro created by open source developers that is also used as the base for Ubuntu, a widely-used distribution that has developed an extraordinary community of supporters, advocates, and experts.

That is the accepted view. Here is my view as an amateur librarian.

Every developer is an author producing copyrighted work that is available at no charge.

Every package is a “book” in what I have previously termed the “open source artifact.”

Most developers base their packages on prior art, and they often include parts of other packages in their new packages. This is not allowed in conventional publications, but is a matter of course when preparing a software package, due to the way in which these packages are licensed.

Developers are thus, for the most part, both authors and librarians.

Every distribution is a library of science, specializing in The Art of Programming. Those who create these libraries become librarians when they do so.

I have previously noted that the Internet is the largest library mankind has yet assembled, and that Google is its librarian.

From a developer’s point of view, the Internet is primarily a programming tool, the most powerful tool to assist in creating software yet created. The Internet is the ultimate “development environment,” for it has enabled global distribution, sharing, and collaboration in the writing of software in a way that no one thought possible less than forty years ago.

As a resi;t. the deepest body of knowledge that has been assembled on the Internet is about open source. Moreover, because of the unique role of software, that knowledge, and the library of which it is a part, is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

This is not just about programmers.

For example, I use the services of a company called WordPress.com to write this blog. So do hundreds of thousands of others. WordPress does not charge for the use of its services, and all the content is freely available. In just a few years WordPress has assembled the largest collection of personal memoirs mankind has yet created.

Facebook is the “family album” of the global community. Almost two hundred thousand people join Facebook each and every day. The community now has well over a hundred million members.

That “family album” is thus the largest yet assembled.

The same argument applies to Twitter. It has assembled the largest collection of short informal conversations yet produced. Their library grows by millions of short notes each and every day.

We are only now coming to appreciate that the Internet and its associated technologies have created new kinds of authors, of forms of writing, and of the cataloging of writing that is the work of our librarians.

How to deal with these problems is an issue I find as daunting as it is engrossing

This is the main reason I am running for the Library Board, so I can work on these problems with not just developers and educators, but with librarians themselves.

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