Get your FOSS on: Wellington library geeks

Wellington has a vibrant open source development community. There are some fantastic open source projects happening in libraries in Wellington and the surrounding area. Here’s more about the projects and people doing neat things in libraries, most of which are open source. This is part two of a three part series on the open source and library tech communities in Wellington.

Chris Cormack is the original Koha developer. Koha was the first open source integrated library system (ILS) in the world. An ILS is the system that you use when you search a library’s online catalogue, check out books, and that library staff use to catalogue items, run management reports and often track their book orders. In 2007 he won a New Zealand Open Source Award for his contributions to Koha. Like many of the active community minded geeks in Wellington, Chris also works at Catalyst. He is the current translation manager for Koha. I’ve learned a lot from him about Koha, the open source community here in New Zealand, and the Koha community around the world. We’ve had great conversations about software, community, politics, and how these things are connected.

Kete is an open source project that allows you to “create online areas for collaboration for your community. Write topics and upload images, audio, video, documents. Discuss them all. Link them together”. It was developed by Horowhenua Library Trust and Katipo Communications, the same team that started Koha. I had a great meeting with the core developer, Walter McGinnis, who works for Katipo Communications. I got to see a sneak peak of the next release. Walter is smart and passionate about the work he does. He’s had the most interesting jobs including being a “gas station attendant” and janitor in Antarctica, as well as doing some casual film projection on the side, in trade for coffee. He answered all the questions I had about using Kete as a platform for a community archive project, like QueerHistoryProject.com.

Aotearoa People’s Network is “about providing free access to broadband internet services in public libraries so that all New Zealanders can benefit from creating, accessing and experiencing digital content”. Many of the APN sites have a local Kete where people from that community can upload their stories, images, and other content. My only criticism about this amazing program is their decision to use internet filters on the whole system. Yay APN! Boo filtering!

Horowhenua Library Trust is the little library that could. Jo Ransom, the Deputy Head of Libraries, is an innovative and gutsy leader who is a strong and loud advocate for libraries and their users. HLT is the birthplace of Koha and Kete. In 1999, HLT was forced to find a new ILS that could deal with a change in millenium. Proprietary ILS vendors didn’t have a system that could manage on dial up speeds and cope with the interference from the electric fences on local farms. They worked with Katipo and funded the original Koha development. Recently they funded the development of Kete, a community digital repository. I also admire Jo’s guts in standing up to her council to fight against the introduction of revenue targets (which would mean user fees) for HLT. Jo is one rad librarian, and HLT is one rad library system.

Brenda Chawner is finishing her PhD thesis that looks at factors influencing satisfaction with open source software in libraries. She was also the head of the library school at Victoria University and is organizing free software prophet Richard Stallman’s next visit to New Zealand. Stallman will be one of the keynote speakers at the LIANZA conference. Brenda describes him as “one of the most influential people the audience has never heard of.” I really enjoyed all of our conversations about open source and libraries, and how different projects develop different cultures. She’s a great teacher, and I’ve learned a lot from her.

Part 3 in this series will look at upcoming conferences and companies in Wellington.

Penny Carnaby on the Delete Generation

I’m glad I put off picking up a bed for our new flat, so that I could get to Penny Carnaby, New Zealand’s National Librarian and Chief Executive’s talk titled The Delete Generation: citizen created content, digital equity and the preservation of community memory.

Carnaby’s talk was engaging, accessible and a good primer on New Zealand’s digital preservation strategy.A   I loved the language that she used: digital darkages, digital landfill, digital amnesia, digital archeologists.A   She talked about Kete, which is the name of an open source digital archive platform and a bunch of local communitiy archives that are hosted on this platform.A   It is also a woven Maori basket, and Carnaby called ketes “baskets of knowledge”A   I love this metaphor.

a kete (photo from www.alibrown.co.nz)

She described how New Zealand is a world leader with the National Digital Heritage Archive.A   She described how the National Library developed a public/private partnership with Sun Microsystems, Ex Libris and how the $24 million project came in under budget and on time.A   I’m curious as to why they did not decide to use this money to seed another large open source project, like Koha, Kete, and Greenstone.A   Perhaps over the next while I’ll learn why.

The National Library of New Zealand is doing lots of cool things.A   They have a metadata harvester that can scrape metadata from the ketes, instituional repositories, and other places, so that it’s possible to search in one place and find pointers to digital objects (photos, sound recordings, text), as well as academic reserach that exist in other information silos.A   Carnaby strongly asserted that publically funded reserach must be publically accessible.A   She said that soon data sets will also be included in this.

Carnaby used the phrase “citizen created content” numerous times in her talk.A   For me, this assumes that all individuals are starting on a level playing field and that at least 3 sets of prerequisites have been met.A   First, this assumes that all individuals have access to computers, (high speed) internet, and other equipment (scanners, digital cameras, video cameras, sound and video editing software).A   Second, this assumes that everyone has the skills (or access to someone who can help them) to create thier own content.A   Finally, this assumes that people think that their stories are of value and worth telling, recording, documenting or submitting.

I asked “How do we ensure that the most margnizalizes citizen’s voices are heard and preserved?” and “How do we structure these information systems to be tools for social change?” Carnaby talked about the ketes.A   Joann Ransom, from Horowhenua Library Trust the organization that developed Kete, and was in the audience shared that many people would find it too intimidating to submit their content to a national archive, but were more comfortable submitting to the local kete, which could be ingested by the metadata harvester and made accessible at a national level. In helping to create the QueerHistoryProject.com I realized that it was a time consuming process to source content.A   It took many conversations with people to first convince them that their stories and contributions were valuable, and then to flesh out their stories or help them with the technology.

The National Library is moving to a new physical space.A   Carnaby has a vision for a kinetic art structure in the lobby that can also serve as a place for people who want to “make a pilgrimage to submit their content” to be part the nation’s historical memory.A   I really like this idea, as it uses the public space of the lobby of the National Library as a place where people can physically go to make a digital contribution, or witness other people doing this.A   I like the metaphor of an artistic manifestation of a nation’s living history or a living digital archive.

I’m excited about Carnaby’s vision for the New Zealand’s National Library.A   I really hope I can find a job there.

Aotearoa Peoples Network