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Dorothea on DSpace

I respect Dorothea’s decision, but I often find myself frustrated by the closed comments at Caveat Lector, primarily when I want to say “you go girl” or “me too.” That’s where I was this morning when at the crack o’ early I was pumping a fist skyward at her post about DSpace. (I also wanted to congratulate D. on her new job.)

The key to understanding Dorothea’s post about DSpace is to understand that it’s not about DSpace at all; it’s about one of the potential limitations of open source software. (Please note the word potential.)

Yes, dear Koolaid-Drinkers, open source software is not without inherent flaws, and one of those is that it can be very developer-centric. Forget the user, let alone the librarian or the OPAC: the coder is the center or the universe. GUIs? For wimps. Just give me a pocket knife and a config file, and I’ll have you up and running again in an hour, little lady. Documentation? Too busy. Those of us who’ve been doing this forever know how it works, anyway. Well, we think we do. Stable release? As soon as we finish this one other thing.

About a year ago I timidly approached one illustrious open source developer to ask a question, and was frosted off with an arctic blast making it clear that my post was no more wanted mano a mano than it was on the list, where to echo Dorothea’s experience with another product, my question went unanswered. At the time, I was working closely with several vendors of commercial products, and however much an idiot they might have privately considered me, they worked with me to deliver the goods to our users.

The experience brought back the bad old days of the early Internet, when those of us not-so-techies learning how to traverse its tubes were sneered at, scolded, or ignored, looked down upon as the sublunary beasts who found emacs hard to use. Here we were, trying to actually use the Internet to help people, and it often took the ability (in my case, learned in the military) to grimly ignore snooty gearheads and press on with advice from the handful of people who saw what we were doing.

Once, on TechSource, in a discussion about open source software, someone mentioned that it wasn’t that I was for or agin open source software–it’s just that I like good software. That’s very much the case. For me, “goodness” is tied in closely with a product oriented to its users. The question I have with any software is who’s in charge and what is their ethos.

I’m not saying open source software can’t be user-oriented, but I am saying DSpace is far from the first product worshipping the wrong god.

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