Free and Open Source Software in Libraries HOWTO

Robert Kerr

MJ Ray

<[mjr at](../../email.html)>

Anyone may copy and distribute (sell or give away) this document in any media and/or format. No fees are required to be paid to the authors. Copyright Robert Kerr 2003. You may translate, excerpt, and reformat to fit your presentation, and you may republish the result. You are encouraged to send improvements to the first named editor listed above.You are reminded that this does not allow you to misrepresent my opinion or take my statements out of context.


Revision History

Revision 2003-12-28| | mjr
Conversion to docbook and some rephrasing.
Revision 2003-12-23| | sp
Some consistency edits
Revision 2003-12-09T01:24:39| | rk
First version


This document is a rough guide about how to get public libraries to accept CDs of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) into their catalogue as lending CDs. This will allow anyone to borrow it, copy it and install the software for free. It is directed toward the FOSS developer and user community. Many thanks to all the people that have helped and encouraged this project. This HOWTO is split into 4 parts: Basic Method, Understanding Libraries, Case Study, and associated documents.

Table of Contents

The Basic Method

Understanding Libraries

Case Study

The First Donations

FOSS in Libraries Recommendations

Getting Political

The ISO is released

The Lending CD is Made


Ending and The New Beginning

Associated Documents

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) CDs for Libraries Recommendations with Explanation

The Basic Method

  1. Read and understand this document;

  2. Read and understand the recommendations about FOSS CDs for libraries;

  3. Talk and listen to librarians;

  4. Persuade a local vendor to follow the recommendations;

  5. Buy and donate to libraries, or request that libraries buy the CDs.

Go to small libraries with no budget and teaching facilities rather that big libraries that have been given big donations. Don't forget school, community and voluntary organisation libraries.

Persuade a computer magazine to put a library standard CD on the cover and get their readers to donate the CDs to any local library or school library.

Understanding Libraries

The very first thing you need to know is that this project has little to do with software and everything to do with trust, people, society, finance and empowerment.

  1. Trust: Quite rightly, libraries will not trust people who walk in their door with a home-made CD of software. There are a few people out there who would like to give others virus-ridden CDs just for the fun of it. These sad people who find fun in the misery of others are members of the public and thus taint the rest of us. Libraries need to have a person/company that they know they can fall back if something needs changing or checking.

A burnt CD can also be swapped for a harmful one by a malicious borrower, so the CD must be easily identifiable to the librarian. A library that gives out software must not be liable for anything that goes wrong. They cannot be responsible for technical support, for the software or for any damage that happens due to the software installation. This should be made clear at every single stage of the lending process.

  1. Society: People who borrow the CDs will not necessarily take care of them properly. They will become scratched and cause borrowers problems. It is expensive for libraries to catalogue a CD. The CD needs to go through the acquisitions process and may be sent to the bibliography department and assessed. A unique catalogue number is added to each individual CD so that it can be tracked.

When you first try to donate CDs to libraries, everyone you meet will look at you as if you are a salesman. This is because few will believes that there is no catch to the donation. Everyone is sceptical. Explaining the GNU GPL (General Public License) can be difficult, but librarians normally accept the general idea of copyleft.

  1. Empowerment: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for the rest of his life. This is by far the most important aspect of this HOWTO. Once they realise that they can download the software themselves, they are not dependant on you. If they can get independent reviews of the software and a responsible supplier, they don't need to think about all the work that goes into creating a CD. If they need to worry about liability issues then it is not worth the effort and they just won't do it. Don't blame them: you would do the same. If they now realise that they have a viable choice where they didn't before, it will empower them to look into other possibilities of using this new information.

  2. Finance: Is the money spent on the project worth it? A book may have a valid use or shelf life for 10 years. A piece of software may be valid for 1 year. A book is likely to be more robust. Unfairly, libraries do not get very much attention from government and are hungry for funds.

They will happily accept big donations from large companies because they are useful to the whole library system rather than one small part of it. Large donations will be gladly accepted, but sometimes small donations put them in jeopardy. Don't expect this to change soon. Libraries will not accept a lending CD if it reduces the chance of getting a huge donation. Instead, they may accept a poster telling people where to get the CD or software. Libraries are looking for value for money, just like the rest of us.

Case Study

After reading the first part of this document you may think that this is a lost cause. I (Robert) can tell you now that it is definitely not so. I have received huge amounts of encouragement for this project from many librarians. Librarians are clever people with an insight into a huge array of differences in society. They understand very clearly the influence that they can have in their local area and their beliefs are to inform but not dictate, to give unbiased information. The range of information that libraries provide is immense. They are apolitical, non-religious, there to benefit society by giving access to all information and allowing the public to make up its own mind. This ideal should be given the respect it deserves.

The First Donations

Edinburgh has a population of about 500,000. It has 26 public libraries. They are all within easy driving distance.

For the first donation, a folder was created with a home-made OpenOffice CD in it. The CDs had pretty labels on them, with a printed flyer and an explanation and a liability statement in each pack. This must have scared the librarians. There were 26 of these folders, delivered by hand. It was thought that it would be better to go to each library individually rather than post them because it would give people a chance to discuss the project. It was discovered later that the reputation was spreading ahead of the folders. When Robert walked into libraries, they were expecting him. Unfortunately, they were talking about it more because it was a little odd and unexpected rather than a good idea.

The folders were usually accepted by either the Librarian or a Library Officer. In Edinburgh there is one Librarian for 3 or 4 libraries. The Librarians, they were very kind and were interested in the project. From these conversations, Robert began to understand why libraries could not accept random donations from the public. The Library Officers had to defer any responsibility to the Librarian, who is their boss. Although they were patient, they could not help directly. This was also the salesman effect. The offer was too good to be true. They thought there was a catch, or that it was trying to promote a company product. Libraries are not supposed to advertise products.

Going to all the libraries caused lots of chat in library circles. After a long time, Robert received a short and polite letter from the Head of Libraries for Edinburgh, saying that they could not accept the donation because it was inappropriate for libraries. Although, he now realises why they couldn't, he was furious then. He went straight to my local Member of Parliament and was directed to the local councillor, because Scottish libraries are provided by local government. Parliament is not allowed to dictate what is made available in libraries. The local councillor contacted the Head of Libraries. This started two things. First, the CDs would be accepted but not put on the catalogue. This means that the folders were kept in the libraries but were not on public display and not in the catalogue, so no one knew they were there. The second thing that happened was a meeting with the Assistant Head of Libraries to discuss the project.

FOSS in Libraries Recommendations

All the concerns from this first experience of going around all the libraries were noted and used to draw up the first set of recommendations. This was a lot more complicated than it first seems. The document needed to be valid and fair to both libraries and FOSS CD vendors and distributors.

The primary concern was for libraries. What they need is:-

  1. The liability statement;

  2. Checking for viruses at all stages of production;

  3. A CD that can easily be uniquely identifiable;

  4. A cover that does not break easily, such as a DVD case. Normal CD jewel cases break easily.

  5. A cover that is in a format easily identifiable by librarians - see the ISBN standard. If you are not sure what the ISBN standard is, please look at any book and then check on the back for greater detail. For this project, it means putting the title, license, and a space for an ISBN number on it.

They needed to have a trusted source of replacements. This is where CD vendors come in. Most sell CDs, but these are not appropriate for libraries because of all of the above. They all could do this and charge a little extra for the packaging. The market is now wide open.

Distributors: This is a difficult one. It is vital that these companies be supported because they are providing financal support for a large amount of further development. Each company needs to have something unique to help pay for the development. Clubs, software sales and support services are all part of this. Some distributions have magazines and some have excellent books.

When Bittorent took centre stage, it was understandable why Redhat has backed down from selling packages. When Germany, China and India sponsored further development, it was thought that was where the money would come from governments for development. Selling FOSS distributions to libraries can also create revenue, with a large permanent market that would only be willing to buy quality products on a yearly release schedule.

Yearly release schedule because libraries have absolutely no use for non major releases. It costs too much money to catalogue them. If they are going to accept any at all, it will be once a year and that is why they will not accept most magazine CDs. It is so much work to catalogue monthly magazine CDs that they will rightly say "just go and buy the magazine".

There is no way to put forward a standard. There is no formal collaboration between open source communities and libraries at the moment.(let's start one FIXME: OSS4Lib?) We can only put forward recommendations. This is because we have no authority in the diverse nature of libraries, vendors or the communities. The recommendations below should give a starting point for your communities to start a discussion. Don't bother screaming if you disagree: use your energy to start a conversation with all these groups and see what you can help to develop.

Getting Political

Armed with the first recommendations document and a new CD in the appropriate format, Robert went along to the meeting, expecting a conflict. Surprisingly, he was told that everything was OK and that the recommendations were fine, showing it was not about the software. It was about the long-term value of the information and how it is presented. It has to protect libraries and make it easy for them to integrate it with their existing catalogue.

A few more letters brought written confirmation that the recommendations were accepted. Then there was a wait for the release of 1.1

While waiting, a decision was taken to donate the CDs to all the public libraries in Scotland. There are 507 of them. To have any real effect, something big needed to happen. It was also necessary so that a small group of libraries would not be threatened by removal of funding/donation from private sponsors that disagree with my donation.

An email was sent to the head of all the libraries in the Scottish Parliament, telling her what was about to happen. No reply was received, so Robert requested that his local Member of Parliament send a letter, which he kindly did. Robert still did not receive any response, so he took the letter of acceptance and some sample CDs and sent them to a magazine called Library and Information Update. This magazine goes out to all the professional librarians in the UK. Robert managed to get an article in the magazine and shortly afterwards received a contact from the head of the advisory board to the Scottish Executive. (The Scottish Executive is the national government of Scotland, one of the parts of the United Kingdom.) The advisory board is called the Scottish Library and Information Council (SLIC). The equivalent for England is called the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

The Head of the SLIC was furious with Robet and the magazine. The reason was she believed that the donated software was to be installed on their library computers. It is expensive to change that number of computers. Imagine converting a computer for a member of your family, realise how difficult that is and multiply it 8000 times. This is what the Head of the SLIC thought she was being asked to do, so was justifiably upset about that idea. She was also concerned about copyright infringement. When told there was no intention to get the software installed on any library computer and given some information about Free and Open Source Software, she realised what was happening. To her credit, she understood very quickly that this donation was a CD that people can borrow, just like a book.

An e-mail went out to all the regional Heads of Libraries in Scotland. The reaction was mixed, most were positive, but some had reservations. Most would accept the CDs, but others already had projects they had been working on for some time, promoting other software. This would have added complexity and expense to those projects and the CDs were politely declined in these cases. Where the CDs were not accepted, they may have accepted posters with information about FOSS programs. They would accept a poster that promotes a range of programs, like, Abiword, Gnumeric, TheOpenCD, FreeDuc, Gimp and Audacity. This is because they need a selctione of programs to keep their neutrality.

The ISO is released

Robert had also added some documents to the ISO that I downloaded from, because he was aiming for a very specific market. He added The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

Article 26

Everyone has the right to education, Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.....

Article 27

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in Scientific advancement and its benefits....

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a very important document. It is also much shorter than this one and we recommend that everyone reads it. By adding a document, it changes the CD. Instead of being just software, it gives the user the opportunity to study the document, to create their own thoughts about it and then share that with other people. It also opens the door to the Creative Commons and excellent resources such as the Gutenberg project.

He included the marketing materials for 1.1 to make it easy for anyone that enjoys the software to tell other people about it.

He included the recommendations for FOSS in libraries, so they would be read by the librarians and they could have an starting place for further discussion with other FOSS advocates.

He also included the source code. The source code took up a large amount of space, but it is very important for libraries to have this. A fundamental feature of libraries is that they allow people to learn, to study, and to gain access to information. The source code is large and is difficult to download if you have a poor connection. This excludes a large proportion of the population from getting access to it. With broadband connectivity in Scotland between 5-10% at the time, it excludes 90% of the population. Everyone in Scotland has access to a library. By giving the source code it is the same as giving a car mechanic not only the book about a car, but the car as well. This will hopefully mean that we have more programmers helping with the software.

The CD created was thoroughly scanned by virus scanners and tested by installing the software on several different computers running Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, GNU/Linux and Mac OSX.

The Lending CD is Made

While the total number of libraries that wished to receive the CD were being collated and their address labels printed by SLIC, CD production started. A manufacturer of pressed CDs was found and postage rates were checked. Robert created the cover letter and the artwork for the DVD case. He found a supplier of DVD cases, suppliers of envelopes, printers that would print the fliers and cover letters. He found out whether it was cheaper to get the packages put together by the makers, or get help from volunteers. As always, the greater the numbers, the cheaper price per unit, so it was decided to send them to all the libraries in the UK.

At this point you may be asking where the money came from. Robert paid for it all himself. He had decided that the only way that my idea would stand a chance of being recognised would be if there was large acceptance of FOSS CDs in libraries. This would cause a big enough splash so that libraries, vendors and distributors would take notice. He believed that the benefits to government, the FOSS community and the general public are quite obvious. There is money to be made because libraries have unique needs. He hoped that his gesture will allow large organisations to start talking and listening to each other, especially libraries and the FOSS communities.

To continue this project, you don't need any money. You only need to persuade FOSS CD vendors to sell their CDs with a different cover design, persuade a library to make their own or local government to provide them. If you have definite proof that they are available in other libraries then there is no reason why they shouldn't be available in yours. It will only take one librarian in one library to accept a CD for others to follow. You may also request that a computer magazine creates a CD in an acceptable format: then when you buy the magazine, you donate the CD to your local library. To repeat: all they need to do is print a different cover for the CD.

The first set of CDs were sent out and as many as possible delivered by hand, again to allow feedback and a reaction. Each was different, from great enthusiasm, to intrigue or scepticism. The greatest thing that we could really hope for was to spread knowledge of free and open source software. Give people a choice and they will look at that choice.


After the CDs were delivered, there was a wait. It can take 4-5 weeks for a book or CD to go through the individual library system before it gets placed on the Online Catalogue. When they finally started to appear, Robert knew that they had been accepted officially. He then took the mailing labels for the rest of Britain and posted out the final 3500 CDs. On the cover letter, it mentioned some of the libraries that had already accepted the CD. It would have taken me too much time to go through the bureaucracy of libraries for the rest of the country. Instead, the aim was to get as much publicity as possible for the CDs in Scottish Libraries. Then, donate them to as many librarians as possible, to give them a choice and to allow them to discuss it amongst themselves.

Ending and The New Beginning

Robert writes:

My part of this project is now nearly complete. An idea is nothing unless it is put into action. It is up to you now if you wish to build on this idea.

I will be finishing with this project after I have donated copies of TheOpenCD, GNUWIN II and FREEDUC to the libraries of Scotland.

I will then be moving on to my next project: The Barnbuilding Project. The aim is simple. To supply every single school pupil in the whole of Scotland with Free and Open Source Software. Completed with no funding needed, by the end of next year and reproducible anywhere. If you would like to do this in your area, then look out for my post in January.

Associated Documents

  1. recommendations

  2. recommendations with explanation

  3. Example DVD Cover for 1.1

  4. FOSS Lending CD Distribution Network

Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) CDs for Libraries Recommendations with


The purpose of this document is to act as a starting point for discussion of an open standard to the FOSS community, FOSS vendors and library communities. What is appropriate and acceptable format for FOSS media in libraries? Libraries throughout the world need to be able to catalogue and define the stock they hold. They do not want to be overloaded with stock that holds no value or has a short lifespan. Vendors need to know what library customers want. The FOSS communities need a method of distributing and sharing their programs.

Due to the non-centralised structure of Libraries, vendors and open source communities, recommendations are a good start before standards are created. It occurs to me that libraries should make the following recommendations.

  1. Where possible the CD cover should follow the guidelines set out in the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) Users Manual published by The International Standard Book Number System Agency, (International Edition). This manual is available online.

Explanation: The benefits of having an ISBN are that it will make it much easier for libraries to catalogue the CD. It will also aid to selling the CD in bookshops.

The main reason for this is to allow the use of an ISBN number with the CD. International Standard Book Numbers can only be associated with books and not for software. Books however can have software added in as an extra gift at the back of it. An example of this is OpenOffice 1.0 Resource kit by Solveig Haugland, Floyd Jones (ISBN 0-13-140745-7) Books are also allowed to be printed in electronic form, therefore a CD with an electronic book and a free gift of software will be valid, with the understanding that the ISBN number is only associated with the electronic book/PDF. A book can only receive an ISBN number if the book edition remains the same for at least one year.

On the back cover of the CD there should be the ISBN and a space for the bar code. The publisher and printer should also be shown. For example the publisher may be and the printer will be the vendor of the CD.

If the CD does not have an electronic book/PDF that has an ISBN then the white space reserved for the Bar code should be left blank to enable a space for libraries to put in their own catalogue number.

  1. On the cover of the CD there should be a clearly printed disclaimer which should read:

"The Library from which you borrowed this CD will not give any technical support for this software. It must be clearly understood that attempting to install this software on any Library computer by a member of the public is not allowed.

This CD has been thoroughly scanned and tested at all stages of production, but - as with all new software - we still recommend you run a virus checker before use. We also recommend that you have an up-to-date backup of your hard drive at all times.

(Name of all parties concerned) and/or the Library that you borrowed this CD from cannot accept responsibility for any disruption damage and/or loss to your data or computer system that may occur while using this CD, the programs and data on it. Consult your network administrator before installing any software on a networked PC".

Explanation: This is to ensure that the borrower realises that under no circumstances does any library, vendor or donor have any liability for anything that happens when the software is installed by the borrower.

  1. All CD's must be pressed or high quality CD's and not CDR or CDRW. This is due to the durability of the media and the possibility that a member of the public will replace the original with a CD with malicious content.

Explanation: The libraries must be able to make sure that the CD that they lend out is exactly the same one that they receive back.

  1. Libraries would prefer that FOSS CD's were supplied in DVD covers. DVD covers are easier to shelve and less prone to break.

Explanation: Normal CD jewel cases are a huge amount of work for Libraries due to breakages, DVD cases can contain larger introductory pamphlets and do not need special shelving considerations which are an extra expense for Libraries

  1. The library cannot endorse any product; Advertising on the cover for an unconnected third party is not acceptable.

Explanation: Just like books Library products must be consistent. The cover must describe the contents of the CD

  1. A valid and respected vendor of replacement pressed CD's should be made known to the Library. Vendors must make every effort to eliminate any viruses in the software.

Explanation: CD's tend to be scratched easily. A replacement of an exact copy original needs to be available. Updated versions of the CD will mean that the CD will need to be re-catalogued. A CD with a shelf life of one year will be beneficial to libraries (consistency) and vendors (stock control)

  1. Only major releases of single applications, small valid groupings of applications, distributions, and compilations of special merit will be considered for the library catalogue. Large compilations of FOSS software that have a likely lifespan of less than 3 months may be kept in the library at the librarians discretion but will not be entered into the catalogue.

Explanation: Quality, consistency, clarity of products. Open source software changes frequently, it would be impossible for libraries to keep up with the ever-changing world of open source software. Libraries hope to provide a snapshot of this process. New versions of the software can be bought from vendors or downloaded from the web. Major releases of software on a yearly cycle would be welcome in libraries. Vendors may consider open source CDs available in libraries as a threat to their business model. It must be pointed out that books are be available in libraries but can still be bought in bookshops and online. The general public will still buy the software even though it is available in libraries. Buyers will also prefer to get the most up-to-date software available.

  1. Commercial Distributions of FOSS Software (e.g. RedHat, SUSE, Lindows, Xandros) must state their company's position concerning their software in Libraries. If their distribution is allowed, not allowed, if past official releases of their software can be bought and lent out in libraries, if their distribution will only be available on the companies own magazine etc. This should be stated on the companies website.

Explanation: There are many commercial versions of open source software. To be able to track all the different business models associated with these companies would be very difficult for librarians who generally only touch on this subject briefly. Commercial businesses that wish to extend into this new market must make it clear exactly what their licences are.

  1. Libraries cannot accept donations of FOSS software from any Political parties.

Explanation: Libraries are apolitical: donations from private individuals, companies, and non-political groups are acceptable

  1. Vendors of the CD will be chosen by recommendations of the original distribution/application. The choice will also be based on quality, adherence to the Library recommendations and how much the vendor helps the originating open source project.

Explanation: This is at the discretion of the originating site

  1. The CD should contain the source code.