by Ruth Suehle
Over the last few months, open source has gained momentum at Stanford University in the form of the Stanford Open Source Lab. Inspired by groups like the Free Software Foundation, Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, Drupal, Openflows Community Technology Lab, and MIT’s Open Course Ware, a few people at Stanford decided to band together and dedicate their time and energies to the development of free/open/libre learning and knowledge resources. The vision of the Open Source Lab is to be a nexus on campus for the discussion, advocacy, and technical support of community-based technologies and information systems.
Henrik Bennetsen, James Jacobs, and Shinjoung Yeo had been active in various new technology groups on campus, including the Drupal Users Group, Technology Commons, and Stanford Linux Users Group. They were motivated to help Stanford reach the goal stated in its Research Policy Handbook’s “Openness in Research” document:
Expresses Stanford’s commitment to openness in research; defines and prohibits secrecy, including limitations on publishability of results; specifies certain circumstances which are acceptable under this policy.
But the open source movement at Stanford has until now faced what many groups encounter in the constantly changing university atmosphere—plenty of interest, low effort. So the three founded the Open Source Lab hoping to change that by unifying the silos of interest across campus.
Bennetsen says, “The ‘movement’ has coalesced around a few vibrant communities. The application of Drupal CMS brought me into contact with many of the other technology groups: The Academic Technology Specialists and their Tech Commons documentation site, The Stanford Linux Users Group, the Stanford IT Services group. There are other small but active interest groups as well, such as video/multimedia and web development groups. Our first OSL meeting was attended by faculty from Computer Science and Education, some students as well as technology support staff from many areas in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and law.”
The OSL’s first steps have been to establish a wiki to facilitate member collaboration and a mailing list for sharing information with those who can’t make it to the meetings. They’ve also recorded the two workshops they’ve held and published the videos online. (See links at the end of this article to watch.) The group has held three meetings and two workshops since an initial planning meeting November 6, 2007, and they’re seeing 30-40 people at each meeting.
James Jacobs, International Documents Librarian in Stanford’s Green Library, was interested in the group for reasons that are as much philosophical as technological. As he puts it, “The ideals of the Library intersect closely with those of the open source community. That is, the free flow of and access to information, support by and of a community of interest, open standards, and the necessity for a growing and vibrant public domain to further the goals and interests of the community. Those ideals as well as the example of OSU’s Open Source Lab, led me to the idea of supporting open source at Stanford.”
For the near future, the group plans to hold barcamps and other workshops and to host speakers from open source projects. Ultimately, though, they would like for the OSL to be an actual, physical place with dedicated staff where the Stanford community can gather to share information, provide documentation and assistance, and be a project base connecting those with technology skills and interest to those in need of assistance.
We asked the group if they had any suggestions for people at other schools interested in starting similar groups. Here’s what they told us:
We started out of a little suspicion that this was an idea whose time had come. One of the indications was the increasing interest in open source software packages like Drupal and the active user groups that emerged around them. Software packages often require customization to work within our infrastructure and obviously integration is a lot easier (and sometimes only possible) when the software is open.
We would say to others to just go for it, you may be surprised at the response you get. Seek out user groups of open source software (Linux User Groups, for example) and see if they are interested in contributing to a group with a broader focus.
Already part of such a group? Tell us about it in the comments.
- Open Library: What it is, where it is, November 29, 2007. Presentation by Aaron Swartz, Open Library Project
- Wikiversity, Wikipedia, and Participatory Learning, December 19, 2007. The speakers were Sue Gardner and Erik Moeller of the Wikimedia Foundation. The video was released under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Thank you to the following OSL members for contributing to this article:
- Henrik Bennetsen, Research Director, Stanford Humanities Lab
- Thomas Carlson, System Administrator at the Haas Center for Public Service
- James Jacobs, International Documents Librarian, Green Library
- Marco Wise, Senior Web Developer, IT Services