Posted by: commonsresource | March 5, 2010

Please do touch the exhibits!

One of the many joys of parenting a toddler is the opportunity to spend quality time in museums such as the Canadian Children’s Museum at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  Unlike the museum memories of my childhood, modern museums embrace interactivity and engagement and I really love the ‘Please do touch the exibits” signs and culture.

Continuing with our commons sourcing theme,  there was an interesting and helpful post earlier today  in The Back Room (Boston Productions’ Museum Technology Journal) about the ever increasing trend for visitor centres and museums to make use of open source software (“OSS”) and open source hardware (“OSH”) especially in the public sector.  In addition to explaining the OSS and OSH space and profiling a couple of projects including the Openfire OSS Project and the Arduino OSH circuit board project, Charles Palen poses the following three excellent questions that should be asked when considering the use of OSS or OSH:

1.  Will the open source software or hardware work for you as-is?
If you decide that you would like to expand or modify an open source project, then make sure you have the manpower and expertise to do so.

2. If modifying an open source project; would it be faster to do your own implementation?
If an engineer is not familiar with an already implemented solution, then there is an additional cost of time for the engineer to learn how to modify the open source project.  Many implementations in software are built on strict templating systems that an engineer will have to figure out how to work with.

3. Does the licensing for the project fit your intended use case?
There are many different open source licenses that all come with their own restrictions.  Some allow you to do whatever you want.  Some place strict guidelines on what is and isn’t allowed.  Some require you to release your source code/schematic changes if they are requested.

I strongly agree that these and other important questions need to be asked.  And once answered, open source software and hardware resources provide museums with the unique opportunity to enhance the modern museum experience through touching, working, and even playing with these exhibits!

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