Chapter 7: Open source media applications – Practical Open Source Software for Libraries


Open source media applications

Many academic libraries offer their students access to a media center in the library. A common misconception is that smaller libraries do not have the budget to offer such services to their patrons, but there are plenty of open source applications that can be used to populate a media center in any library.

Photo editing

When it comes to photo editing and creation, many libraries stick to using the clip art package that came with their word processing application because they think that is all that they can afford. In reality there are many powerful open source tools available to make your photos look more professional. The first and probably the best known of these tools is GIMP (

GIMP is a photo editing suite that has been compared to Adobe® Photoshop®. Photoshop® is meant for the professional artist, and can often be overkill for the average library. GIMP offers libraries an affordable alternative. According to the official GIMP website:

7.1   Open source in the real world: GIMP

Chauncey G. Montgomery

Director Community Library, Sunbury OH, USA

Why did you decide to use GIMP in your library?

Staff and customers were in need of a graphics manipulation program and products like Adobe Photoshop® were too costly for a small library with limited funds. From what we saw, GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) provided a full range of features, similar to Photoshop®, and looked intuitive enough to implement in the library.

How are you using GIMP in your library?

Customers use GIMP to do light photo editing. The images they edit tend to be uploaded to photo sites, or sent to local photo labs for printing.

Library personnel use GIMP for more advance image manipulation. Images for the web, displays, posters, bookmarks and various promotional materials are often first edited using GIMP It has primarily become the image manipulation tool for the library.

Some of the common uses of GIMP in the library include but are not limited to cropping, resizing and adjusting levels. We also use the layers feature when adjusting or building more complex images.

A sample of an image we built using GIMP can be seen in Figure 7.6. This image is used for the header for a local history photo journal at the library. Figure 7.6 shows an image created in GIMP that is used for the header for a local history photo journal at the library.

How long have you been using GIMP in your library?

We have been using GIMP for probably three years now.

Did you have any trouble implementing GIMP in your library?

We had no problems implementing GIMP with customers because prior to GIMP the public had no access to an image manipulation program. Often times we do need to assist customers with editing because they are not familiar with the tools in GIMP and how to properly use them.

For most staff, we’ve had the same response as we did with the public. Prior to GIMP most staff did not have access to a manipulation application. They have been successful in carrying out simple tasks with the program.

We have one individual who is using an older version of Photoshop® Elements and is reluctant to use GIMP On the other hand, I have been forced to use GIMP for all editing needs at the library as I am using a Linux workstation and it is the only tool I have available.

I often use Photoshop® for personal use and using GIMP has left me with two impressions in relation to Photoshop®. First, I am impressed with the power and functionality of GIMP Almost anything I do in Photoshop® can be done in GIMP With that said, my second impression is that GIMP is not as intuitive as Photoshop®. Likewise, it is somewhat cumbersome with the three separate windows, as opposed to the single interface for Photoshop®. Overall, though, I think it is easy enough that someone can sit down and do simple image manipulation without much training or study.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

It has been much easier than I had imagined several years ago when we started moving in this direction. I am extremely impressed with the availability of quality, powerful software. Any time I have need for an application, I can usually find an open source solution. Installation is always just as easy as proprietary, and use, for the most part, is just as intuitive.

Open source has plenty of support. You just have to be a little more patient. Most likely the application can do what you want it to do, but you need to spend time searching forums, sending emails, or just playing with the application to discover how you complete the desired task.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up GIMP?

We did not have any help installing and migrating to GIMP; however, it is extremely easy to install.

What do you think of GIMP now?

I think that it is just as good as Photoshop® Elements and someone who has never used Elements or the full version of Photoshop® would have no trouble getting into GIMP and using it.

What do others in your library say about GIMP?

Most feel that it does the job. The individual on staff who uses Photoshop® Elements is probably a little more apprehensive to embrace GIMP, but doesn’t say anything bad about it; she just doesn’t use it (probably because she has an option).

Anything else you want us to know about GIMP or your process of switching to GIMP?

Just install it and start using it. You should have no problems whatsoever. Be patient if you can’t figure out how to do something. Read websites, forums and, if need be, books and you’ll find answers.

It’s an excellent program.

[GIMP] has many capabilities. It can be used as a simple paint program, an expert quality photo retouching program, an online batch processing system, a mass production image renderer, an image format converter, etc.

GIMP is expandable and extensible. It is designed to be augmented with plug-ins and extensions to do just about anything. The advanced scripting interface allows everything from the simplest task to the most complex image manipulation procedures to be easily scripted. 1

In short, GIMP can be used for all of your graphic needs, and if a function is missing from GIMP you can browse through the registry of plugins available at extend the functionality of GIMP.

There is a learning curve for those who haven’t used a photo-editing package before, and even for those who might be used to another package (see Figure 7.1). GIMPshop ( is available for those who learned on Photoshop®. It is a modified version of GIMP with menus and an interface like those used by Photoshop®.

Figure 7.1 Options for editing photos in GIMP

If your library isn’t looking for a graphic editing application, then think about providing your patrons with access to GIMP from your public machines. We are always looking for ways to improve the services we offer our patrons, while staying within our budget; this is a way to provide your patrons with a previously unavailable service at no extra cost to the library.

Desktop publishing

Another way to offer better services at no extra cost is to use Scribus ( to produce a library newsletter. Scribus is an open source desktop publishing application. It comes ready with everything you need to create professional looking documents.

In addition to newsletters, you can use Scribus for creating support manuals, flyers and promotional materials for your library. The extensive online documentation and active community make it easy to find help as you learn to use Scribus. Scribus makes creating a library newsletter as easy as drag and drop; see Figure 7.2.

Figure 7.2 Scribus

Despite all of this support and power, libraries and many other organizations have yet to discover Scribus. A survey of 977 librarians found only one using Scribus, and she was only using the application at home. This does not mean that Scribus cannot be used in libraries; it just means that Scribus hasn’t been marketed in the library arena and has been overlooked.

7.2   Open source in the real world: Scribus

Clay Fouts

Managing Editor of Lion & Serpent, a quarterly journal

Sekhet-Maat Lodge

representing Ordo Templi Orientis Portland OR, USA

Why did you decide to use Scribus in your organization?

Because of budgetary constraints and the ideological preferences of much of our membership, we tend to use FOSS [free open source software] projects to fulfill our technical needs. Our extensive website incorporates MediaWiki, Apache, MySQL, WordPress and other packages to manage and deliver content.

This trend continued when we developed a need for desktop publishing software. Our desire for proper color management, high quality font rendering, and vector graphics led us to a choice between Scribus and TeX. While TeX’s descriptive language and maturity appeal to my programmer’s mind, we thought Scribus’ graphical interface and similarity to other desk-top publishing (DTP) software would make it easier for others to pick up the layout job in the future.

How are you using Scribus in your organization?

We originally started using it to produce the layout of our journal, Lion & Serpent. However, since using it for that purpose we have also used it to design all sorts of printed materials, including business cards, ceremony missals and the like.

How long have you been using Scribus in your organization?

Nine months.

Did you have any trouble implementing Scribus in your organization?

It is still young software, so is not as feature-rich as, say, InDesign. Because the more powerful features are in the newer, development versions (we currently use the release), we also tend to run into instability and the occasional bug one is likely to find in bleeding-edge software. I haven’t run into any show-stoppers, however.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

Our previous layout person had used Adobe’s InDesign, and there’s no tool to translate those files used to create earlier journal volumes into Scribus’ format. This meant we had to start over from scratch, more or less, and rebuild our template set in the new format. However, since Scribus stores its documents in structured XML files, it’s now possible to use versioning tools, like Git, to store branches and checkpoint revisions of documents with minimal fuss. We can experiment with a particular layout and, if we decide we don’t like it, later easily revert to a previous revision.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up Scribus?

I’m an IT professional, and we have a helpful member who formerly worked at a digital print shop to advise us on how to handle the inordinately confusing process of preparing our documents for printing.

What do you think of Scribus now?

It’s actually so pleasing to use that I’m now glad we chose it over TeX. Being on one of their support mailing lists, it appears that members of the development team are managing the evolution of Scribus very well. The small but growing community is responsive to user inquiries. We now will not have to worry about diminished access to our templates and other DTP raw materials because of reliance on expensive proprietary software.

What do others in your organization say about Scribus?

In addition to our local membership, we have subscribers from around the world who read Lion & Serpent. Even though we distribute the online version at no charge, people specifically order subscriptions to the paper version for the careful reproductions of the beautiful artwork we publish. Response to the layout, design and production quality has been universally positive.

Are there any screenshots, documentation or features about your use of Scribus online or in library journals that we should look at?

You can find our online archive of issues at All of volume 14 has been designed in Scribus. One thing to keep in mind is that the images in the online digital version are compressed, to conserve bandwidth and to protect our visual artists’ works from being distributed in a form suitable for mass production.

Anything else you want us to know about Scribus or your process of switching to Scribus?

Technical expertise, while helpful, is not necessary in order to use Scribus successfully. However, some very standard DTP functionality (font management and imposition are the most obvious) is still not directly supported from within Scribus and requires the use of other tools. Using these less refined and often command line programs would likely present a challenge for those with less tech savvy.

Although Scribus remains relatively unknown to the larger publishing industry, a growing number of non-profit and commercial organizations are using it for publishing a variety of documents, including magazines, books and marketing material. EASTeight magazine uses Scribus for its monthly publication delivered to 15,000 homes in London. Full Circle, an electronic magazine for Ubuntu users (a Linux-based operating system), is published monthly as an interactive PDF to the web. An increasing list of other titles published using the software is available on the Scribus Public Wiki.2

As with the other applications listed in this book, installing Scribus on your patrons stations is a great way to offer a service that was previously unavailable (and unaffordable) to your patrons.

Audio editing

Print products are not the only way to expand our library offerings; why not create a podcast? Libraries around the globe have started to offer free podcasts to their patrons to promote their collections, library events and the community. The New York Public Library has done an amazing job with podcasts at their library (see, but you do not have to be a large library system to be able to produce your own library show.

7.3   Open source in the real world: Audacity

Robin Stiles

Library Media Specialist, and Kristin Veenema, English Teacher

Staples High School Library Media Center, Westport CT, USA

Why did you decide to use Audacity in your library?

It is free. It has been promoted, downloaded and supported by our Information and Technology Literacy (ITL) department.

How are you using Audacity in your library?

It is loaded on 29 desktops on the main floor of the Library Media Center. It is loaded on 60 + laptops in the Library Media Center. We provide microphones and headphones that our students are able to check out and use. When teachers ask students to make a presentation, some do say that you can communicate your knowledge and research in a variety of ways. One of those options is to use Audacity.

How long have you been using Audacity in your library?

We have been using Audacity for three years. It was first introduced at our ‘Summer ITL Institute’ three years ago and each attendee received a microphone under their seat ‘Oprah’ style!

Did you have any trouble implementing Audacity in your library?

We needed to download a LAME MP3 encoder and keep it in the audacity file to be able to export files as .mp3 files.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

We actually have only ever used Audacity.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up Audacity?

Our tech department staff installed the software on all of our machines and are always available for training and support.

What do you think of Audacity now?

I think it is pretty cool. It’s on my list of summer to-dos to record older family members and their memories to save for my kids. With this last class that I worked with I saw a change in their demeanor when they listened to their own voice, literally and figuratively.

What do others in your library say about Audacity?

Mac users of course prefer Mac software but we predominantly use PCs for instruction at Staples. Teachers who are podcasting more in the classroom use either Audacity (PC) or Podcast Capture (Mac) and upload files to their websites, wikis or Blackboard. With most technology it is not really the tool that you use but the goal in the learning that delivers the expected outcome of high level critical thinking.

Are there any screenshots, documentation or features about your use of Audacity online or in library journals that we should look at?

Students were asked to take an act of The Crucible, and write a script of lines that echoed each line with what they thought the main characters were really thinking and feeling. They were to record their reading of the actual lines interspersed with their thoughts of the character’s thoughts or ‘echoes of thought.’ They were then to take a digital image of a tableau of their scene and link the podcast to their tableau image. They used Audacity to change their tone, depth of their voice and so on. Some made a female voice sound male or vice versa depending on the part they read. Shy, quiet students emerged with stronger voices. Group work enhanced the problem based learning; delving into the character’s thoughts was challenging and different from previous assignments.

Anything else you want us to know about Audacity or your process of switching to Audacity?

You really should try to save your podcast as .mp3 to compress the size of the file because the .wav files can be large and sometimes too big depending on where you might want to save them.

Librarian and professor Michael Stephens introduces librarians to podcasting with Audacity (

Audacity offers a no-cost audio recording solution that includes an intuitive interface and a small learning curve. Audio files recorded in Audacity can be saved as MP3, the standard podcast file format, or in other file formats as needed. MP3, which works on iPods and many other portable media players and CD players, is a file type that allows reasonable quality and a reasonable file size.3

Audacity is the tool of choice for many podcasters due to its powerful nature and the fact that it is free and open source. Using Audacity you can record, edit, splice and enhance your podcasts. This means you need only one tool to record and prepare your podcasts for publication. Audacity provides you with all of the tools necessary for creating podcasts; see Figure 7.3.

Figure 7.3 Audacity


As a visual learner, I find video tutorials to be a great help when learning new software, or anything new for that matter. Providing your patrons with screencasts is a great way to help visual learners at your library with the various products that the library offers.

A screencast is simply a video recording of your computer screen, for example a tutorial for using the library website. You turn on your screencasting software and then navigate through the library site and narrate your movements. The screencasting software captures your movements and your voice and creates a video that you can then publish on the web.

CamStudio ( is an open source application that will help you create these screencasts on Windows, and recordmydesktop ( ) is the solution if you are on a Linux operating system. Both these applications are extremely easy to use. Simply start up the application, choose the region you want to record on your screen and click the record button (see figures 7.4 and 7.5). Once your videos are recorded you can preview them in the application’s viewer.

Figure 7.4 RecordMyDesktop records your actions as you navigate around your computer

Figure 7.5 CamStudio provides you with details about your recording as you record your actions

The Northeast Kansas Library System (NEKLS)4 makes great use of screenscasts ( as training agents for their member libraries. These videos go along with text documentation they have written in order to make it easy for all types of learners to get the most out of their open source integrated library system, Koha (

7.4   Open source in the real world: RecordMyDesktop

Mark Osborne

Deputy Principal Albany Senior High School Library North Shore City, New, Zealand

Why did you decide to use recordMyDesktop in your library?

We wanted to record screencasts to show users how to use features of the catalogue.

How are you using recordMyDesktop in your library?

Recording screencasts for the OPAC and software applications in use in our school.

How long have you been using recordMyDesktop in your library?

About 12 months.

Did you have any trouble implementing recordMyDesktop in your library?

No. Once we made sure the microphone was connected properly it was easy.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up recordMyDesktop?

No. I installed it myself.

What do you think of recordMyDesktop now?

It’s good. I will continue to use it.

What do others in your library say about recordMyDesktop?

The screencasts are extremely helpful and most people’s preferred way of learning how to do something.

See screencasts created with recordMyDesktop online at


Using the tools in this chapter you could set up a public media station within your library for little or no cost. Using an older or donated machine running Ubuntu, you can easily install all of the applications listed here (and more) and allow your patrons to start creating their very own movies, podcasts and newsletters.

1.‘Introduction to GIMP.’ GIMP, 2009.

2.Harper, Eliot. ‘Scribus: open source desktop publishing.’ Seybold Report: Analyzing Publishing Technologies 9, no. 1 (January 8, 2009): 7–14.

3.Stephens, Michael. ‘All About Podcasting.’ Library Media Connection 25, no. 5 (February 2007): 54–57.

4.Please note, that while NEKLS makes great use of screencasts, they do not use either of the tools mentioned in this chapter.