Librarians Voice Support for OpenDoc

Five library associations voiced their support for the use of OpenDocument (ODF) in Massachusetts this week, sending a letter to William Galvin, the Commonwealth's Secretary of State. In it, the groups say the open source format is the best choice, as everyone has access to its specifications.

Secretary Galvin has publicly derided the plan, saying he has "grave concerns" about switching to OpenDocument from Microsoft Office. He also had been rumored to be pushing the various state agencies to decline to participate.

First announced September 1, the Massachusetts plan to switch to open standards drew immediate criticism from Microsoft, which called it "inconsistent and discriminatory." The state seemed to warm to Microsoft in late November, apparently pleased with company's attempt to open up Office through the Open XML format.

"An important aspect of fostering access to information is ensuring that future generations will be able to read government information created today," the letter reads. The groups argued that although digital technology is creating new ways to access more information, it has made libraries' preservation role more difficult.

Now, not only do these libraries have to store documents, but also ensure they have backwards-compatible applications to view them.

The letter was backed by the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, the Medical Library Association and the Special Libraries Association. The five groups together represent over 139,000 libraries in the United States employing 350,000 librarians.

"Such backwards compatibility may be difficult to achieve in 100 years because the developer of the program used to create the document may have gone out of business and the proprietary specifications of the document format may have disappeared," the group explains.

With ODF, due to its open nature, in that same 100 year period it is much more likely the specifications would be around to help open these documents, they say. For that reason, the groups have decided to come out in support of the initiative.

The libraries additionally say they look forward to open standards on audio-visual materials. A message for OASIS was also included in the letter regarding ODF's limited accessibility features.

"We also strongly urge OASIS to work simultaneously to ensure compatibility standards for all users for whom barrier-free access to government documents is critical. In particular, steps must be taken to ensure compatibility for the disabled community and other users whose access may be compromised."

Massachusetts has until the end of 2006 to implement ODF across all executive agencies under the current plan.

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