Valuing Tech Diversity at My Public Library

A windows logo and a gold dollar symbol outweighing a linux logo on a scale

Like everyone, I have my preferences about the hardware and software I like. I think it is natural to want others to share your tastes. My Somali-American programmer friend has taught me to be more open-minded. Here is how that happened.

My Friend the Windows Guy

At my public library job, I love it when my Somali-American friend visits. He's a highly skilled computer programmer, and we share many interests. The neat thing about our friendship is that it bridges very different cultures. He's a Windows guy, and I'm a Linux person. He was raised Windows, and I was raised open-source. Yet we value our friendship and love talking about our areas of common interest.

We also talk about our different worldviews. He explains quite candidly, "I can't comprehend the open-source path because as a computer programmer, I need to get paid for my work." I let him know that I appreciate his perspective. When I can, I send him links to articles and videos that might be helpful to him in his understanding how open source can be an economically viable path.

We Need Different Points of View

At the same time, I earnestly seek to not only appreciate his point of view but feel it too. Our country definitely needs to be harnessing his talents, whether in the proprietary software field or in the open-source software field.

Interestingly enough, a few years ago he called me to say that three of his children had switched from Windows to Linux. When his oldest son, then in middle school, asked his dad for a faster laptop, because Windows 7 was too slow, dad did the smart thing and said, "I'm not buying you a faster laptop. A Core i3 laptop is plenty fast for a middle school student. If you want a faster laptop, install Linux. Go to Ubuntu.com and follow the directions there. Ask me if you need help, but I don't think you'll need help."

How I Changed My Approach

His oldest child installed Ubuntu Linux and loves it. Soon after, two of his other children switched to Linux. Strangely, my friend's story has made me want to support Windows and Mac even more in the community where I live and work. I deliver donated computers to families that don't have computers. I tell them that it's easiest for me to deliver a Linux computer, but if they want a Windows computer or a Mac, I'll deliver a Windows computer or Mac to them. The recipient family's needs are what I care about. Truth is, I'd love for these families to have all three — donated Windows, Linux, and Mac computers — and let them decide for themselves which works best for their needs.

Walking the Other Half of the Way

I have some open-source friends who won't have anything to do with Windows. That can be a reasonable preference, I suppose. My preference is to follow the open-source path and support Windows and Mac in my community the best I can. And now that my friend's children have chosen to follow the Linux path, I feel I need to do even more in my community to support the Windows and Mac paths. I will not allow my very kind-hearted and smart friend to meet me halfway — without my walking the other half of the way to shake his hand. Right now, he has met me more than halfway. I need to figure out how I can meet him more than halfway too.

About the Author

Phil Shapiro is a librarian, educator, and technology access activist in the Washington, D.C., area. He has found inspiration in the learning that goes on at after-school programs, adult literacy organizations, public libraries, and organizations bringing music instruction and the arts to children. He is a true believer in public libraries as the central social, educational, and creative institutions in our communities.

Image: Treviño / CC BY-NC-SA

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