Monthly Archives: November 2009

Resource review #6: SirsiDynix White Paper Causes Many Tweets

Fitzpatrick, S. (2009, November 11). Open source advocates reject SirsiDynix’s warning about OSS. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2009/november2009/abramvsoss111109.cfm.

Scandal! Well, kinda. Anyway, it’s jucier than most of what you’ll get when reading about open source ILS implementations, so I was perfectly happy to find this ALA report on a white paper from the Sirsi-Dynix Vice President of Innovation that pretty much proves that open source software is a viable alternative to traditional vendors. (If it weren’t, they wouldn’t be worried about it.)

The white paper itself is extremely negative about open source, although to be fair, it seems to be pretty truthful. Abram emphasizes the small size of the ILS programming community, giving the impression that open source software needs a user base as large as that of Firefox to be worthwhile. The warnings given about open source software are accurate — but they’re the same warnings open source advocates give. Many of the detriments of open source Abram lists apply largely to new software, but neither Koha nor Evergreen, the two major open source ILSs currently available, could really be called new at this point: libraries looking into them now are certainly not early adopters.

The American Libraries article summarizes the library blog and Twitter reaction to the leaked paper, which was generally not too supportive of SirsiDynix’s position. Several bloggers argued that while it might cost more money to train librarians and programmers to get a good open source system running, that training in people is much more valuable in the long run than maintenence fees paid to a proprietary vendor. The article also links to the variety of Web 2.0 tools that are being used to comment on the issue, from a blog post (with moderated comments) to a Google Doc to a Wiki. These documents are fascinating to look at — this is an ongoing debate, and one that will keep many people interested for a long time.

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Resource review #5: Koha Blog

Koha blog. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.myacpl.org/koha/.

From the same folks who brought you A Koha Diary is Koha Blog, a resource for modification and customization of the Koha interface. If I were managing a live Koha system, I would subscribe to this blog’s feed and read it every day. (Or, well, as often as it updates, which isn’t very often; it’s much more of an archive than a real day-to-day blog.)

The great thing about open source software like Koha is that, with the right application of effort, you can make it do whatever you want it to. And in the true spirit of open source, the folks at the Nelsonville Public Library are sharing their efforts with the rest of the library community, in simple, straightforward explanations that anyone with a minimum of programming experience can implement.

This kind of stuff (although possibly not these exact tweaks) is also available at the Koha developer’s wiki, but the advantage of Koha Blog is in its simplicity and in the fact that it’s written by librarians for librarians: knowing how to add extra content blocks is useful, but knowing what you’d use them for is even more useful, as in this example.

Resource review #4: Major Open Source ILS Products

Breeding, M. (2008). Major open source ILS products. Library Technology Reports, 44(8), 16-31.

This article from last year’s Library Technology Reports offers an overview and comparison of the four most prominent open source ILS products — Koha, Evergreen, OPALS, and NewGenLib, as well as a discussion of the open source phenomenon in ILS products in general.

There are a lot of tables — I enjoy tables — breaking down what kinds of libraries are using what kinds of software, what kinds of population and circulation figures they’re working with, things like that. Koha is a favorite among small to mid-sized public, academic, and special libraries, while Evergreen, designed by a consortium of libraries in Georgia, has been preferred for large library systems. Large individual libraries are still reluctant to adopt the fairly new open source ILS applications. I was interested to discover that open source hasn’t made much of an impression outside of the United States and Canada, although it has been a choice option in some developing countries.

The article continues with a breakdown of the companies that support this open source software (such as LibLime for Koha), a review of the technical backend of an open source ILS implementation, and finally a feature-by-feature rundown of the specific software discussed, based on documentation and demo sites. This would be a great source for a library curious about which open source ILS to explore in more detail.

Resource review #3: A Koha Diary

Koha Diary screenshot

Hedges, S. (2005). A Koha diary. Retrieved from http://www.kohadocs.org/koha_diary.html.

This webpage is a collection of e-mails collated by the Nelsonville, Ohio public library director, chronicling that library’s transition to Koha. He mentions that the switch to Koha was the sysadmin’s idea — he knew about open source software, and thought that the open source philosophy and the library philosophy were compatable enough that one ought to support the other, and the director put together a team to explore transitioning to Koha.

The e-mails describe a variety of problems associated with the transition, from installation complications to modification details. They’re working with a much older version of Koha than the one currently available — an early e-mail discusses having to add Z39.50 support — but I don’t think that invalidates the usefulness of the document in examining what kinds of problems might arise in the process of adopting open source software and illustrating possible solutions.

There are also a few philosophical discussions on how and why library software works the way it does; I find these some of the best parts of this document. There are discussions on library software design, on the dedication required to fully implement an open source project, and on the ways to promote a real community for a project like this. You can really tell that the people working on this project were excited about it, and I love that.

There are e-mails here from Nelsonville librarians, from programmers, from Koha organizers, all over the board in this project, and it’s fascinating reading for someone interested in how the transition and modification process actually works.

I have only one complaint: the page isn’t well-organized for reading out of order. There are nine linked main sections, but since the whole thing is chronological, they work more to break up the narrative than anything else. I suppose you can always use your browser’s Find feature if you’re looking for anything in particular.

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