March 16, 2018

Open Source Picks Up the Pace | Library Systems Landscape 2015

Koha and Evergreen aim high with development targets

This February, EBSCO Information Services announced plans to provide funding and technical assistance for contributors to the Koha open source ILS platform. Led by the Koha Gruppo Italiano (KGI)—founded by the American Academy in Rome, American University of Rome, and the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce—with development support from ByWater Solutions, Catalyst IT, and Cineca, the partnership will enable an upgrade of Koha’s core search engine to Elasticsearch, the popular open source, multitenant-capable full-text search engine.

According to an announcement published by KGI, the partnership will also enhance Koha’s speed and API access; increase the functionality and accuracy of faceted classification and search; include the development of a browse function that enables patrons to explore by author, title, subject, or call number; and include a MARC to RDF crosswalk and enhanced flexibility for ingesting metadata schemes other than MARC21. Last month, EBSCO separately announced a partnership with ByWater to integrate EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) with Koha, giving Koha libraries the option of adopting EDS as a web-scale discovery service and ensuring full Koha OPAC functionality within EDS.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, and descriptions of the scale of the partnership by the parties have been somewhat divergent. KGI’s announcement described ­EBSCO’s “massive support” that “will ensure the long-term viability of Koha.” Meanwhile, EBSCO officials have characterized it as a matter-of-course move. In a conversation with LJ, Neil Block, EBSCO’s VP of discovery innovation, academic libraries, described it as the latest in a long line of partnerships that ­EBSCO has cultivated with about 30 ILS providers worldwide, including the community-sourced Kuali OLE project (see sidebar).

“We very much believe in partnerships with ILS vendors, and we are an active supporter of open source technology for libraries,” EBSCO EVP Sam Brooks said in a statement regarding the Koha partnership. “We are a member of Kuali OLE and believe that both OLE and Koha are excellent options for libraries worldwide.”

With its large, active global user base, Koha wasn’t on the ropes prior to this deal, and EBSCO isn’t playing the role of savior. But these development plans and EDS integration are significant, bolstering both the functionality of Koha and its credibility as an option for many libraries that have been on the fence about adopting an open source ILS.

“It’s a really big deal for Koha,” says Nathan Curulla, co-owner and chief revenue officer for ByWater Solutions. “Having a strong discovery component that works very well with the system is very important for [its] long-term stability…. To have EBSCO’s help with this is huge, because they’re a very large and reputable company. It helps to validate the sustainability of Koha a bit.”

Gaining ground

Third-party development houses are key to that perception of viability as well. While open source systems are free for any library to use, many libraries do not have the IT staff needed to maintain or modify an open source ILS without help. ByWater, LibLime, and Equinox Software, among others, offer services including installation, data migration, hosting, training, tech support, and new feature development for these open source systems. At year-end 2014, ByWater served 872 libraries using the most common, community-managed version of Koha. LibLime offers two proprietary, customized forks of Koha—one designed for public libraries and another for academic libraries—and serves about 750 libraries total. Equinox serves more than 30 libraries using the community-managed version of Koha as well, but the company’s primary focus is development and support of the open source Evergreen ILS, used by more than 800 libraries.

Koha was originally launched in 2000 as a solution for small, single-site libraries in New Zealand, while Evergreen debuted in 2006, serving a Georgia consortium that, at the time, consisted of 44 library systems with more than 250 locations, eight million items, and 1.6 million cardholders. The origins of each system shaped the course of its early adoption and development priorities, and Evergreen is still the more popular open source option for multitiered consortia and large library systems. But both systems are scalable—Evergreen can be used by single-site libraries, and Koha has been making inroads with academic and larger public libraries as well.

Curulla cites the Rutgers Law Library’s recently migration to Koha as an example. “We’re starting to get bigger names adopting Koha,” he said. Libraries “are starting to realize that the features and benefits of Koha, in many cases, outweigh those of proprietary systems.”

Similarly, in November 2013, LibLime was awarded a five-year, multi-million-dollar contract to implement and support its web-based version of Academic Koha for U.S. federal agencies. Unique customizations include a discovery layer map interface designed to facilitate searching of content by geospatial coordinates via “GeoMARC” and integration with LibLime’s digital content management system, enabling the ingestion and findability of bibliographic records and digital content side by side.

These libraries had been using a legacy commercial ILS but felt that “it was getting a little long in the tooth and not really functioning well for them,” says Patrick Jones, executive director for LibLime. “They wanted a new system, but they wanted it to do things beyond traditional library software management duties.”

TABLE 3: Open Source Developers

SYSTEM 2012 2013 2014 2014 SALES 2014 INSTALLED
ByWater Solutions (Koha) 34 68 51 47 4 872
LibLime Koha and Academic Koha 42 34 41 41 0 751
Equinox (Evergreen) 37 74 107 107 0 803
Numbers represented here were reported to us by associated vendors

The road ahead

In addition to the integration with EDS and plans to implement Elasticsearch, ByWater is also forging ahead with several other development efforts for Koha. In 2014, the company enhanced support for multiple languages and designed a new cataloging interface that will be included in the next release of Koha this year, notes Brendan Gallagher, co-owner and CEO of ByWater.

The company also expects to complete Koha’s integration efforts with major e-content providers in 2015, including OverDrive, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 ebook platform, the 3M Cloud Library, Recorded Books, Freading, and more, enabling patrons to discover and check out content from these vendors without navigating away from a Koha catalog. ­ByWater made several minor enhancements to acquisitions workflows last year and soon will have Koha integrated with EDI (electronic data interchange) for invoicing and ordering.

Funding for these efforts has long been driven by small groups of Koha libraries that decide to pool money to pay development houses such as ByWater to build specific new features or functionality into the Koha system. Those features are then shared with the broader Koha community. In a move that may help ByWater speed this process, grow the company, and take on more projects, ByWater in January announced the beta launch of a new crowdfunding website devs.bywatersolutions.­com. There, Koha libraries can suggest new features for the system and potentially join funding for those features from broader coalitions donating in smaller increments.

For many libraries that have become accustomed to commercial systems, there can still be a reluctance to embrace this type of customization approach, Curulla acknowledges. Even seemingly minor functionality issues in an open source system can lead a library to stick with its existing commercial system, and some directors are unaware that any perceived issues can be remedied, for a fee.

“We still have some libraries say ‘we have to click this button one extra time to complete this task, so we’re not going to go with you.’ Literally,” Curulla says. “They could have saved $20,000 per year by clicking that button one extra time, or paid $5,000 once to have that feature developed for them.”

Regardless, Curulla remains bullish on the future of Koha and other open source solutions, arguing that the functionality of an open source ILS will eventually surpass that of commercial solutions.

“The libraries that are coming over [to Koha] are starting to realize that there is a large paradigm shift going on,” he says. “Libraries are realizing that open source software is cheaper, it’s just as good, if not better, and any features that are lacking can be easily developed for a lot less money.”

Equinox grows Sequoia

Evergreen is keeping pace with commercial vendors as well. Last July, Kent County Public Library (KCPL), MD, became the first system to move to Equinox’s Sequoia Service Platform, a new cloud-based environment that enables Equinox to host instances of Evergreen, Koha, and FulfILLment using a software as a service (SaaS) model. By using redundant hardware, continuous data backup and live database replication, and a cloud configuration designed to handle peak loads, Sequoia aims to provide zero downtime for users.

The hosted SaaS model does not require on-site servers, and it enables Equinox to perform system updates and apply bug fixes and security patches without assistance from library staff.

KCPL is a three-branch system serving 20,000 residents on Maryland’s rural eastern shore, so its deployment of Sequoia offers a good example of the system’s scalability for small libraries. But the system is proving popular with Equinox’s larger customers and consortia as well. Almost 345 libraries have moved to Sequoia, and a majority of the company’s other customers will be on the platform by the end of 2015, according to Mike Rylander, president of Equinox and lead architect of the Sequoia platform. Rylander added that the company will also continue working in a support and development role with several large libraries that plan to continue local hosting of Evergreen.

Sequoia “customers are seeing increased uptime and less issues with unexpected high-load [situations],” Rylander says. “We can absorb summer reading program [traffic] a lot more easily. And a lot of the ancillary services that aren’t necessarily core to the ILS, like SIP2 servers, perform better,” managing data exchanges between Evergreen and third-party hardware and systems, such as self-check stations.

Last year Equinox also began translating the Evergreen staff client into a web-based model. The move was necessitated by Mozilla discontinuing support for several features of ­XULRunner, upon which Evergreen was dependent, but Equinox took the move as an opportunity to rethink what its customers and the broader Evergreen community wanted in a staff client. Notably, some modules of the web-based version will work well with tablets and mobile devices, which reflects another trend among Evergreen’s commercial competitors. The first development “sprint” was completed in August, implementing circulation and patron registration features, and as Rylander notes, making the new client tablet friendly was “one of the goals. The circulation module, in particular, is one where we focused on responsive design so that handheld devices would be much easier to use.”

Sprint 2, focusing on cataloging workflows, was still in progress at press time. After that, two more sprints are planned—one for serials and acquisitions and another for admin functions. Equinox plans to be finished with the web-based client in January 2016.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” says Equinox VP Grace Dunbar, adding that the first sprint also involved laying the groundwork for future development. “We implemented WebSockets and did a whole bunch of great stuff that is going to make supporting the [new user interface] easier, but it’s also going to make Evergreen faster and more responsive.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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  1. spencer says:

    I went with the folks at Bywater 2.5 years ago and I have never- not once- regretted that decision. The community is great and the product just keeps getting better. It’s good to see open source ILS getting such a great write up.

  2. Informative article. I need information like this so that I will not be left behind to the latest trend in open source software. I also develop and create open source software. More power on your blogging.