April 20, 2018

Open Invitation | Library Systems Landscape 2016

Libraries take note as Koha and Evergreen continue to grow

The development and launch of Koha by New Zealand’s Horowhenua Library Trust and Katipo Communications 16 years ago and the creation of Evergreen by the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) in 2006 were greeted with a lot of enthusiasm by the library field. Whether generated in-house, or purchased from a commercial vendor, integrated library systems (ILS) have always been costly, and, in theory, the prospect of libraries collaboratively working on open source systems held a lot of promise. In some ways, these solutions are still living down the early hype.

“When open source came out, it was hailed—too much in my opinion—as the Holy Grail. ‘This is going to be great, we’re all going to collaborate, we’re going to build this platform and ditch our old vendors,’ ” was the sentiment among many librarians, says John Yokley, CEO of LibLime parent PTFS, which provides support for a fork of the open source integrated library system Koha. “Reality started to sink [in]. Back in 2007 or so, it wasn’t as built out, and it didn’t have a lot of the features that you got from major vendors.”

A certain perception of open source ILS has lingered since—that these systems are a solution for small libraries that can’t afford a commercial system, or for larger libraries that want to customize their systems and have the IT staff and infrastructure needed to do that sort of work, but not for those in the middle. For example, in a recent survey of LJ readers (see Wish List), about 11% of respondents were currently using an open source system. About 80% were using a proprietary ILS, and of those, almost 25% said that their library had considered going open source. Many respondents explained in write-in comments that they had decided against open source because their library lacked the staff, internal expertise, or funding to support such a move.

Nathan Curulla, co-owner and chief revenue officer of ByWater Solutions, which offers support for the standard version of Koha, says that he had heard variations of this from potential customers.

“We’re still hearing people say ‘we ended up going with [a commercial vendor] because we just can’t afford to bring another developer’ ” onto the library’s staff, he says. “They don’t need another developer…. Our customers can back that up.”

Koha, LibLime Koha, and Evergreen have all become much more feature-rich during the past decade, and the need for in-house expertise has been reduced, owing to the steady growth of third-party developers including ByWater, Equinox Software, and LibLime—which offer open source ILS installation, data migration, training, and tech support, as well as hosting services, and new feature development paid for by individual libraries, consortia, or crowdfunding by groups of unaffiliated libraries. With established third-party support available, a growing number of libraries are considering open source as a viable option when looking to a new ILS.

“We are seeing more interest in open source. Not for the early adopter reasons—‘freedom’ or sticking it to the proprietary vendors—just general acceptance of the overall model,” agrees Mike Rylander, one of the original architects of Evergreen with GPLS and the president and founder of Equinox, which offers support for Evergreen and Koha.

“Libraries that aren’t just looking for a cheap solution…. [are] looking at features and looking at benefits. And they’re starting to recognize that support organizations can completely fill the role that a traditional proprietary vendor would,” says Rylander.

Koha connects

In 2015, ByWater led or helped with the development of several new features for Koha that illustrate how far open source has come. Koha can now interface with PayPal and FIS (Fidelity National Information Services), enabling patrons to pay fines and fees online. The company in December completed an integration with Koha and the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), and, thanks in part to funding and technical assistance from EBSCO, ByWater helped to upgrade Koha’s core search engine to Elasticsearch.

The company also contributed to RESTful API (application programming interface) development and the addition of the Perl web application programming framework Plack. A new cataloging module designed for professional catalogers was launched, and this spring ByWater will introduce EDI invoicing and ordering for acquisitions. Meanwhile, the company continued to grow, adding three new staff and 40 new contracts representing 76 libraries.


“We have added features to Koha that are in line with the trends of the software industry, not just the library industry,” Curulla says. “We are staying on top of technologies that will benefit libraries even if they are not directly related. Our addition of RESTful APIs and Plack are examples of this.”

The company also launched a development site, devs.­ByWatersolutions.com, to enable its customers and other Koha users to check out current projects and enhancements that are in the pipeline, view the funding status of ongoing projects, and submit ideas for future enhancements.

ByWater is also responsible for two new initiatives that could impact future adoption of the Koha platform: Koha University, designed to teach current library technologists how to code for Koha and how the open source community development process works, and Koha Klassmates, a service that provides free hosted installations of Koha to any MLIS program interested in offering hands-on ILS instruction.

LibLime grows

LibLime is a division of PTFS (Progressive Technology Federal Systems), an enterprise content management solutions provider for libraries, as well as government agencies. The company offers two forks of Koha, for public and academic libraries, both of which are available exclusively as hosted, cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) with backups, upgrades, and bug fixes managed by LibLime. These forks include unique features, updates, and advanced functionality and are no longer compatible with the general version of Koha supported by developers such as ByWater. However, the code for each of these forks remains open source, LibLime does not charge licensing fees for the platform, and, as with all versions of Koha, libraries have unfettered access to all data in their system at all times and at no charge.

The security and privacy features of both systems have been designed to meet rigorous government security requirements such as FISMA, FedRAMP, ISO 27001, and FERPA.

“Behind the scenes, we are building layers of security and privacy that you’re not seeing outside of that [federal agency] realm,” explains LibLime executive director Patrick Jones. “And our nonfederal government library customers are getting the benefit.”

LibLime Koha also offers the ability to assign clearance levels to patron accounts based on data in the MARC 355 security field, which could be used to screen out certain materials from OPAC searches by children or students, for example.

Other features include social networking—such as staff-moderated comments, tagging, and list creation by ­patrons—partial fine payment functionality, item check-in notes, “did you mean” search expansion in the OPAC, book club–level holds, patron record batch editing, and customizable receipt templates. LibLime also recently completed an integration with EDS and is working on integration with OverDrive, the 3M/Bibliotheca Cloud Library, and ­ProQuest’s Summon discovery service.

LibLime has also launched Bibliovation, a hosted library management system (LMS) that integrates Koha with a digital content management system designed to simplify the ingestion and discovery of electronic content. Bibliovation’s discovery layer, which is available separately to complement a Koha implementation or any other ILS, includes visual map-based search features, multilanguage search translation, and full-text search for ingested digital objects.

The company added 33 new contracts in 2015 representing multiple libraries. LibLime currently services more than 700 public, academic, government, and special library systems.

Evergreen goes mobile

Evergreen was originally developed by GPLS for Georgia’s Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES), a consortium that then served more than 270 libraries, and the development house Equinox has traditionally focused on consortia. Equinox added 93 new Evergreen customers in 2015 and at year end served 876 libraries.

Last year, Equinox continued to develop its Sequoia Services Platform, a cloud-based environment that enables the company to host Evergreen, Koha, and its FulfILLment interlibrary loan (ILL) management solution using an SaaS model. Since its initial launch in summer 2014, Equinox has moved “all but a couple of the very small Evergreen libraries” to the platform and doubled its capacity, Rylander says.

“Sequoia is the best thing we’ve ever done,” he adds. “It’s lowering our overhead, which means we can do more for our customers, [and] it’s giving us an integration point for a lot of new services.”

Equinox was founded by the original creators of Evergreen, and the company has always been one of the leading contributors of bug fixes and new features for the system. Notably, a test version of a new web staff client developed by Equinox was included in the 2.9.0 release of Evergreen. At press time, a release scheduled for March was to include the first working version of the client with circulation, patron management, cataloging, and authority control features.

“With the exception of acquisitions and serials control, there won’t be a need for the downloaded client,” says Rylander. “Most libraries will be able to make use of the web client on the majority of their patron-facing workstations. Circulation staff, reference staff, even most administrative staff will be able to use the web client.”

Last fall, Equinox also announced a working partnership with TalkingTech and its iTIVA interactive telephone messaging system for libraries, which is now available as an add-on service for Sequoia users.

Also, Rylander says that the Equinox team recently finished writing a yet-unnamed statistically generated record ranking system that analyzes item-level popularity data for an individual library’s holdings, which will ultimately help enhance the ranking and relevance of search results.

Changing minds

Although officials from ByWater, LibLime, and Equinox all agree that there are still misconceptions in the market regarding open source solutions, they also note that views seem to be changing.

“Things take a while to catch on in the library world,” says Curulla. “Libraries get comfortable, and a lot of times, they’d rather just put up with poor service instead of going through the difficulties of a migration and a switch to a new service…. But it’s a lot easier for libraries to get in the door now [with open source] than it was seven years ago when we started the company…. We don’t expect a landslide, but I strongly believe that [open source] is the way that things are going to go.”

Part of the appeal, Rylander points out, is that now that Koha and Evergreen have large, established communities of users working on publicly licensed, open source software, “the product won’t simply go away if any one particular service provider were to exit the space.”

This article was published in Library Journal's April 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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