Building and supporting Koha

Building and Support Koha, an open-source ILS
Saturday June 28th, 2008, 10:30-12:00
Hyatt Regency Orange County

John Houser, Senior Technology Consultant for PALINET, and Johsua Ferraro, CEO of Liblime, set out to answer common questions about open-source ILS systems with a focus on Liblime’s support for Koha. The format was an interview, and the resulting questions and answers were recorded. Watch for a link to the podcast version here.

Representative questions and answers follow, but these are only samples of an extremely rich discussion of general and very specific technical details.

Don’t necessarily plan to save lots of money on an open-source ILS, as planning to contribute to development efforts has many advantages–primarily that you get to set the priorities for new features in the ILS. A representative of a Koha library in the audience pointedly disagreed, stressing that in his case there were significant cost savings.

How does Liblime makes money if the software is free?
By supplying services related to installation, migration, and ongoing support of Koha and Evergreen systems.

How hard is migration?
Migration is hard from any ILS to any other ILS, and Koha is not an exception. But it’s not necessary to have your own staff to do the hard parts.

How does support for an open-source ILS differ from commercial ILS support?

There is no vendor lock-in. Libraries could contract with any vendor to support the system, which is based on widely used web technologies like MySQL and PHP.

How supportive of new users is the Koha community?
Open-source software communities can sometimes be hard for new users to approach, but Koha’s tends to be fairly friendly and helpful, and Liblime staff contribute to it.

The session was lively, and included a lot of audience participation. There were about twenty questions and comments from the audience.

How does custom work for a particularly library get accepted into the project as a whole?
Koha is a smaller project than something like Firefox, and is fairly open to outside input. New code is reviewed and tested.

Will there be support for Vufind?
PALINET will support Vufind from version 1.0

Why should I join the WALDO consortium in migrating to Koha?
Your library peers are setting the specifications and helping to build the system you’ll be using.

What support is there for reporting and statistics?
There are built-in reporting modules, but because the software is built on MySQL almost any report-writing software will work with Koha. And direct access to library data is never a problem.

There were also questions about the cataloging and acquisitions modules, system requirements, API’s for scripting, ERM, digital library software, and many other topics.

Open Source Legal Issues

Monday, June 30th, 2008
Hyatt Regency Orange County

Walt Scacchi of UC-Irvine stepped in as a last-minute replacement speaker for Karen Sandler of the Software Freedom Law Center and gave a talk entitled “Research Results for Free/Open Source Software Development: Best Practices for Libraries? (and some legal issues too)” based on his empirical research on open-source project processes, practices, and community development
The talk was rich in details on who open-source developers are and what they do. Using the current stats at Sourceforge as a starting point, he estimated approximately 180,000 current open-source software projects, of which approximately 18,000 (10%) are currently being succesfully developed. The largest area of open-source development is in games, in large part driven by the fact that the very successful Sony game systems are built using open-source software.

Open-source developers tend to use the tools they build, which is not necessarily the case for commercial developers. About 1% of open-source software users are developers. Two-thirds of developers contribute to more than one project, 5% to more than ten.

80% of open-source developers say they contribute to projects to learn new tools, new skills, or new software. Most also build because it is fun.

Most open-source developers spend far more time reading online documentation and interacting with other developers than they do writing code. This means the community aspect of open-source software is actually more important than the code, which is contrary to the usual opinion of programmers as anti-social. The social aspect of open-source development, including developing one’s reputation and future job prospects, but also collaborating with other like-minded programmers, is critical to the success of a project.

Open-source developers tend to subsidize their own work by contributing (obviously) time, but also equipment, server space, money, and many other things to their projects. This makes commercial software company comparisons of “total cost of ownership” suspect.

Scacchi described software as literature, and referred to the many thousands of developers as readers of it. Then pointedly asked whether libraries are building collections of it. There was silence in the room, but iBiblio, hosted by the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, is actually doing this and hosts one of the largest open-source software libraries.

He also described the confusing array of open-source licensing arrangements and the problems conflicting licenses can cause. A good source of basic advice on these issues can be found in the Software Freedom Law Center’s Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects.

Small projects tend to fail unless they can forge alliances with other, similar projects. A large project, or a cooperating cluster of projects, can generate the critical mass necessary for success. The question to ask about a project is whether it could or would continue if its current main developer left. He pointed to the example of the Linux kernel, the heart of the operating system, to which the original creator, Linus Torvalds, contributes less than 1% of the code. A sustainable project generates code and a community.

Powerpoint slides for Scacchi’s talk.

Open Source Open Services – Emerging Technology Interest Group

Joe Ford convened the Emerging Technology Interest group managed discussion on “Open Source, Open Services”

Darrell Gunter began by discussing Collexis research projects and applications for libraries. Fascinating work is being undertaken on computationally derived ontology, what Collexis refers to as Fingerprinting. [Bibliographic ontology (like FRBR or FRAD not getting any play in the semantic portion of the presentation). ] Screenshots of tools (presentation slides to be posted to the LITA wiki) included the Knowledge Dashboard, which is being used for Hypothesis Generation by scientists. discussed as a Collexis partner with tools for researchers including expert visualization, social network graphs of who is publishing with whom. Asklepios Group discussed as a user of collexis tools which utilizes mobile technology for patient-side consultation and comparison of relevant treatments.

I would characterize Collexis methodology as relying on computationally derived indexing for data visualization (btw-the intellectual foundations of LIS exist (partly) in the aforementioned FRBR ontology). To some extent one has to question the use of the term semantics here, in that behind their derived “meaning” are sets of algorithms, which don’t actually answer the question “what exists” but rather “what exists in the databases we compute from” – in my opinion. I think of Karl Jaspers and his idea on the limitations of certain kinds of empiricism.

Neeru Khosla of CK12 introduced the Flexbook, a collaboratively authored and produced textbook. Neeru modeled the assembler interface which allows the user to select chapters for their desired book. Flexbook is pitched as a low cost way to create textbooks. CK12 is looking for librarians to provide indices, meta information, keywords to this interface to help organize the chapter content. I would characterize this work as sort of a Textbook2.0 in that the user can easily piece together the book they want and suit it to their exact student needs and not pay an exceedingly high cost. Regarding quality: Neeru informs us that chapters can come from wikis such as Wikipedia and from donated textbook content. If you are interested in learning more contact

If you are interested in semantic type stuff see the page.

Drupal4Lib BoF at ALA Anaheim

Drupal BoF at ALA Anaheim

We got a great crowd of around 20 people for our Drupal ‘Birds of a Feather’. The above is a shot of everybody in the BIGWIG Bloggers’ room — just before we got kicked out by some group from YALSA (bums, we’ll get even)!

(We then proceeded to the next available empty room and had our get-together there.)

First up on the agenda was setting up the Drupal IG, making sure we have enough signatures and asking for volunteers to serve as Chair and Co-Chair. For the first year, Leo Klein (i.e. me) graciously volunteered to serve as chair and Ian Chan as co-chair.

The name for the IG is ‘Drupal4Lib’ and our purpose is “to promote the use and understanding of the content management system, Drupal, by libraries and librarians”.

Next on the agenda was the true meat-and-potatoes of the BoF: shooting the breeze about Drupal and demonstrating a few sites we were working on.

The group consisted of librarians at all levels of experience from expert to beginner. Some were shopping around for a CMS and hadn’t yet decided which one to choose. Some had already deployed Drupal in one way or another — if only locally on their laptop — and wanted to learn more about it.

Jon Blackburn showed us the FSU Library site, Tracy Sutherland gave us a taste of the soon-to-be launched Amherst Library site (public mockups here…) , and finally, Co-Chair volunteer Ian Chen gave us a taste of his wonderful work from his portfolio site.

Unfortunately my nifty little projector was suffering relocation fits and kept on shutting down. [Note to attendees: if you weren’t able to show us a site because of projector problems, please post them here].

All in all the surprising thing was how quickly the time went. I personally found the BoF extremely rewarding. There aren’t many opportunities to meet face-to-face with colleagues united by an interest or curiosity in Drupal.

I really look forward to our next get-together — in Chicago?

Top Technology Trends from Sarah Houghton-Jan, ALA 2008

I had a lovely time presenting virtually, despite the sound issues on all ends. It still was a rather successful demonstration of virtual participation, and I think that was wonderful. Big thanks to Maurice York for organizing this for myself and Karen.

I have 5 Trends I’d like to throw out there. I was able to cover three of them (#s 1-3) in the live presentation, but apparently the echo in the room made parts of what I said difficult to hear. So, here’s what I said verbatim, near as I can remember (plus the bonuses of #s 4 and 5). Let’s hit it.

#1: Bandwidth
Every library complains about bandwidth. Many people have faster access at home than at the library, which is a reversal of what we used to see when people came into the library to use our connections. The problem is multimedia, which is wonderful, but it is huge. And when you put 40 people downloading audio and video files, playing live online games with people in Singapore, and streaming radio stations , you get bandwidth clogged-up-ed-ness. And if you’re not set up so your staff network is separated from your public network (which you should be), your staff find that their work is slowed down to a snail’s pace too. There are a number of solutions out there like paying to up your subscription with your ISP to the next level or switching from copper to fiber. But this faces all organizations, not just libraries, so until a global solution is found, I think that we will see more of libraries’ IT budgets going to bandwidth every year…which means other projects may be put off.

#2: Sustainability
We talk a lot about the new and the beautiful. But answer me this: how many abandoned and dead library blogs are on the web? How many no-longer-updated library MySpace profiles are there? Few libraries thought about how much it would take to sustain these presences. Taking a holistic view of how much staff time it takes to maintain the library’s existing web presence, and allowing for additional time for new projects, is something that all libraries should begin. The smart ones do it now, but as our web presence grows and takes up more of our overall resources, we need to pay the same kind of attention to staffing it as we do for a physical library.

#3: Looking away from the bright shiny things and at ourselves instead
Tell me which of the following sounds familiar to you:

  • “We wanted to do it, but our administration didn’t see the value in the technology and didn’t want to devote staff time or funds to it.” -OR-
  • “We had to go through 6 committees and rewrite 4 library policies to get approval to start a blog, so it took a year to get it going.” -OR-
  • “Our web and IT staff have a project back-log of more than a year so any new ideas have to wait.”

Libraries, as organizations, are not nimble. We desperately need to look at how we make decision and how we encourage innovation in our libraries. Nearly all of the libraries I have visited or worked in do not encourage innovation.

In fact, innovation is discouraged through the structure and practices of our organizations. A huge barrier is the generations-old librarian “fear of failure” that is so great that no one is allowed to try anything unless is has been planned to death and has already been implemented in 80% or more of other libraries. Staff are also hesitant to innovate because of the multi-level bureaucracy that libraries seem to love. These bureaucracies are seemingly insurmountable to us regular ol’ staff because of three things:

  1. the natural frustration we all have with complex bureaucracies that make us want to cry
  2. the reality that “the little guy,” which many of our new librarian staff are, probably isn’t on the committee that makes the big decisions
  3. and third, people don’t have the extra time in their workdays for the hours required to organize a project to make its way through the bureaucracy. The staff are already over-burdened by their other duties and few people want to work an extra 5 hours every week just so they can be the ones trying new things in their workplaces.

We create walls between us and innovation and then put down on paper that we want to innovate, that we have a strategic plan to move us forward. “Huzzah!” we say to ourselves. And yet, our plan falls woefully short of what we really need to get us to where our customers expect us to be.

Here’s what I want to see for a library technology plan—
DOs: Go try new things. The more things the better. The more things that we hear about failing, the better, because that means you’re trying lots of new things. Pilot new things if possible. We’ll fund you when we can, but if we can’t please try getting sponsorships. And, finally, let us know how it goes.
DON’Ts: Don’t dislocate your shoulder playing wii bowling at a gaming night. Please.

Until we break down the walls that stand between libraries and innovation, all this talk of shiny new things doesn’t mean a thing. The libraries that have broken down those walls, or at least found secret passageways through them here and there, are the ones who we see innovating, the ones we see featured in Library Journal or Computers in Libraries. It ain’t the ones with a committee structure that looks more complicated than my family tree. The advent of the rush of new technologies in libraries is almost forcing the issue, making us reconsider how we make decisions and manage projects. I think this is a wonderful thing, and am watching what libraries do as they move through this change.

#4: Catalogs
I want to build on something that Eric Lease Morgan wrote in his Trends on the LITA Blog. He was writing about the next-gen library catalog and emphasized the importance of helping customers to use the content they find in the catalog by tagging, reviewing, sharing, syndicating, etc. I wish to second that sentiment with one addition. These activities need to be global. They should not be limited to the content created by your library’s users or users of other library catalogs from the same vendor, as is the case with some of today’s products. In other words, tags and reviews should be shared across libraries, platforms, and across all boundaries. Syndication and sharing should work with common and popular existing websites and services like Yelp, Facebook, and Amazon. We are no longer individual community libraries folks…at least not online. We’re all one, and acting like it will help us stay relevant in our users’ online experiences.

#5: Open Access Content
Libraries are going to soon start getting off of our pricey pedestals and only featuring digital content that we pay for. Yes, we all pay thousands of dollars for some excellent downloadable audio books, encyclopedias, journals, and a lot more. But all of that lovely open access (read: free) digital content that exists out there through sites like the Directory of Open Access Journals, Project Gutenberg, and more are credible and respected, and we owe it to our users to let them know about this content.

Questions from the Audience
InfoCommons – what’s the right set-up, hardware, software?
In addition, there was a question from someone in the audience, directed to me, about what software and hardware would make a good InfoCommons. I’m still confused about why that was addressed to me, but that’s OK. I will admit that this is not an area of expertise for me. My library is currently in the very early stages of beginning planning for an InfoCommons in our main location and perhaps at a few key branches. My best recommendation would be to ask the users. See what they tell you they want. So, instead of answers, I’ll leave you with questions. Do they need video editing software? Furniture that can move? Laptops they can check out instead of standing desktop computers? Do they want audio mixing software? Which types of device ports? Do they want specific animation software? Do they need to be able to download stuff (if your library currently doesn’t allow that)? Do they want special printers? Talk about that. See what they tell you. Research what other libraries have done, and use that as a possible starting point. Much has been written on the subject by people a lot more involved in this area than I am. Trust them, not me 😉

LITA Public Libraries Technology Interest Group Meeting

The PLTIG business meeting focused on further developing our program idea for Annual 2009. The program looks at how various libraries and consortia have used technology to bring their summer reading programs “online”–from patron front-ends to backends for creating statistical and tracking reports. (How many repeat customers did your summer reading program have this year?) Discussion focused on speaker selection, developing guidelines for speakers, preparing a resource list for attendees, and publicity options.

The group also discussed plans for Midwinter. Instead of hosting a managed discussion as we have done in the past, we decided simply to hold a business meeting. We’ll work further on the 2009 program at Midwinter as well as begin the process of planning for Annual 2010.

As part of the Midwinter discussion, we also touched on the perennial topic of “what’s the purpose of this IG?” We concluded that our purpose was to provide programming on technology topics of interest to persons in public libraries and that we’d do well to market ourselves to new members this way. We’re hoping that a narrower focus that’s more easy to get a handle on will help us attract new members.

So if your interested in technology in public libraries and want to get involved in programming at annual conferences, be sure to look us up at Midwinter.

Live Streaming from ALA Annual 2008

This is not an organized LITA endeavor, but as a proof-of-concept for BIGWIG, I am going to be streaming as much as I can from ALA Annual 2008. The service I’m using for this is called Ustream, and the live channel can be found here:

Because of the vagaries of internet access at the various convention hotels, it remains to be seen exactly what I will be able to do…but I’m going to give it a try! Even if you miss the live stream, all of the videos will be at the above URL to peruse at your leisure. If you are interested in trying to catch me live, I’ll be announcing it over on Twitter.

Electronic Resources Management IG Meeting in Anaheim

Please join us at the Electronic Resources Management Interest Group (ALCTS/LITA) meeting otherwise known as the “Friday Night Meeting”.

When: Friday, June 27th 6:30-8:00pm
Where: Anaheim Convention Center Room 203 A


1. IG Business (5 Minutes)

2. SUSHI- Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative (SUSHI) Open Forum – Adam Chandler and friends. Adam will be presenting the results of a SUSHI survey he is conducting of COUNTER
members and then using that as a lead-off for a discussion about what the challenges and opportunities related to SUSHI implementation are. (30 minutes)

3. CORE-Cost of Resources Exchange update – Ted Koppel and/or Jeff Aipperspach (15-20 minutes)

4. KBART-Knowledge Base and Related Tools Working Group – Nettie Lagace (15-20 minutes)

5. Update report on the ONIX family (Licensing Terms, Books and Serials) – Brian Green (5-10 minutes)

6. NISO Update – Todd Carpenter (10-15 minutes)

We look forward to seeing you in Anaheim.

Zoe and Clara