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MA Open Source Info Session Notes

   October 29th, 2009

MA Open Source ProjectI attended the 10/29/09 information session for the Massachusetts Open Source Project. My notes are below, and I hope they make sense - there were about six speakers, and all their presentations slightly overlapped, so I tried to distill things into a coherent single overview. The presentations started with the basics of open source software, then got into the specifics of the MA project.

Massachusetts Open Source Project
Information Session - 10/29/09

The Open Source Task Force consists of three MA networks (and MBLC) looking to cooperatively move to an open source library system. The key personnel of this task for so far are:

  • NOBLE: Ron Gagnon, Elizabeth Thomsen, Mark Martha Driscoll
  • C/W MARS: Joan Klakinski Kuklinski
  • MVLC: Jason Stephenson, Tracy Swaim, Larry Rungren
  • MBLC: Paul Kissman

Why even look at an Open Source Library System (OSLS)?

Open source software is free. However, like "free kittens," there's still the ongoing maintenance costs (which is true whether you paid for the kittens or got them free). Free = freedom to:

  • download - you want it, you got it
  • view - (seeing the source code is huge) everyone can see exactly what's happening, and nothing is hidden
  • share - have as many copies as you need (no registrations or license fees)
  • modify - the code can be edited (but do you know what you're doing?)
  • you also get more freedom in support options - you can support it yourself, or contract out with numerous companies, or rely on the user community for help. This is great because you're not locked into one provider

Open source has a participatory culture - people want to develop and share their improvements to make the system better, not to make money (people can charge for support services, not the software). The online community of the internet makes this possible, and so does "versioning software" (keeps track of what version you have, what's new, and whether or not you need to upgrade).

Open source communities are generally self-defined - you make yourself a member by showing up, participating, and contributing:

  • software development
  • bug fixes
  • testing (looking for bugs)
  • documentation and training materials (tech and style/design skills needed)
  • spreading the word
  • discussion of the software, both official and unofficial (no artificial proprietary limits on what you can say where)

This is messy, yes?

  • tight controls protect the core code (you can edit your own version, but changes to the general software get reviewed and approved to be included in the next release)
  • Release managers review and decide what changes will go into each new release of the core code
  • Committers are developers with the ability to add (commit) new code to the core
  • these positions must be earned by contributing and participating

Fear of Forking - forks are separate, increasingly incompatible versions of the software

  • although it's possible to customize your own software, as soon as you change it, you're unique and the community is less helpful (because their core software is different than yours)
  • there is pressure to work within the community - there are guidelines for discussing and submitting changes
  • but when one group funds development, everyone benefits from that investment

Who uses OS?

  • everyone (at least indirectly) - Amazon, Google, US Navy, Gov. of Canada, Ticketmaster, Firefox, ebay, Open Office
  • many companies and organizations run a combination of proprietary and OS, and contribute back to the OS community

Vision for the MA Open Source Project

Wouldn't it be great if all networks in MA were on the same ILS? This would allow

  • collaborative staff training, patron ease of use, financial cost sharing
  • leveraging state and local resources during this time of statewide budget problems. Instead of sending money out of state (to vendors), keep it in-state by providing jobs for support and development

Why now?
We are all frustrated with traditional vendors. Despite this, well over $500,000 goes out of state each year for systems that do not meet our needs. Open source software has proven itself as a successful business model (see above partial list of open source software, and the companies that rely on it). Also, open source library systems have proven themselves to be stable and practical (namely, Koha and Evergreen).

What are the advantages of adopting open source software now?

  • we can engage end users in design and testing
  • we will have control over development and can establish our own priorities
  • collaborative development and support will reduce overall costs
  • the openness of open source means we can adopt a transparent development process
  • the openness also avoids locking us in to one vendor (multiple support companies out there)
  • we're not "buying blind" - staff can kick the tires and evaluate all aspects of each system before we choose (all three networks have downloaded Evergreen and Koha and played and tested - don't need to take salesmen at their word on how the system works)

Creating the system we want

The task force reviewed existing ILS' and determined that no proprietary system meets our needs - they are all very expensive, very slow in development, falling behind patron expectations, and there are concerns about corporate stability (Horizon got cancelled, Sirsi is being sued).

Libraries in Georgia created Evergreen 4 years ago, because all vendors fell short after a comprehensive review. Instead of developing a new system for Massachusetts, we adopted Georgia's system and invited all 9 MA networks to participate. C/W MARS, MVLC and NOBLE opted in.

These networks were awarded a $412,000 LSTA grant from MBLC to Investigate, Select, Develop and Implement an open source library system to replace the current systems.

Investigate

  • review current state of each network
  • brought in both LibLime (Koha) and Equinox (Evergreen) for demos
  • did lots of independent research and local testing (since a traditional RFP wouldn't suffice)
  • talked to actual users of both systems

Selection - Decision Criteria

  • Multiness: ("have it your way") ability to support multiple sets of circulation parameters and network transfer rules
  • Scalability: how well can the system handle the load of many large libraries and networks
  • Extendibility: ability to play nice with other software libraries rely on (self-check machines, time limit and print management software, museum pass software, etc). Also, how well can the system be customized to meet our needs?
  • Current customer base: are the current users like Massachusetts networks? Evergreen came out ahead in this criteria - Koha user seemed to use one set of rules for all systems

Based on these criteria, the Task Force recommended Evergreen as better suited as a consortia system

A lot of data came from Marshall Breeding's librarytechnology.org - some stats:

  • Koha: developed in 1999 in NZ for small libraries with limited telecom capacity
  • Evergreen: developed in 2006 in GA for 252 libraries
  • Evergreen customers are more like us (MVLC has fewest bibliographic records of the three systems, but more than the biggest Koha customer)
  • Of Liblime customers, 28 have migrated away from LibLime, but 21 still use Koha and 7 moved to Evergreen
  • 0 libraries have migrated away from Evergreen

Similarities

  • Both systems run on Linux, Apache (my)SQL, Perl
  • Both have mature circulation and cataloging
  • Both have immature serials and acquisitions

Evergreen

  • flexible hierarchy, allows for different levels of library structure (library, branch, system, network, consortia)
  • Rule and parameters are associated with hierarchy (can apply to different levels)
  • Cluster-friendly architecture - allows for load-balancing throughout entire network

Koha

  • Separate loan rules for each branch
  • Most other settings are single system-wide (funds, notice templates, calendar [days open/closed], borrower mandatory fields, ceiling due date)
  • Hierarchy structure coming in v3.2 - but a lot of this is in the form of "yes, it will be able to do that" but no one has seen it yet

Evergreen is the winner for us

  • Unanimously selected by three networks
  • Can provide scalability and meet the complexity required by our networks
  • released under the GPL - designed to spread beyond Georgia
  • designed from the ground up to support and scale to a state-wide library consortium
  • Customer list most resembles our networks
  • The developers asked the right questions: "is the data driving the procedure or is the procedure driving the data?"
  • Developers worked with front-line library staff to develop all aspects of software

Where do we go from here?

MassLNC (MA library network cooperative) created by administrators of the 3 networks to drive this project - http://masslinc.cwmars.org

In the First Year:

  • Hold information sessions on open source and this project
  • Get network approval of Task Force recommendation by Boards of each network
  • Hire a Project Coordinator (job listing)
    • will take the load of network staff
    • will work closely with networks to guide the project moving forward so that systems are as similar as possible
    • will review development options
    • be point of contact between networks and vendors
  • Track development of ILS software
  • Draw up development requirements via user involvement
    • establish functional requirements, which will be compared to what the system can do
    • there will be an online database of potential features - OpenRFP, but not quite ready
    • committees within networks will evaluate current Evergreen modules and suggest improvements or modifications
    • survey patrons to get their input, to rank what is important to them (placing holds on all items at a time, or social tagging, etc.)
  • Develop helpdesk and intranet support infrastructure and procedures
  • Develop database migration tools and procedures
  • Beginning of development - can hire support vendor (Equinox [spin off from PINES], Alpha-G in Utah (lots of former Sirsi staff), local developers, train/hire network staff, work with other Evergreen users on joint projects)

Second Year

  • Continue development
  • Staff training
  • Data migration of first network (likely MVLC) - spring/summer of 2011
  • Migrate other two networks afterwards

The Future

  • Get more MA networks involved
  • Creation of statewide support organization

Closing thoughts

We will be the "owner" of our system, not a "renter." We won't have a landlord to rely on, we'll make our own decisions on our schedule, depending on resources - but with more control comes more responsibility. Think of open source as buying a fixer-upper - sound underneath, and we can customize the surface.

  • Cost savings will be in
    • not having vendor contracts
    • running system over internet, instead of dedicated telecommunication systems
  • Disadvantage/caveat
    • OS won't solve every problem we have
    • We'll still have policy issues, but we will have more control over implementing our resolutions

Questions and Answers

How do we develop modules if we can't change the core code?
-We'll play by the rules of module submissions, and we don't currently have plans for radical changes. And we plan on working with other major customers

Based on research, what are the function that are ready to go, and which need more development?
-Basic modules are in a pretty good place. Acquisitions and serials are in development. The two areas of most concern are workflow issue with the circ client (we'd prefer it as a browser) and the "curb appeal" of the opac - King County is also focusing on these two modules. Also, we need to make sure it works with 3rd party software and Virtual Catalog

Evergreen works across the internet - are we susceptible to downtime and attacks?
-We have more problems now with dedicated circuits than internet connection. As for attacks, Evergreen won't make anything different - firewalls will still protect us like we do now, using SSL encryption between servers

From individual libraries point of view, does PC requirements change?
-As long as it runs a web browser, you won't need upgrades

Updated info on how King County migration went?
-They're still in the thought process. They got a $1M grant, but haven't really started development. They're just a little ahead of us.

Have any Evergreen libraries migrated from Horizon or III?
-Yes, and this information is readily available (unlike with proprietary vendors). No migration is flawless, but the system that gives the most problem has been from Koha. Lots of Alpha G employees are former Sirsi employees, so they are familiar with our systems. Evergreen also has a development roadmap, to show where they plan to be in the coming years and beyond.

On the timeline, Spring/Summer 2011 is the first network - when are the next? And how does this affect the network fee structure?
-Depends on how well the first migration goes.
-Initially, it won't affect fee structure at all - they should stay the same until things stabilize, and then will likely decrease when the support system has been established. In the short run, maintenance dollars will go towards development, and then shifted back to support.

Will it require additional tech support within individual libraries?
-Probably not, in fact perhaps less

Will these presentations be online, with links to what Evergreen looks like?
-It will be available on the MVLC wiki, everything will be on the MassLNC website. An Evergreen demo is also available on their website.

Since Georgia did this, has there been research into what other states have done as far as statewide proprietary systems?
-The shortcomings of proprietary systems are pretty much the same across all vendors, and the biggest shortcoming is in "multiness" - the number of sets of rules you can use. The only system that could have met this criteria was Horizon 8, which was cancelled and now Sirsi is being sued because their resulting product is technologically inferior to the Horizon 8 specs.

Can you talk more about the development of the Acquisitions module?
-It is one of the modules in the later stages of developments, and has a lot of activity. We can mirror the good features of other systems, like Overdrive's automatic purchasing when hold/copy ratio reaches a certain level. We and King County plan on doing a lot of work on this.

What are the downsides of OS, and is anyone considering leaving Evergreen and why and how easy is it to transition away from Evergreen?
-It is a relatively new system, so it's not fully mature in all areas. It's a different involvement model, and change is always tough, especially when it required a complete rethink. It will require more involvement from us. An anti-downside is that we won't have to bend our policies to fit the system anymore (as much). Two people are thinking of moving from Evergreen to Koha because they are single libraries and Evergreen is more complicated than they need, but since it's all open source and standard formats, migrating shouldn't be a problem.

Is each network voting in November and is that all we need for a green light?
-Yes

When you spoke to other libraries, how did they negotiate what developments they wanted and got - how did they set priorities for development?
-Evergreen has a document for the process for an enhancement, that gives guidelines for how much work is involved, how long certain changes take, etc.

Why didn't the other six networks want to join in now?
-Minuteman is taking on major RFID project and so it's not the right time to switch vendors. Others are happy with their current systems than the three of us are. One network has a homegrown system and is skeptical of OS. Many didn't want to be the first to do it, so are waiting to see how it goes for us - especially in the areas of staff reconfigurations and cost savings. Other networks don't have the same economic pressures, so can sustain their system for a few more years, because their systems are little newer than the OS3's networks. One network just launched a new opac to address curb appeal.

Do you get the impression that we'll have a lot of influence since we're three networks working together?
-we'll be better off working together because we'll have more funding, but it's also why we're trying to work with Bibliomation, King County, and whoever else we can. We're also trying to talk up developments now, so they might be ready by the time we come online.

What does the new cluster of networks look like?
-roughly half public libraries in the state

Question for attendees: What do people want to see?
-non-cludgyness
-better opac (less embarrassing)
-happy that the focus in on the patron
-staff-time saving features (but staff can be trained to do workarounds)
-getting the whole state together for better resource sharing and interlibrary loan
-a system that doesn't slow down during peak times

UPDATE 11/5/09: There's a great summary of the project so far in the Nov09 issue of the MVLC Connections newsletter [pdf] - it includes more stats that I wasn't able to get while I was typing during the session.




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6 Responses to “MA Open Source Info Session Notes”

  1. Marcie Says:

    Great post. Thanks for keeping MA libraries up to date with this project. (I think you want Joan Kuklinski from C/W MARS.)

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Marcie: thank you for the proper spelling – that is who I meant. I only heard her name once, and couldn’t find it online, so I just guessed.

  3. Kathy Says:

    Brian,

    Thanks for posting this rundown on the new open source project. I work in two libraries in the WMARS end of things and have been hearing bits and pieces here and there (one director has her hands full and hasn’t been able to keep up on this project and the other, well, transparency is lacking there).

    It’s wonderful to get such a detailed run down of the pros & cons and a timeline for the project. The evergreen patron-side demo is pretty exciting. The search functions are so much easier to deal with than clunky III. I like the options of material type and searchs all on the same page–no limiting your search afterwards. I also really enjoy that the information all shows on one screen, no scrolling necessary. The side bar with similar items is delightful–I’m forever trying to walk patrons through using the subject headings, recommended books, or tags to find like items, but they aren’t that easy to navigate for your basic user.

    Can’t wait to see what the staff end of things would look like.

    I’ll stop gushing and just thank you again for the write up!

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kathy: You are welcome. I do feel like there hasn’t been enough information available on this project, but I think that’ll change now that MassLNC (rss feed) is up and running. Also, the project is still in the early stages, trying to coordinate between numerous large groups – I’m sure as things stabilize and begin to move forward, communication about the project will improve.

  5. Kirstin Says:

    It’s great that the networks are moving forward. I saw Liblime’s presentation at NELA OS event in 2007 and was super impressed with the state of OS catalogs.

    BTW, there’s a typo for the link to MassLNC website (should be http://masslnc.cwmars.org/) under question “Will these presentations be online, with links to what Evergreen looks like?”.

  6. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kristin: thank you – I’ll have to quote my old isp on this one: “if I could type, I’d be dangerous.”