or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


MA Open Source Info Session Notes

   October 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

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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MA Libraries Moving Towards Open Source

   August 4th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Veruca SaltI've mentioned this in passing, but here's some insider information on the prospect of Massachusetts libraries adopting an open source state-wide catalog.

The update comes courtesy of my consortium's monthly newsletter, the August 2009 MVLC Connections [pdf]*. It's a good article, reviewing current OSS ILS options, how they differ from traditional library catalogs, and what it will take to get one in place.

However, one paragraph set off some alarm bells:

Once the platform has been selected, the second phase of the project – assessing user requirements and system development needs - will begin. This is the point in the project where library staff will begin to be heavily involved.

Here's what bothers me: shouldn't "assessing user requirements and system development needs" be necessary to select a platform in the first place? I'm just worried that the plan is for a lot of major decisions to be made before there is any input from front-line librarians. It's kind of like your mechanic deciding with the dealer which make and model of car you have to buy, then asking for your input on the color and whether or not you want power windows.

But don't get me wrong: this is great news, especially for MVLC libraries (the ILS we're using is woefully dated and inadequate). However, with this project as big as it is, changes won't happen until 2011 at the earliest - which means the time patrons and staff have to continue to put up with not-good-enough software is being measured in years instead of months.

So if I'm sounding like Veruca Salt**, it's because I have to apologize to patrons on a daily basis for such a difficult catalog interface. I know there are much better systems out there, and I can hardly wait. I don't care how, I want it now.

Read more about the pros and cons of OSS (via iLibrarian)

 


*Dear Irony: You have to download the newsletter from my server, because the original, containing this article about the future of libraries, is locked up on a password-protected "wiki," which no one is allowed to edit.

**I just noticed that the wall in the background of the photo is the same as my website background - huh.



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Neat-o Catalog Interface

   June 7th, 2007 Brian Herzog

At the open source workshop yesterday, Joshua Ferrara of LibLime showed a Koha catalog interface designed for kids - amazing.

catalog, catalogs, childrens, interface, interfaces, ipac, ipacs, koha, libraries, library, nela-its, opac, opacs, open source, public libraries, public library



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NELA-ITS Spring Program 2007 – Joshua Ferraro

   June 6th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Joshua Ferraro speakingJoshua Ferraro, LibLime
Although representing a support service company, Joshua was really here to talk about the Koha ILS. I didn't know much about Koha before this, but during Josh's sixty-minute talk, it became my favorite library tool.

It originated in New Zealand, but has since been implemented in American libraries, too. The beauty of its open sourceness is that libraries are not tied to a single vendor for support and developments - we can do things ourselves, or benefit from the contributions of others in the community, or pay companies like LibLime to do the development for us.

And of course, this is all to our specifications and on our timetable, rather than that of a vendor who is more interested in profiting off of us than in serving our patrons.

Here's a few things I really liked about Koha (using the Nelsonville (OH) Public Library's catalog as an example):

  • Intelligent ("field-weighted") searching works like patrons expect: searching for "it" returns relevant matches, rather than junk. Also, searching for "Stephen King" returns different matches than "King, Stephen," because the catalog presumes the latter is a search for books by King, rather than information about and by him
  • Facetted search results show on the left, to let patrons easily and quickly refine their search
  • Native rss feeds available for every search (allows people to keep up to date with new acquisitions)
  • Multiple sort options, including currently available items only (and that's live data, not based off an indexed file)
  • Extensive and powerful advanced search options
  • Records and editions grouped via FRBR and xisbn
  • Book jacket images, reviews, description, and more right where patron can find it, from Amazon (for free) or companies like Syndetics (for a fee)
  • "Virtual Shelves" for both award winners, best sellers, staff-generated lists, etc., and patron-generated lists (once they've logged into their account)
  • Patrons can also submit purchase suggestions
  • Supports multiple data formats, not just MARC - even websites
  • Offers built-in federated searching with something LibLime calls MasterKey

Obviously, I took good notes on this section. My library has been reviewing another open source ILS, Evergreen PINES, and since LibLime supports both, it was interesting to hear Josh's comparison of them. It basically broke down like this:

  • Evergreen: 1.5 years old, used by 1 library system, and is designed for top-down control (a single decision is made by the administrators for the entire system)
  • Koha: 8 years old, used by 500+ libraries, and is designed for local control (each libraries can make custom interface changes independent of the others in the consortium, while still sharing data)

Koha also offered some other cool features, like a page translation option, varied interfaces for adults, kids, etc., and much more.

Speakers

evergreen, ils, joshua ferraro, koha, liblime, libraries, library, nela, nela-its, open source



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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Open Source

   May 17th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Looking for a way to learn more about using open source tools in your library? Sure, we all are. Have I got a program for you...

One committees I'm on is the Information Technology Section of the New England Library Association. In addition to going to the meetings and sponsoring sessions at NELA's annual conference, we're also planning the NELA-ITS Spring Program, called "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Open Source."

This program is being held Wednesday, June 6, 2007, at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston, MA. I'm looking forward to going, both for the program itself and because I've heard Tower Hill is a great place to spend a nice day outside.

More about the program:

Program Schedule:
9:30 Registration and Breakfast
10:00 Opening Session - Elizabeth Thomsen, North of Boston Library Exchange
11:00 Break
11:15 Koha Open Source ILS - Joshua Ferraro, Liblime
12:15 Lunch
1:00 Running Linux Applications in a Public Library - Randy Robertshaw, Tyngsboro Public Library
1:55 Flavors of Linux (Ubuntu and more!) - Wes Hamilton, Technology Coordinator, Western MA Regional Library System
2:40 Q & A with our panel of speakers
3:30 Program ends

Cost: NELA Members - $40 Non-members - $50

More details and online registration is available, but feel free to ask me any questions you might have, too.

Going to various committee meetings is okay, but I really enjoy getting off the desk and out of the library to find out what other librarians are doing and how they handle the same issues I see in my own library. This program will be great for that - maybe I'll see you there.

Elizabeth Thomsen, ils, information technology section, Joshua Ferraro, Koha, koha, Liblime, libraries, library, linux, Linux in a Public Library, nela, nela-ite, nela-its, new england, new england library association, open source, Open Source ILS, public libraries, public library, Randy Robertshaw, spring program, tower hill, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, tower hill botanical gardens, Ubuntu, Wes Hamilton



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