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

Update on our Evergreen Migration

   June 30th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Evergreen logoOver Memorial Day weekend, the Chelmsford Library (where I work), along with the rest of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC), migrated to the Evergreen ILS (from SirsiDynix's Horizon). Now that we've been up and running for a month, and the dust of the initial shock has mostly settled, I thought I'd answer the one question I keep getting: "so, what do you think of Evergreen?"

To hopefully makes things more clear, and perhaps be a resource for future migrations, I'm making separate sections for "Evergreen" comments and "Migration" comments. Every migration is bound to be different, and some of what we experienced may not apply elsewhere.

Also, I have a feeling this post is going to sound very negative - I don't mean it that way. It's much easier to talk about the "to do" list and the sore thumbs that stick out, than the "done" list and things that aren't a problem. I'll try to present both, but just keep in mind that I'm a whiny reference librarian who wants everything his own way.

Also, let me say this: I am a huge fan of open source, and am very happy we moved to Evergreen. I think I'll be much happier in a year or so when a lot of what I'm about to complain about has been worked out, but I'm happy that open source software gives us potential, which is not always an option with vendor software.

I'd also like to congratulate and thank the PINES developers (and all open source developers) for building this tool out of thin air and giving the library community something incredibly valuable.

Oh, and my comments below are numbered only for reference purposes, not for a ranked hierarchy or really any particular order.

Comments Relating to Evergreen

  1. Being that Evergreen is open source, one of the biggest advantages of it (and any OSS) is that everything is changeable. This is a selling point we heard all through the ILS selection and development process. And it's true, and it's great. However, it can also be a huge problem: saying that anything can be customized leads to pie-in-the-sky expectations, many of which are entirely unrealistic.
  2. Because Evergreen is so customizable, I have the feeling that just about every Evergreen installation is different. Because of this, I don't really know how much of what we use is "Evergreen" and how much is "MVLC Evergreen." This, I think, is especially true of our public catalog - since there are various "skins" available, I don't know which features are available in general, which are special to us, where potential for development lies, and what might just simply not be possible. I won't comment much on it because it is so context-dependent.
  3. The ability to customize and make changes has been evident during our migration process. On both our demo version and our live version, staff from all the libraries have been able to submit problems and suggestions, both minor and major, and sometimes see improvements on the same day. Sometimes it's week, or longer, and sometimes the answer is no, or we don't know, but the fact that library staff can be in direct communication with developers, and developers have the ability to make significant changes, is huge. Granted, since we just launched there have been a ton of problems and suggestions, which takes prioritization and some research, but still, just the fact that it's possible is incredible (it shouldn't be, but it is).
  4. Like most open source software, there is a user community all contributing to the development of features and functions - and the Evergreen community seems particularly strong. This is great for libraries who may not be able to do much development work themselves, as they may be able to freely adopt the work of someone else after that someone else releases their code to the community. However, the flipside is that, if you're waiting for someone else, you never know how long you'll have to wait, or what something may ultimately look like, or how it will work. If you can't do it yourself, you're still at the mercy of other people (like with vendor software), but if you have the money you can pay developers like Equinox for custom development.
  5. One of the most notable things about Evergreen, from a user's point of view, is how s-l-o-w it is. I don't know why this is the case, or if other Evergreen libraries also see it, but it is one of the biggest drawbacks to our system. Something else weird is that about 1/3 of the time, pages don't load, and you have to click the "Reload" button to try again (which, again, doesn't work about 1/4 of the time). This is incredibly frustrating when helping a patron at the reference desk - and I can only imagine the patrons' confusion at home.
  6. I know I am still very new to using Evergreen, but on the whole I find the staff client interface a little clunky. Different modules seem to be in different phases of development - the Circulation module seems like a very mature and powerful interface, whereas Cataloging and Searching seem to be lagging behind (we also previewed the Acquisition module, which appeared to be still in the very early stages of development - at least, based on our processes and needs). This will inevitably improve over time, and probably so will everything I'm complaining about, but I am glad that the Circulation module is the strongest, because that is the busiest desk with the least amount of time to fool around.
  7. One module that seems missing entirely is a reporting module. Right now, we are totally unable to run shelf lists, weeding reports, missing item reports, etc. This is major omission, since many of these reports our staff ran and pulled on a weekly basis.
  8. Something that I think is very weird about Evergreen is the way item records are structured. In our old catalog, there would be one "master" record for a book, and then individual "item" records for each of the physical copies we owned. So if we owned five copies of a Harry Potter book, there would be one main record that would show up in searches, which would indicate we had five copies of the book. In the example below, we have two copies of the book in Childrens and three copies in YA:

    + Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
      - J/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000001
      - J/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000002
      - Y/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000003
      - Y/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000004
      - Y/Fic/Rowling - 31480000000005

    The two levels caused a few problems, but makes sense and I don't know how to simplify it.

    Evergreen however, actually has three levels. The two in the same hierarchy described above, but with a third level in between them. This third level is the "volume" level, which seems to serve no other purpose than to store the call number.

    + Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
      + J/Fic/Rowling
        - 31480000000001
        - 31480000000002
      + Y/Fic/Rowling
        - 31480000000003
        - 31480000000004
        - 31480000000005

    It's an entirely different way of thinking, and definitely takes some getting used to - for catalogers, that is: the way items display in the public catalog is pretty much the same, so this is just a records management issue. But does mean that data interrelates in different ways, so you have to be careful what gets changed when, and always be aware of editing Items versus editing Volumes. It also means that if you wanted to change the call number for just one copy, then you have to create an entirely new Volume level to accommodate it

  9. Evergreen is based on Mozilla Firefox, which is both good and bad. I've been using Firefox for a long time, so I am familiar with the interface and keyboard shortcuts. However, Firefox isn't without problems, and the same is true of Evergreen - things don't always work right all of the time. Having to frequently "reload" pages that didn't load is one example.

    But something else about the interface is that it is very much a Windows interface, and requires frequent use of the mouse. I'm usually fine with using the mouse or the keyboard, but I find that having to switch between the two slows me down - but that is necessary with Evergreen: some thing you can do just by typing, but some things require mouseclicks. It's minor, but enough to be noticed (especially by our cataloger, who is a primarily a keyboard user. She also wasn't placated by the keyboard shortcuts, as some require Olympic-level finger gymnastics).

  10. Oh, but even though this is a Windows program, something that I use all the time - right-click - isn't always active. It does work in many places, but something as basic as the search box in the staff client is not right-clickable. This frustrates me to no end, because I often copy text from websites or emails (titles, authors, keywords, whatever) and want to paste them into the catalog to search. Instead of right-click > Paste, I have to click in the search box, and then Ctrl+V or Edit > Paste - which again is a nagging keyboard/mouse combination or involves extra steps that just takes that much more time to accomplish.
  11. Something else about clicking is that I find I do a lot of clicking. A great deal of information is buried layers and layers down, and it takes many clicks to drill down to find it. I'm sure this will get better as we learn the pathways to the information we need, but it seems like a lot of this could be streamlined.

    Another click-related annoyance (for me) is the number of confirmation dialog boxes that seem to always pop up. This scenario happens frequently:

    • I click to do something
    • Box pops up: "You are about to do something" OK - CANCEL
    • I click OK
    • Box pops up: "Are you sure you want to do something?" OK - CANCEL
    • I click OK
    • Box pops up: "You just did something" OK
    • I click OK

    Not horrible, I know, but a couple clicks too many for my taste. Plus, I know we're talking seconds here, but all those extra dialog boxes and mouseclicks take time - especially since Evergreen is slow to begin with.

  12. Another interface oddity is the randomly ambiguous wording: some screens have a "Reload" button while others have a "Refresh" button; for Loan Duration options, you have Short, Normal, Long; similarly, for Fine Levels the options are Low, Normal, High; and instead of a consistent "Save" button, that same function is alternately labeled All Modify, Modify copies, Modify/Create copies, Edit then create, Create with Defaults, Apply - all with the same effect.

    A funny anecdote: one of my coworkers was having difficulty canceling holds. She'd find the hold she'd want to cancel, click "Cancel Hold," a confirmation box would come up, but then the hold wouldn't disappear from the screen. It turns out, the confirmation box has two buttons: "Cancel" and "Apply." Since she wanted to cancel the hold, she (logically) clicked the "Cancel" button - but that was actually cancelling her action, not the hold. To cancel the hold, she had to click the "Apply" button. When I pointed this out, she was not amused.

    Using relative words like this allows different libraries to build in whatever meaning they want, but since our "Normal" loan period is always "3 weeks," it would be more helpful to just spell out "3 weeks" instead of staff needing to remember what the code "Normal" means in this case. Although, considering how rigidly precise library stuff is most of the time, the ambiguous wording does kind of make me laugh when I encounter it.

  13. A major customer-service-related complaint I have is that staff doesn't have access to all settings of a patron's record. For one thing, Evergreen stores all patron passwords/PINs in an encrypted format, and they cannot be viewed by staff. Meaning, if a patron calls in and asks us to look up their password because they forgot what it is, we can't - all we can do is reset it for them. Which is okay, and blah blah blah internet security, but it's annoying to say, "sorry, they system won't let me do that."

    Another thing the system won't let staff do is set the patron's preferred method of contact for holds notifications. Right now, patrons can get notification of their holds by phone, email, or both - and annoying, the default method is both. As in, unless a patron logs into their online account and chooses one of the other, they are going to get both a phone call and an email message letting them know it's ready for pickup. It's nice to offer both as an option, but I don't like that it's forced as the default - and that staff can't change it. There's no option for this in the staff interface, and we can't log into patrons' accounts because we can't just lookup their password.

    But something good (and new for us) about patron accounts is that Evergreen allows patrons to create a custom username to log into their account it. So, instead of having to remember their barcode to log in, they can create something memorable, like iamthebestartist, and use that. Neat.

  14. One of my favorite Evergreen features is that, in the staff client, you can adjust on the fly which columns appear in your display. So, if you're looking up an item that someone has on hold, the standard columns might be title, author, position in hold queue, etc. But in many screens, there are 20 or more additional columns of data you can display. So, when you're helping a patron and they ask something obscure about their item, often you can check out what other data is available for viewing and answer their question right then - unlike vendor software, where usually what you see is what you get

Comments Relating to the Migration

Just like I think most Evergreen installations are different, the whole migration process probably varies widely from library to library - perhaps even moreso. So again, take everything I say with a grain of salt, because it may or may not apply to anyone besides us.

An example: the same weekend MVLC migrated from Horizon to Evergreen, the Bibliomation library system in Connecticut also had a major migration of their BibliOak project - also moving libraries from Horizon to Evergreen. I know staff of the two systems were in communication before the migrations, but it turned out that our migration took three days (as planned) but they encountered problems and were down for over a week. Why? Because migrations are highly localized.

Although our migration process - planning-and-training beforehand to learning-as-we-go with the live system - has had problems (which I will complain about shortly), the hands-down shining moment of the entire process was the actual migration process itself. Our development team planned to be down for three days - Memorial Day weekend, since all our libraries would be closed on Monday anyway - and that is exactly how long it took. Tuesday morning, our system was up and running, and that feat can't be underestimated.

But as I said, we did have our problems, so here is a bit of hindsight that might be beneficial to other migrations.

  1. Know what you're getting into - which is especially critical with OSS. When you use vendor software, all you're really in control of is the data (item and patron information) and local rules (loan periods, borrowing policies, etc). The vendor dictates the interface, and there isn't much you can do or change about it.

    With open source software though, especially one that is as new and evolving as Evergreen, you're not just in charge of the data and local rules, but you're also responsible for the interface - both staff and patron. Most of our data and rules migrated well to the new system (one notable problem was that all reference materials migrated as circulating items), but as soon as we went live, we got slammed with patron complaints and usability problems, because our interface wasn't very high on the priority list during development.

    You can't get very far without good data and rules, but migrations also need to spend considerable time developing the interface - if people have trouble using the catalog, the data and rules don't mean much. Interface development is an entirely different mindset from data and rules management, so if you need to, hire new staff specifically for this purpose - it's hard to just pile the huge responsibility of interface development on existing staff who have never before been responsible for an interface. And if you do hire new staff, do it sooner rather than later. The new person will take time to adjust and contribute, which really is only possible in the early stages of development. Once you're just a couple months out from launch and you realize you need help, it's too late to hire someone because the existing development staff won't have the time to train the new person.

  2. When it comes to the interface, ask front-line librarians and patrons what features are important to them. This is especially true of patrons, because they might be using features in your existing system that you don't think much of, and which might not be replicated in the new system. Find out from the people who actually use the system what they use and how they use it, and then make sure those features are available in the new system.
  3. We over-trained patrons, but under-trained staff. My library spent a lot of time and effort focusing on making the public aware we were migrating to a new catalog, how it would work, what some new features were, etc. On the whole, it seemed like few people noticed or cared, and mainly seemed perfectly capable of figuring out the new system once it was launched (that is, except for when the features they had used heavily in the old system were not available in the new one - then we heard about that, over and over and over).

    Definitely make an effort to let people know things will be changing, but do it at normal catalog touchpoints - as in, put obvious notices in the old catalog that things will be changing. We may have (unknowingly) gone overboard with newspaper articles, webpages, tweets, blog posts, email newsletters, posters in the building, signs on computer monitors - all of that took a great deal of time and effort that may have been better spent.

    Another anecdote: During the first few days after the launch, I fielded many phone calls from patrons asking if "the system" was back up. When I said yes, their response was always something like, "oh great, so I can come in and use the internet?"

    This told me that we definitely got peoples' attention with our announcements, but we communicated the wrong message. We tried to clearly say that our materials catalog would be unavailable, but to many patrons, anything computer-related means "the internet," which they took to mean they couldn't get on the internet. That wasn't true, and it was an unexpected failure on our part.

    We also did a lot of staff training, but by the time we launched, it didn't feel like enough. Most staff were mostly ready, but on launch day, no one was feeling 100% confident that could help patrons.

    I think this was due to the limitations we faced with training: primarily, that no library staff ever saw the actual version we would launch with until it went live to the public. For months beforehand we had a demo server set up with an earlier version of Evergreen. Staff was encouraged to use this to get to know the system, but since it was a demo and always in development, it was never stable and was always changing, and we were never certain if something was acting oddly because that's was just how Evergreen worked or because it was in the process of being changed. Also, we contracted with Equinox for hands-on training, but instead of using even our demo version during that training, we were trained on their version of Evergreen - which was even more foreign to us and had many components that we wouldn't have.

    So when it comes to training, it would be best to provide staff access to train on the stable launch version before the launch. Even though our staff handled things very well, their confidence level was way below where it should have been, because the actual launch version was essentially a mystery to them - and I'm sure their fear, uncertainty, and doubt unintentionally got conveyed to patrons.

    Maybe the goal here should be: train staff to handle anything, and develop a system that any patron can use without training.

  4. Focus on providing clear and open communication. This is true for library staff communicating with patrons, as well as library staff communicating with development staff. Patrons/library staff know what is necessary, and development staff know what is possible, and there needs to be a continuous feedback loop so everyone is on the same page.

    It is also important to establish these communication lines during development before the launch, and then continue to use them after the launch. Things will be coming up all the time, so patrons need a clear way to communicate issues with library staff, library staff need a way to report issue to development staff, and development staff need a clear way to communicate system updates back up to library staff.

    One of the communication methods we used was a help desk ticketing system. Any library staff could "open a help desk ticket," which essentially posted whatever problem/question they were having to a forum. Development staff (i.e., the Help Desk) would check the forum and respond to tickets (although as launch time approached, response time flagged as the help desk staff got overwhelmed with the number and complexity of tickets). The forum was also open for browsing by any library staff, so people could see what issues other libraries were having, and what the resolutions were.

    Our problem is that our ticketing system is somewhat primitive. The ideal system would make it easy to search for existing tickets before submitting a new one, make it easy to keep up on what tickets were being submitted, make it easy to follow tickets of interest, and make it easy to "+1" or "like" an open ticket if you were having the same problem (instead of having to submit a new, identical ticket). This system needs to be easy to use from start to finish, because some people submitting tickets won't have much computer expertise beyond using the library ILS. Another requirement is that the ticketing system be scalable - once the system goes live, the number of tickets submitted per day is going to shoot up, and can quickly become overwhelming if there aren't enough development staff to address them.

    Another key area of communication is in establishing development priorities. Very, very early on in the development process, we held focus groups with library staff from each department to find out what their needs and wishes were. Many people expected the results of those meetings to be the development priorities moving forward, but quickly development began to focus just on what the system could do, not what we needed it to do. Right from the beginning, and carrying through after launch day, there should be a development oversight committee that considers all the development needs, and is responsible for setting development goals. This was almost entirely lacking in our migration, and caused unnecessary animosity and tension.

  5. Expect development to continue after the launch. It would be ideal to have everything ready to go by launch day, but that probably isn't realistic (especially with a continuously-developing product like Evergreen). A better scenario would be to establish the absolutely required features and functions necessary for launch, and then a development schedule for all the bells and whistles to be developed after the launch. The launch should not happen until the minimum launch requirements are met, regardless of timetables - even if it means delaying the launch. There is nothing more discouraging to patrons and staff than to launch with a brand new catalog that doesn't work right, and requires staff to apologize constantly to patrons and promise, "it'll get better eventually - we don't know when, but they tell us they're working on it." Patrons will resent it and resist the migration, constantly asking why they can't go back to using the old one. I think it's better to launch late with a stable and working product than to launch on time with one that doesn't work well.

    And the same is true of specific features and functions - less is more in this case. If the catalog has some really neat feature, but it's not quite working perfectly, turn it off until it is working perfectly. Patrons and staff will have enough to learn in the new interface without also having to face problems and learn workarounds on day one. Slowly rolling out additional features as they become stable and available spreads out the amount of new things patrons and staff are forced to learn all at once.

I think the most important takeaway is the need for communication. Developers need to know what staff needs are, and staff needs to know what developers can deliver. Otherwise, there will be tension and inaccurate expectations, which leads to unnecessary conflicts and problems.

A new catalog should be exciting, because the occasion should be a huge leap forward in library services. I know we'll get there with Evergreen, and I'm looking forward to it.

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King County Library System Launches Evergreen Catalog

   September 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

King County Library System + EvergreenI found out yesterday that the King County (WA) Library System is now live on Evergreen. They did a lot of work to develop the online catalog, and many of their customizations will become part of the core Evergreen code.

Which is good news for many Massachusetts libraries, as we'll be following in their footsteps in May 2011. But development continues, and we can still customize beyond what KCLS has done - so if anyone has comments or suggestions, please submit them to Kathy Lussier at http://masslnc.cwmars.org.

And for the curious, these introductory videos show and explain a little more:

Yay for open source!

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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.


  • 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


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


  • 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


  • 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?

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?
-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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On Open Source

   February 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Site Made With Recycled Code logoI meant to post this last week, but better late than never, I guess.

I read on Slashdot that Saturday, Feb. 9th was the 10-year anniversary of open source. The hows and whys of are explained well by Bruce Perens in his State of Open Source Message: A New Decade For Open Source.

But when it comes to open source, I'm more interested in the end result, the applications other people built that I can use; I just take for granted that Open Source is alive and well and will continue to be (I know this is a dangerous assumption, which is why I try to contribute in any meager way I can).

Which brings us to another post I saw last week, this time on iLibrarian, highlighting 50 open source alternatives to propriety software. It's amazing when you look at them all together, but there seems to be an open source option for pretty much any computer-based task. The category list is:

  • Basics
  • Office Suites
  • Office Tools
  • Productivity
  • Graphic Programs
  • Web Editors
  • Publishing
  • Communications
  • Media
  • Utilities
  • Security
  • Financial

Using open source isn't just about using free software; it's about being able to build on and customize software according to how people work, and about sharing with people instead of profiting off them.

Without open source software, you wouldn't be reading my blog right now. As my little icon above says, this is a site made with recycled code. Thank you, open source developers.

update: And to bring this all back around to libraries, Tame The Web just linked to LibLime's Open Sesame blog, devoted to using open source software in libraries.

update 2: This has appeared in a few places, but I thought it fit in with this post, too - Open Minds, Open Books, Open Source describes library using (actually, embracing) open source tools.

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