Intro to Koha Redux

Back in May I wrote about a Koha Demo that I organized at the Jenkins Law Library. Well, I did it again! Only this time I got Chris Cormack, VP of Research & Development at LibLime and one of the original developers of Koha to come and talk at the Princeton Seminary Library.

First, on a personal note, this presentation was very different for me. Last time I was sitting in the presentation as a Web Developer. This time around I’m a Metadata Librarian and Cataloger.

So, if Koha is open source and freely downloadable, where does LibLime come in? The main argument that libraries had against switching to open source was that there was no support. So, after helping migrate the Nelsonville Public Library, Joshua Ferraro decided to fill the need for open source support and so started LibLime.

Chris opened his presentation with a slide in Maori, Chris’s native language. The slide is a common saying among the Maori people, and a great slogan for Open Source (in my opinion). The slide read “With your basket and my basket, we sustain the people.” In short, two people sharing together leads to something better than one on their own.

Other great open source quotes from Chris (loosely quoted):

  • The open source model usually means features are implemented in days and weeks instead of years and decades.
  • The best ideas bubble to the top and get implemented first – the people control the development process, not the CEO
  • Source code is like a recipe and the cake is the executable. With open source you get to see the recipe and add more sugar or substitute margarine for butter until the cake is the way you like it. With proprietary software you get the cake and if you don’t like it, you just have to wait for the next version of the cake to come out.
  • Proprietary vendors bank on being the smartest person in the world, open source developers admit that they’re not.
  • Open source is like peer review.

So, how many libraries are using Koha? The number is somewhere between 300 and 50,000. There are 300 known implementations, but there have also been 50,000 downloads. Since you can run Koha without ever contacting LibLime, no one knows for sure how many Koha implementations are out there. What we do know is that the first customer in US was not a library. It was General Motors! They use Koha to catalog their manuals. (To see other Koha users, you can view this slide or this list).

One attendee brought up a potential open source problem – and I’m sure we’ve all had this experience. You download your open source product and you customize the hell out of it. Then a month later a new release comes out and you have to weigh the pros and cons. Is it worth losing all of your work to get the new features, or should you just stick with what you’ve got working. Chris says that the solution is to become a part of the community. Share you changes with the community and your changes will become part of the mainstream.

Another person asked, “Why is Koha here at the Seminary?” I got to answer this question. Basically, I really wanted to meet Chris! Also, I had seen a Koha demo before and wanted to share the product with those around me. Lastly, the Seminary is using Voyager and since Endeavor is no more – Voyager is probably doomed, so we need to be up on what’s out there in the ILS world in case the time comes that we have to switch.

I know I haven’t gone much into the design/features – and that’s cause I did that last time. This time I want to point out that version 3.0 is due out by the end of the year and it addresses a lot of feature requests and user concerns. One feature that I was not impressed with this time around (coming from a new viewpoint) was the cataloging module. The good news is that there is a new cataloging module (note that you’ll need to install Google Gears) in the works.

The way I see it, Koha is still a kid in the ILS world, but that’s a good thing (are you as creative now as you were when you were young? I’m not – I used to be able to make a castle out of an empty box – now I hate boxes)!! We’ve all been using systems that have been around for too long – nothing has come along to challenge them – push them to change with times. And I’d rather get behind a new product with staff that love what they’re doing – staff that want to listen to what I have to say – than get behind a product that’s not going anyway – except maybe into the trash (as many systems are with all of the buyouts going on).

If you’d like to learn more, you can read this diary by Stephen Hedges of Nelsonville Public, or any of the case studies. There’s also the Koha Documentation and Koha Wiki.

See more pictures from the event.

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