KCLS & Evergreen

Bill Ptacek from the King County Library System (KCLS) was our keynote with his talked entitled “From Singing the Blues to the Birth of Cool.”

KCLS serves 1.7 million people in the county where many large (many tech) companies live – Microsoft, Nintendo, Boeing, Amazon and Amgen. In addition to housing these major companies, King County is home to lots and lots of coffee (Starbucks on every corner). There are also 18 different school districts.

KCLS & Evergreen

The library has a circulation of 21.3 million (2009), which makes them the third busiest library in the US. 25% of all of their use comes from items put on hold and have delivered to their local library. Because of this (or the holds happen because of this) KCLS has an amazing delivery system that gets the books where they need to be quickly. In addition, they have 9.85 million people coming into the library. People are coming to the library and want to spend time there! They also have 26.8 million hits to their library website and 88.6 million hits to the catalog. In short, people coming in from all avenues, but the biggest reason they use us is to get to our ‘stuff’ (and KCLS spends over $13 million a year on their collections).

KCLS has had several difference library systems before choosing Evergreen. So, why did they make that decision?

  • What lead KCLS to look at open source?
    • The problem with the proprietary vendor was that they were selling ‘things.’ And the more ‘things’ they could sell the better. This means that the vendor was focused on selling and not the services – aka support. There were a number of things they wanted to do in their system that they couldn’t do. And they lived in a community with lots of high tech people saying ‘I could do this!’ but they couldn’t because they couldn’t get into the system to edit the code. Over time, after lots of discussions with the vendor always ending the same way, they decided to start looking at other alternatives. They hired people to do this for them and these people looked not only at libraries, they looked at companies that lent things. They came back and said that the library marketplace was terrible (shocker!). This company than suggested they take a look at what was happening with open source.
  • Why is open source a good option?
    • It’s the way not only the pubic sector but the private sector is going. The environment is such that people are saying open source is the way to go. More importantly, it supports the integration and collaboration. Bill says, “We don’t want this to be an ESI project, but a library project.’ meaning that they want the library to drive the development and the direction that Evergreen. And KCLS can say this because open source supports a real changed model – one different from the one that libraries have been used to for years.
  • Why Evergreen?
    • We liked the spirit of innovation and the spirit of community. It’s a product that’s driven by the people! There already was a community in place and it was a growing community (me: one thing that I always teach librarians to look for – an active community behind the open source application). And finally – it was cool!
  • Why should KCLS take on this development work?
    • They are a separate tax district and they have a board that controls everything. Second, they have great funding (75% of the households use the library)! Finally, they have a history of innovation so this just makes sense. And while the library is well funded, the decision has never been about money.
  • What are the future implications for technology in public libraries? Why is this different than before?
    • Because it is different! It’s the ability to control and manage this product. It means the flexibility to do what we need to do and respond appropriately to our patrons. “You shouldn’t have an PhD in III to be able to work with the system” (I love it!). The software has to be easier – it has to take less than 7 steps to delete a book. The patron catalog has to work and has to be integrated – it has to link up into all of the social networking stuff!

Bill concluded with a lot of ideas for the future. One that I totally agree with is that we need to get more eyes on the system. We need more librarians involved so that we can make the system better. We as librarians know what is good and what’s not good and we need to translate that knowledge to be available to our communities – and we have to use technology to get that knowledge out to the community, and this is the change.

Bill notes, “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the work done by those who went before us.”

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