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KohaCon10: Keynote

Oct - 24 - 2010
Nicole C. Engard

First up this morning was Rosalie Blake, the librarian who made it possible for us all to be here in New Zealand celebrating 10 years of Koha!

Rosalie talked to us about how Horowhenua became the “little library that could.” The library bought their first computers in 1988. In 1997 the Horowhenua Library Trust was formed to make decisions about the library funding. They made it clear that while computers were important, they were not the most important thing in the library, more important was making the library a community center with books around the walls. Come 1999, the library was still on their first system and it was no longer as impressive as it once was and Y2K was looming.

While the library was pretty sure their system would survive Y2K, the company would not guarantee that their old system would live through the turn of the millennium. The library was able to convince the trust that they needed the funds to change systems. They started traditionally with ‘Plan A’ which meant sending out an RFP. There was no off the shelf product though that met their objectives. The instead went to ‘Plan B.’

Plan B was a meeting with the developers at Katipo to decide how they wanted the software to work. The librarians sat with developers and tried to explain their needs to developers who knew nothing of how libraries were run. They tested and re-wrote and tested again. All this time, they were thinking of a proper name for their new software. For those who have been in the depths of Koha you may have wondered what all those C4 references were – well, that was the first name for Koha (Cheap and Cheerful Copy of C… {the name of the old system}). In the end the name C4 was dropped and Koha was born – a gift with expectations of reciprocity – this year it was Rosalie’s gift, next year it might be someone else’s turn to give a gift.

So now what? Should they sell the product they had just produced? Neither HLT or Katipo was in the marketing business, plus Katipo was small and that means if they were to go away HLT would be left without support. Katipo recommended they release the software as open source. The promise of a worldwide community for support and development was one of the many reasons that HLT agreed to this route. For Rosalie, the first time someone on the mailing list (who didn’t work for Katipo) answered a technical question, it was a real treat.

Rosalie said of Koha: “E iti noa ana na te aroha” – A small gift given in love.

This is not the end though – with the success of Koha, Horowhenua decided to do it all over again – and scratch their “historical” itch by creating Kete.

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