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KohaCon10: Koha in Prison

Oct - 25 - 2010
Nicole C. Engard

Irma Birchall and Sue Lavery are up next to talk about Koha when it’s not the code that’s locked up (because the library is in a prison). The prison in question was built to focus on both incarceration and rehabilitation – so that the prisons can go back to normal life when released.

Why Koha in the prison library? Because a modern ILS is essential. The librarian needs something simple to use that is efficient. The tool has to facilitate participation in ongoing educations and has to be attractive and easy to use or it won’t hold the prisoner’s attention. Koha is viewed as state of the art software in the prison and has gotten the prison some good attention!

For Sue, this experience has taught her a lot about Koha. My favorite of which is that it has raised her technology skills generally and empowered her to work things out herself.

When Irma came in to provide support to Sue she was hit with all kinds of new challenges like transparent desktops, locked down internet connections (making Z39.50 searching difficult). Everything has to go through the security department’s eyes which means there is nothing easy – especially upgrading to new releases. This also means that library users can’t contribute to the Koha project or communicate with the outside Koha community due to the locked down Internet access. Another restriction Sue has to deal with is the fact that she can’t have a laptop to do remote circulation or inventory. And finally she too is locked down on what she can access outside of the library meaning she is also cut off sometimes from the rest of us who are working on Koha.

Some things that they hope to have in the future for Koha include turning on features that they aren’t using at this time such as a multi-language OPAC, lists, purchase suggestions and moderated tags and reviews. Finally a new feature would be to add links to prisoner created poetry and/or artwork – which sounds a lot like the ability to add digital objects into Koha – or a federated search tool of sorts.

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside the jails. A nation should no be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones” — Nelson Mandela

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