KohaCon10: Open Library and Koha

George Oates from the Open Library project was up next to tell us how we can use Koha with the Open Library.

The Open Library started with records from something like 30 libraries and now anyone can add books by filling in just a few required fields (but I highly recommend adding more than that first form asks for – just so that the library has more valuable info). I don’t know how to share (until there is a video) the cool visualization that George showed us regarding how Open Library takes library data and makes it human readable – but I can try. Basically they take the MARC subjects, break out all the MARC gunk and then hyperlink the terms so you can browse collections. One example of this would be this page: http://openlibrary.org/subjects/libraries.

A lot of what George covered was how to use Open Library and all the cool features. The one that I wanted to point out here is a new feature you may not have known about – Search Inside. This allows you to search inside the texts that Open Library has digitized.

It’s also important (given the conference we’re at) to mention that the Open Library is open source (github.com/openlibrary) which means that projects like Koha could benefit (maybe) from some of the code that has already been written. Also important to note that Open Library has several APIs available.

Some things that George wants to see between Koha & Open Library would be the sharing of records from Koha libraries to the Open Library. Other ways to integrate would be to pull cover images from their database, pull subjects data and maybe even a ‘send to Koha’ button.

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KohaCon10: Promoting Free Software in Libraries

Donald Christie from Catalyst was up first after lunch to talk to us about celebrating, promoting and supporting free software in libraries.

First up – Freedom. With free software we have the freedom to have new ideas, learn, share, remove arbitrary controls, collaborate, form communities and spread knowledge.

Donald also brought up the anti-features that François mentioned and pointed us to a site where you can find a list of anti-features. He also talked about why open source software doesn’t have anti-features – and it’s basically that open source developers are lazy and don’t want to take the time to put in things that they aren’t asked for.

Donald talked to us more about freedom by saying that “freedom is a competitive landscape offering real choice of systems and suppliers.” One freedom that I always mention is the freedom from vendor lock it and vendor capture. Most importantly of course is having control over the software – along with the ability to share our experiences and adapt the software accordingly.

I mentioned yesterday that we have to get over our culture of ‘learned helplessness’ and Donald pointed us to an article on Wikipedia that included a clinical trial that showed what this looks like. When you read that you start to see how silly it is that libraries are using the system they’re using (dealing with the crap support that they’ve been dealing with) when they have so many options.

When Catalyst decided to offer MyKoha as software as service they needed to think about the possible freedom losses with hosting data in “the cloud.” If everything is stored in the cloud, then who owns your data? You also have to think about the fact that you don’t know what’s happening to your data because there are applications running on the server that you don’t have control over or access to. And the most popular example is Facebook and their ever changing terms of service. To get around these possible issues, Catalyst have built in tools to give the customers complete access to their data.

Another reason for offering this service was that upon looking at the Koha map it was quite obvious that Koha is used worldwide, but not many libraries in NZ actually use it. This was a way to try and get more NZ libraries to realize the power of the application that was born here.

Another step in this direction is the creation of Open Network Libraries. From the website:

Open Network Libraries is an initiative created to enable libraries to collaborate on the shared goal of serving their communities better. We advocate the use of free and open source tools so that libraries can spend money on books, not on licence fees. By joining Open Network Libraries, you’ll be joining an active and diverse community of librarians and technologists who are dedicated to openly sharing knowledge, information, and ideas to facilitate cost effective solutions.

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KohaCon10: From LAMP to Koha

Farasat Shafi-Ullah from SCME National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad, Pakistan was the first up this morning and we all gave him a huge round of applause for taking a 5 day journey to get here! I have to add yet again that this conference is an awesome way to see how much we all love Koha and how strong the community really is.

Now on to Farasat’s talk. First and most importantly LAMP in this talk does not stand for what we’re used to – instead it stands for “Library Automation and Management Project.” LAMP was in charge of developing the country’s first library automation system in the 1990s. It wasn’t until 2007 that Koha was looked at in Pakistan.

The transition from LAMP to Koha took a lot of exporting and importing (but it didn’t really take that long):

  • from LAMP (a DOS system) to Windows using Winisis
  • from Winisis to ISO format data
  • from ISO to MS Access by using PakLAG data converter
  • from MS Access to MARC21 with MarcEdit
  • the new data was imported direct from LOC and CHOPAC

With all of these steps why move from LAMP to Koha? First was the fact that it was based in MARC21 (a standard), next it was open source, and finally there were many updates and support via the public mailing lists. Also, the fact that there was no local support was a big advantage.

Koha alone however did not meet all of the needs of libraries in Pakistan so the Pakistan Library Automation Group (PakLAG) made some customizations to Koha to help their local libraries perform services with Koha. Learn more about PakLAG Koha on the official site.

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KohaCon10: Koha in Malaysia

Amzari Abu Bakar came up after me to talk about the Koha experience in Malaysia.

Amzari started by telling us about the systems that libraries in Malaysia are using – they run the gambit from home grown to large proprietary systems. From 2005 to 2008 only three libraries (one special, one school and one small academic) in Malaysia were known to be using Koha (as said earlier there is no way to know for sure how many libraries are using it since it can be downloaded and installed by anyone). Those libraries that weren’t choosing Koha were not exposed to open source and didn’t have confidence in the available support.

In 2008 things changed though. There was now a reference site and word of improved service and support. More importantly (in my eyes) they were able to promote open source awareness in libraries. With these changes the use of Koha grew! There are 8 installations in academic libraries with more than 41 branches, 88 in school libraries (I missed the other numbers – but it all added up to more than 100 libraries which is an awesome improvement over the 3 they knew about before!)

In addition to the added education and support, this spread was because of many of the awesome Koha features and the lower costs for these libraries. This adoption has led to the formation of a Malaysia Users Group and a lot of attention from academics and researchers.

Amzari has some recommendations for further improvements including local vendors cooperating with international (more experienced) vendors to provide better services in Malaysia. They also want a certified Koha training program that is aimed at making money that can be put into Koha developments. Given the right promotion and collaboration Amzari feels that Koha will be come even more prosperous in Malaysia!

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KohaCon10: How to Participate

I obviously couldn’t blog myself so Ian Walls wrote up my session on the ByWater Solutions blog and I’m going to share it with you here (with his permission).

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A presentation by our very own Nicole Engard.

As Nicole was writing her last book, Practical Open Source Software for Libraries, she did a word cloud on the first few chapters. After “open”, “source” and “software”, the next largest word is “community”. What is the role of the community in Koha? We look out for the best interest of the software, deciding how to move forward with the governance of the project and with the management of the code itself (and related community tools). I say ‘we’, because if you choose to be a part of the community, you are (and I do).

So how do you participate? Just jump in. Everyone has a skill set that can be of use; you don’t have to be a hacker or a power user for your contributions to be valid. Several ways to participate:

  1. Test the System: Install it, try to break it, and share your results. Even if you’re trying to do something that Koha isn’t designed to do, we’ll all now know that someone out there wants to do it, and the community perspective is increased.
  2. Ask Questions: There are no stupid questions, and there are no “mean” people in Koha. We’re all here to help, and the worst response you’ll get is a link to the portion of the manual that answers your query.
  3. Answer Questions: If you have experienced a problem, and found a solution, help the next person to come along and ask. Let others learn from your experience.
  4. Add to the Wiki: Put your SQL reports, JQuery customizations or tutorials on the wiki, even if you think they’d never be of use to anyone outside your library. Chances are, someone else is looking for just that bit of info.
  5. Write Documentation: We manage the manual in the same way we do the code, so EVERYONE can submit and translate. You don’t have to use this tool, you can just email Nicole or the list, whatever your comfort level.
  6. Write Code: you don’t have to be a super-hacker to fix a minor bug or a typo, but Koha needs those things fixed, too. You can become a committer for fixing a single incorrect line!
  7. Attend Meetings: Log into IRC at the agreed upon time and speak your mind. If you don’t speak up, you don’t get to complain that you haven’t been heard.
  8. Educate Others: Share your experiences with those around you, and help to dissipate the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that is floating around out there about open source in general, or Koha in specific.
  9. Be a Mentor: If you see someone trying to be a part of the community, but running into obstacles, offer to give them the tools to overcome those obstacles. This doesn’t have to be a “sink or swim” experience as one dives into the community.

Nicole also brings up a couple of general practices that apply to all of the above:

  1. Be Honest: Speak the truth as you see it. No, not everyone will agree with you all the time, but withholding the truth will impair the open source process. I would argue this is a good principle for life in general, not just participation in Koha.
  2. Be Transparent: Share what you’re doing, so things don’t fall through the cracks. Publicly comment on what others put out there, so they know whether it’ll meet everyone’s needs. We code openly, so we should discuss openly.

The presentation wraps with the important links:

  • Code & Documentation
  • Bug Reports
  • Mailing list
  • IRC channel
  • Koha on Social Networks

Nicole’s slides for this presentation are available here (PDF format).

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KohaCon10: Koha in Prison

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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KohaCon10: History of Koha

Paul Poulain from BibLibre was first after lunch to give us the history of Koha.

He started with a recap of what we heard from Rosalie on the first day – Koha was developed to meet the needs of of HLT, and only HLT. Koha is full of firsts:

  • it used agile development before there was any real definition of ‘agile development’
  • it was the first fully web based system
  • it was delivered on time!
  • it was not developed as a vendor product

In order to have open source software you can’t just give it an open source license you also have to release it for more than just developers. You need a website that ‘non-techie’ people can read and understand. In September 2000 two new developers submitted patches (developers who were not from Katipo), but it’s interesting to note that those two did not submit patches after that – they jumped into the project to scratch an itch and then jumped out.

Next up was the spread to Non-English speaking countries. This meant that developers needed to find a way to easily translate Koha to other languages (before this it was not easy to translate). In 2002 Koha 1.2 was released along with the introduction of Bugzilla for tracking bugs, a new wiki for shared documentation, the use of HTML::Template to make translations easier and the decision to add MARC support.

Also by the end of 2002 the 17th committer to Koha was recorded – this means a 17th person joined the project and started writing code. This meant that Koha needed to create some sort of structure. The first release team included a Kaitiaki, a release manager, a release maintainer, a QA manager and a documentation manager. This way people know who to contact if they wanted to add to the documentation or submit a patch.

From 2003 to 2005 the software grew very strong. New features were added like MARC (including authorities), Serials, Statistics, Import tools and an Advanced OPAC. By end of 2005 there was yet another release team elected to manage the direction of Koha. In 2006, when development of 3.0 started, libraries were finding that Koha couldn’t handle searching large collections so the team decided to choose Zebra to help with searching. This year was also the first KohaCon in France where over 120 people attended.

From here on forward things just kept moving and growing!! 2010 is here now and we’re moving Koha along with great new features, new developers, new community members, etc etc. We have reached the point where Koha is seen as a tool that is reliable, efficient and functionally complete (as complete as any growing software product can be).

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KohaCon10: Sharing is Good

François Marier was up next to tell us how to convince our bosses (well library bosses) that sharing is good!

Before talking about software freedom, let’s take a look at non-free software. François started with an example from Amazon in July 2009. Amazon realized that they had some books in their Kindle library that they didn’t have the rights to sell. They removed those books from the catalog, but people had already bought these books, so Amazon went into people’s kindles and deleted the book. If this happened in the physical world it would be against the law, but because it was digital it was a bit more complicated.

Proprietary software is full of anti-features. The examples of which François provided were:

  • software that gets installed without your permission (spyware, keyloggers, etc)
  • price discrimination (windows 7 has a bunch of different editions, each price point gets you more features – fewer anti-features)
  • I missed the heading for this next one, but the example was the chip on batteries that tells the phone if the battery is a third party device – if so then the phone will drain the battery faster
  • protecting copyrights (DRM is an example of this – which isn’t really about managing rights, but taking them away)

The solution to all of this is free software! Free software gives you 4 freedoms

  • Freedom of use
  • Freedom to copy
  • Freedom to modify
  • Freedom to contribute

You need all four of these freedoms to have free software – and all of these are outlined in the license. Proprietary software licenses are not this easy to read – in fact, reading them is pointless because you won’t understand them. Free software licenses though were written for non-lawyers. Also, while there are different licenses for open source, most free software uses the GPL so if you know that license you know what you can do with other free software. The license also says you have to extend the same freedoms to others – this is called copyleft. Another type of license is a ‘permissive license’ – this type of license allows developers to take freedoms away from the users.

This does not mean that Koha is a ‘free for all’ – that anyone can write anything. To get your code into Koha it has to go through a process of checks and balances that are in place. Each free software community has different checks and balances, but for Koha, that patch goes to the QA manager and the release manager and is tested before it makes it into the final release.

Ultimately if we want to share and preserve knowledge we need an open data society – the way to achieve this is through free software.

I have to add here that François’s talk is awesome and will surely convince your boss to use free software – or at least make him/her think – i hope!

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KohaCon10: Koha in Schools

Mark Osborne from Albany Senior High School, New Zealand’s first open source high school, was up next. Slides are already online at Prezi.com.

At the high school, they pretty quickly found that there weren’t going to be any proprietary solutions that met their goals. Among those things were that the system be web-based, include web 2.0 features and have crowd-sourced metadata. One value at the school was “without sharing there is no education” – I love that!! That is very much in line with Koha (and open source of course). I also like the way their physical building is set up – it’s not the traditional classroom style, instead they have a series of “living environments.”

The school differs from many public libraries because they had a specific set of users (students/teachers) and had a separate database of users (from the ILS). They use LDAP in Koha to handle connecting Koha to another ‘patron’ database. They also have a single-sign on system that Mark calls “slick.” They also added a 5-star rating system to Koha and a recommendations feature (is this code public somewhere? is it going to make it into 3.2.x/3.4?). Like many other Koha libraries they have a recent acquisitions section on their main page (something I think we need to build a tool for so people can customize it for each library). Finally (and this required no development) Mark figured out how to search the library catalog from his smartphone.

What other features do they hope to see/develop? Federated searching (which I think we could do with the cool stuff that Walter showed us yesterday). They might start using from RFID in conjunction with the built in self-check module in Koha. They would also like to grow the consortium and improve upon the recommendation engine both within the consortium and amongst all Koha libraries worldwide (that want to participate).

Awesome talk – awesome things done and awesome ideas for the future!

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