KohaCon10: A cooperative view

MJ Ray was up next to talk about co-operatives (co-ops). First up a definition of co-ops from the International Co-operative Alliance.

“A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”

Co-ops (while newly popular) are not a new thing! The first known was in 1493 – Aberdeen: The Shore Porters Society – but is not what we consider successful since it’s not longer a co-op today.

Co-operatives are based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. How then do co-ops put these values into practice? They have voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. I love the way all of that sounds – maybe Koha needs to be governed by a co-operative … but then again that’s not a non-profit so I’m not sure how that would work. That said there is certainly a lot of overlap between how co-operatives work and how Koha works.

In the library land the co-operative we all think of is OCLC – that said MJ points out that they are not universally loved and are in fact headed to court under allegations that they are no actually a co-operative anymore but a “corporate monopoly” (more here). OCLC of course says they the lawsuit is without merit. MJ does not give any opinions, just says it will be interesting to see where this all heads because of his interest in co-operatives and the poor image this produces of co-ops in general.

I love the equation that MJ shared with us that was used at a co-operative event in the UK:

Sc * (Ci + Mt) = Co
Shared Commitment times Common Interest plus Mutual Trust = Cooperation

Once again a strong strong overlap with open source and Koha. When you start looking at the Koha software (MJ showed us a diagram of just the email system and it was pretty awesome) you see the true cooperation that goes into creating it. Given all this the question comes back to a lot of the points that Bob made in yesterday’s governance talk.

What does the future construction of Koha look like? We don’t know yet, but there are a few options we’ve already discussed. We can rebuild like before, have a host organization. We could form a foundation which brings up questions of funding and status of the founders. We could do an association with membership and activities. But (since this is what the talk is about) we also need to consider a co-operative of some sort.

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KohaCon10: eBooks: Why they break ISBNs

Stuart Yeates was up first on day two of the conference. Stuart stated by showing us the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre a very awesome looking site that takes digital texts and enhances them with metadata.

Some terms:

  • ePubs is the open standard for eBooks (does anyone know if it can be read on any eBook device?)

  • ISBNs are used for print materials to identify them. ISBNs are specific to print runs and have no direct analogue in the pure-digital model.

In theory ISBNs are specific to each edition of a work – but what constitute a new edition? It’s not fixing a typo or adding authority control. When it comes to ePubs, apparently none of them qualify for ISBNs because they’re all considered to be “digital photocopies” of existing works .. this means you can’t get a new ISBN for your digital edition with enhanced content. This means there is no way to identify when there is a new version of an ePub for download because there is no standard numbering.

Given this what kind of identifier do we need? One criteria is that this identifier be enormously plentiful. In the ISBN world, publishers are reusing ISBNs – making them not really unique identifiers – we don’t want this problem when it comes to our digital content.

One audience question was what would the identifier be then? Stuart recommends some sort of URI, but doesn’t have an concrete answers for us yet.

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KohaCon10: Library Data for Fun & Profit

David Friggens gave us a very animated (slides and speaker) talk about how to present our information in different ways to our patrons.

First example was from the University of Dundee and their serials holding chart. It’s a graphical representation of what issues the library has of a specific serial.

Next, word clouds. One way to use a word cloud is to show what people are searching for right now – or today – or this month (I can’t share a link to an example of this cause the system they use does not have permalinks – another reason to use Koha).

One that I’d love to see is RSS feeds for new titles in different subject areas. This is possible in Koha with the custom RSS feeds, but it would be awesome if it was just a default function.

Some libraries are showing what has been checked in or out recently in different ways – one example was to have it publish to Twitter.

Yet another graphical display would be to show a map of where you can find the item in the library right from the bib record display in the OPAC. There are different ways to handle this – flash, image files, etc. Along the lines of mapping would be usage heat maps to show where things are circulating more or less (this is not something David or I have seen anyone do yet).

We have all of this data in our libraries that we can mash into new and interesting visualizations and tools. As I say in my mashups talks (and my book did get a shoutout by David), we just have to open up our data. David gave us a great quote by Rufus Pollock about open data:

“The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else.”

We have to open up our data and see what gets created with it!

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KohaCon10: What to Expect in Koha 3.4

Chris Cormack the first release manager for Koha was up next to talk about Koha 3.4 which he is also release manager for!

Koha 3.2 was a big feature release, 3.4 is going to have some new features, but is going to be more of a clean up release.


First the things that are of interest to the developers (librarians can skip down a bit):

  • Database caching
  • Improved Search API (Solr and other things to discuss)
  • Database abstraction improvements (we are more tied to MySQL than we should be)
  • New debian packaging
  • Template Toolkit (versus the current templating we use)

For the librarians – what features do we hope to see in 3.4:

  • Circulation: we want to avoid long lines at circulation, there will be performance improvements to speed things up
    • improve SIP2
    • improve transfers (a way to cancel a transfer easily)
    • offline circulation improvements
    • hourly loans
    • extended patron attributes
    • circ matrices for granular debarment
  • Acquisitions
    • integration with financial management systems
    • adding some layers to acquisitions – like approval by supervisors if needed (for orders and payments)
    • the ability to set up multiple currencies per vendor
    • ability to change the percent discount when placing an order
  • Cataloging
    • validate urls found in 856$u fields
    • analytic records
    • cataloging without knowing/using marc
  • Patrons
    • duplicate card (create a card by cloning another patron)
  • Tools
    • batch biblio modification
    • ways to show parts of your collection and not others (sounds like suppression)
    • improve call number splitting
  • Serials
    • routines need refactoring
    • integrate with acquisitions better
    • binding
  • Misc
    • single sign on services (CAS)
    • extend tagging module
    • fines split into tabs by categories

More info on most of the above can be found on the wiki under the 3.4 RFCs. There is no guarantee that all of these features will make it into Koha 3.4 because we are on a tight schedule (6 months) for this release to try and make it easier for developers and support companies. Also with 3.4 (unlike 3.2) there will be a QA Manager and several Bug Wranglers which should help with the quality assurance process (also speeding things up – in theory).

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KohaCon10: Koha Governance

Bob Birchall stepped up next to talk to us about his observations and options for Koha governance. Governance is not management! I love that way of thinking of it. Governance is generally run by a board. The role is to set policy, guide, coach, monitor, and spot problems.

How is Koha governed now? As we all know (those of us who are part of the community) Koha’s governance is open and informal. There are no offices or employees – only individuals (some of which are part of corporations) discussing things and making decision. These discussions happen on the main Koha mailing list or on IRC. Finally, the community property is held by HLT (a non profit organization) in NZ as the result of an election in 2009.

The discussions that happen on IRC happen during the monthly meetings which are held mid-week and scheduled in rotating times to accommodate the worldwide community. Attendance at these meetings are open to all – if you want a say in Koha’s governance, turn up at the meetings. Meetings are usually chaired by the release manager (but this documentation manager has been the chair a time or two as well – all part of the open and flexible environment). In addition to these meetings there are sometimes supplemental meetings to discuss one specific topic.

When it comes to assets, as stated before HLT (a trust) holds those. There is a committee within HLT to manage these assets and this committee exists to advise the trustees regarding acquisition, protection and disposal of Koha community assets. This committee is expected to consult the community on any contentious issue before providing advice to the Trustees.

One role that seems to have been less active recently is the Kaitiaki (the Maori term for ‘guardian’). This role has existed since the open release of Koha. In addition to this role, there is a release team made up of the release manager, release maintainer, translation manager, and a documentation manager. The people in these roles are elected by the community before each release cycle begins.

Given all that how has this very informal model worked (or has it worked). Bob feels that it has of course worked – just look at the software. Can the governance be improved though? Of course, but let’s not lose what we already have.

So how can we improve? Bob took us on a tour of how a few other open source projects and how they are governed.

Apache: Open source web server with 70% market share. Apache is governed by the Apache Software Foundation which is a non profit organization. The members of this foundation are individuals (mostly developers) – not corporations – and in 2007 there were 156 such members, all of whom were invited to be members (by other members – the members control their own membership). The main criteria for being invited is merit (a term we have seen come up a bit in the Koha community recently). This is almost the complete opposite of what we do with Koha which follows a model of complete openness. The members then elect a board of 9 members.

Drupal: Open source content management system with millions of installations worldwide. Drupal is governed by the Drupal Association a non profit in Belgium. The association supports and promotes the project (including the website). They do not control development though – they specifically say it is the responsibility of the community of developers to control the direction of the software. This association is controlled by ‘permanent members’ who are admitted by invitation only. In addition to the association is the DrupalCon Inc. also a non profit, this one based in the US, that is only in charge of organizing the conferences.

Sugar CRM: Customer relationship management software. Sugar is managed by a for profit organization – SugarCRM Inc. Sugar CRM is available in several flavors: community, professional and enterprise editions – of these only the community version is open source. The license associated with the software is creative commons – so it is not actually ‘free’ (as in freedom) software. To Bob’s mind (and mine too) this is a project that is only open source in name – and this is not the model for Koha.

OpenOffice.org: “Free and open” productivity suite. Was developed by Sun which was purchased by Oracle which has actually led to the developers leaving and creating Libre Office. Libre Office is managed by The Document Foundation – more details will be coming, but since this is so new there isn’t much to say yet.

Umbrella Organizations: Another option that is popular is to have an umbrella organization that is a non profit provide governance services. The two ones we know of are Software in the Public Interest and Software Conservancy. These were considered as holders of the Koha assets instead of HLT. They were not chosen because of the fear of ‘asset lock’ which states that they cannot pass their assets on to anyone but another 501 c 3.

Back to Koha governance. What are the strengths of the way we do it now?

  • Mature robust software
  • strong user focus
  • property held in trust
  • open and democratic
  • attracts developers and supporters with amazing commitment and skill
  • support companies around the world with competition in many markets (competition is a good thing)

And the weaknesses?

  • insufficient focus on policy, strategy and risk
  • no code of conduct
  • roles of elected officers are onerous
  • not all property is held closely
  • competing projects have same or similar names
  • perception of disunity

What are the tasks of governance in a free software project then? When talking about developing policy an strategy Bob is not talking about the software itself. Officers need to be appointed (now done in IRC – is this something we want to continue or pass on)? There is of course the management of the license and property, managing relationships, enhancing public reputation and preventing fraud and dishonesty.

FLOSS contribution model

The above model put together by Brenda Chawner shows that management and governance are two different things focused on two different areas. Management is focused on project fitness versus governance which is charge of project viability. A nice bit of the model is that the spirit of the project includes the community!

It’s also important to talk about values, what are the things that we hold dear and must retain.

  • software freedom
  • open governance
  • end user focus
  • respect, quality and transparency

What then are our options going forward? First of all, why are we talking about this just a year after making the decision to hand the assets to HLT? Have we even given this model a fair go? Our first option is to do nothing, leave things as they are – they’re working aren’t they? Other options are to strengthen the role of the HLT committee, join an existing non profit umbrella, or establish a Koha foundation.

Some things we need consider if we’re revisiting our decision of last year include our values, the needs and aspirations of libraries, the models of other projects and the involvement of librarians in the governance. It’s important to look at the pledges made by support companies to the community and the principles of free software. It’s also important to note that the community is a dynamic being – developers, users and support companies will come and go.

One of the hardest issues to resolve is going to be the jurisdiction of a new organization (if we were to found one). France, NZ and the US all have valid claims to housing the foundation in their countries. We need more data on this – and possibly legal advice. Another thing to think about is corporate version individual memberships and the role of the board versus our existing general meetings. Finally we need safeguards against takeover/domination by any one entity.

In short, this is going to be a long process – no one should expect a quick solution. Our primary focus should be the creation of great software!! An awesome talk by Bob (who warned us that this wouldn’t be exciting – and while it wasn’t it was very very very insightful).

“Dream as big as we can dream and together we can achieve anything!”

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KohaCon10: Koha in Nigeria

One of the things I love about Koha is the huge community and worldwide adoption. Olugbenga Adara from Nigeria was our next speaker, unfortunately he was unable to join us in person, but through the magic of technology he was able to join us via Skype.

In Nigeria there are 13 known Koha installations – he said known because you can never know for sure how many people are using open source products because so many do not report their usage. Another interesting statistic is that fewer than 20% of libraries in Nigeria are using an ILS in their library! There is lack of adequate funding so Koha becomes a great alternative because of the lack of licensing fees. Other than price challenges include:

  • Poor infrastructure – electricity power problems (no power for days sometimes)
  • Internet Access – Most OPACs are offline because Internet Access is unreliable
  • Manpower Issues – Computer literacy among professional librarians is still low
  • Lack of commitment by heads of libraries
  • Rivalry between organizational IT departments and contractors

One way to resolve the power issue is to use Kyle Hall’s offline circulation tool. They are also generating card catalogs by exporting Koha data and bringing it into applications on their desktops. They hope that with an upgrade to 3.2 they might find a better way to handle this issue. Finally they hold workshops to educate their librarians.

Other steps include encouraging users to create local users groups so that they can lean on each other for support (this was launched in June 2010). Their promotion efforts has made it so that at least the name Koha is now recognized in Nigeria.

The next steps needed to make Koha more widely used in Nigeria include translating Koha into the major Nigerian languages (I think he said there were 6 of them). And of course they are encouraging librarians to participate in the community so that their ideas for developments make it into the official project.

Olugbenga ended by saying that KohaCon will take place in Nigeria before another 10 years pass.

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KohaCon10: Kete & Koha

Walter McGinnis gave us a talk based on a paper that he wrote with Joann Ransom on integrating Kete with Koha. I have to admit, I talk a lot about Koha here, but I am a huge fan of Kete as well – and now the two tools can be integrated into each other!!

Walter started by giving us a background of who he is. He does not have a computer sciences degree, instead he’s coming at this from the arts world. Next, what is Kete? It is at its most basic level, “an ongoing communal brain dump.” At its core, Kete has the philosophy that putting something online is only the beginning of it’s lifecycle.

So how does Koha integrate with Kete? There are three ways this can happen.

Basically what you’re seeing are search results you’d find in Koha but integrated into your related Kete pages. For the other way around (Kete into Koha) you can see the Kete results on your Koha search results page.

This feature will make it into Koha 3.4, but if you want it now you can backport it into Koha 3.2 by grabbing the code from the Catalyst public git repository.

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KohaCon10: Why I Love Koha

Lee Phillips from the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library was up next to tell us all why she loves Koha. However, instead of talking to us alone, she enlisted the help of her colleagues by sharing their Koha opinions with us in a video she recorded before leaving home for NZ.

First up was Steph who says ‘the nicest thing for us is the adaptability.’ She also gave me a shout out for answering her question in 11 seconds – I have to admit I don’t remember doing it – but I’m so glad I could help her out by writing an inventory report!!

Another librarian brought up my favorite part of Koha – the reports! She loved that she could export them to Excel and create any report under the sun. I love the power afforded by the reporting module (something no other system I’ve ever used offered).

Next up, the children’s librarian loved the fact that you can see the availability of items right from the search results screen. So when kids run to the shelf and don’t see the book they want, she can quickly look it up and show them how to place a hold on the books that are checked out.

One of the tech services librarians said, ‘It took 6 years to start using Spectrum. 46 hours for Koha.’ You gotta love that!! (and Lee obviously did cause she took this moment to jump up and down in the front of the room :) ) Another librarian shared her point of view and talked about a migration she had gone through 10 years earlier calling it a ‘nightmare.’

My favorite librarian quote from the video was: “The other thing I love about Koha is the open source principles. Libraries are about sharing information – free and open access to information. Most of our proprietary systems are not open and do not share information!”

I hope that the video makes it on to some online venue so I can share it with you all – when it does I’ll put that link here.

[update]Lee has let me put the video up on the ByWater Solutions chanel on Blip.tv[/update]

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KohaCon10: Keynote

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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KohaCon10: What is a Koha?

My first post in New Zealand will cover a huge pet peeve of mine and something very important to be aware of before KohaCon starts. Reading my writing on various sites and mailing lists you have probably figured out that a pet peeve of mine is when people refer to Koha as KOHA. Koha is not an acronym, the letters don’t stand for anything fancy, it actually has it roots in New Zealand where Koha was first born. A Koha in New Zealand is special kind of gift. Koha is a Maori word that stands for a gift that comes with expectations. Wikipedia says that a Koha is better defined as a donation in English, but I personally like the ‘gift with exceptions expectations’ definition because it falls in line with the GPL which says you’re welcome to use the software for any purpose, you can even modify the software but the assumption is that you will then share your improvements back with the world.

Rachel Hamilton-Williams gives us even more info in a post to the Koha mailing list:

Starting at the beginning: The word Koha is a Maori word meaning gift or donation – or perhaps more “giving your specialty to the collective event”. Possibly even a sense of quid pro quo. In traditional Maori society (and still) you would bring a koha (Contribution) to an event like a funeral or wedding or big meeting, often food or the specialty of your region. When it’s your turn to hold an event all your guests will bring a Koha, to ease the burden of catering for a lot of people.

Next time you’re send me or anyone in the Koha community an email, or before you start posting about sessions at KohaCon, just remember that Koha is a gift and not an acronym :)

[update] Fixed typo. [/update]

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