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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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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