VALENJ: PINES & the Evergreen Open Source ILS

Elizabeth McKinney de Garcia, Program Director of Georgia PINES talked to us about how PINES decided to develop their own open-source ILS, Evergreen. Georgia PINES is made up of 49 public library systems which equates to 275 facilities and bookmobiles sharing a joint bibliographic database of nearly 9 million books.


The PINES library card is free to residents of Georgia and can be used at any PINES library as if it were their home library. In addition, materials can be returned to any PINES library – how convenient!! ILL is available through entire system for card holders at no charge. All libraries in the system have the same policies so that patrons all have the same experience no matter what library they’re at.

In FY07 the system had more than 540,000 intra-pines loads as compared with just 6,000 in FY00. Patrons like the convenience of one system.

There is one easy to use interface across the board. Users have dramatically increased access to one centrally administered statewide combined library collection.

Time for a Change

When they looked at their contract with their vendor they found that they were writing their policies around the system (once again a reference to the culture of work arounds). In the end they had a bunch of silly policies such as how to enter a person’s name (last, first). They also found that their system was coming to a screeching halt because of the load of the users hitting the system at the same time. In short, it wasn’t meeting their needs.

After talking to nearly all the vendors they found that there really was no place for them to go – in short, they were cornered into making their own system.

Enter Evergreen

The entire development process took a little under 2 years. They had to decide where to put the line – their libraries had never been able to use acquisitions or serials so they didn’t develop that in the initial program. In short, their ILS was designed by librarians for libraries.

Georgia PINES went live in September 2006 with their new ILS, Evergreen. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the first day they had so many hits they came to a screeching halt – this was probably because of all of the press that was sent out to librarians!! :) Since then, things have been great.

Why Open Source

Elizabeth referred to open source as the difference between renting versus owning. By “owning” the software we’re responsible if the AC goes out or the roof leaks, but it’s a great place to be! We get what we need and we get what we want – don’t have to hope that in 2010 the feature we want will be up for a vote. In the end “owning” leads to an increase in control!


Another create example of how open source can solve a great many problems for libraries. I particularly like Elizabeth’s analogy of owning versus renting. In the end everyone owns the rights to the code behind the open source product, leading to more freedom and innovation.

I can give a personal example of this. When I was renting, I had to live surrounded by boring white walls and abide by rules like no pets and be considerate of your neighbors. Now that I own, I get have a house full of colorful walls and barking dogs!! I’m still considerate of my neighbors, but I don’t have to worry about playing music late at night or having the dogs wake up barking at 5am.

In short – owning your own place is a lot of hard work, but it leads to a more comfortable home (at least in my place).

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VALENJ: WALDO & the Koha Open Source ILS

John Stromquist, Executive Director of the WALDO Consortium talked to us about their decision to go with the Koha ILS and LibLime. WALDO is a multi-type library consortium. Of their membership, there are 12 full members (this means they have a shared ils), 11 associate members (this means they share a union catalog), 500+ regular academic members, and 400+ public members. WALDO helps libraries with vendor contracts, John said that “anything that saves librarians time is worth it.”

WALDO’s ILS History

From 1983-2004 the WALDO libraries used the PALS ILS (an open source forerunner that was owned and operated by librarians), but support was dropped in 2004 and they had to find a new alternative.

They decided not to follow the traditional procurement process for libraries which is to write the biggest RFP you can imagine – no less than 12,000 questions will do – the problem with this is that the vendors can lie faster than you can write – the problem with this is that after the fact you remember the things you forgot. This didn’t sound like the best option for finding a solution for their member libraries.

Instead they decided to assess the marketplace for the top 2 or 3 vendors, interview current customers (what a great idea), negotiate contracts with top vendors, and then make the award to vendor with best overall contract offering. The problem was that the second ILS they chose also ended up being sold out.

For the next decision making process, the executive board found other legacy systems equally undifferentiated and really not worthy of a migration efforts – what else could be considered? They decided that they needed to seriously consider open source – especially after Georgia PINES success with Evergreen, like WALDO, they are a large consortium with heavy loads.

Choosing Open Source


  • functionally equal to current system
  • hosting services
  • software maintenance (bug fixing)
  • applications development
  • 24 x7 help desk

Tipping points in choosing open source:

  • open source model itself – control and collaboration
  • standards based architecture
  • modern development capability (younger and capable of rapid development – have to be careful what you say to josh
  • because you make a suggestion and he goes home that night and implements it)
  • protection against vendor lock in

If they didn’t go with open source:

  • outsider ownership of legacy companies
  • troublesome legacy business models
  • near certainty of migration anyway (if you stay with the vendor you have)
  • diminished service levels (people aren’t happy with the level of service and they’re very vocal about it)
  • likely impact of open source commercial vendors (if they don’t go with open source, what will happen to legacy systems as open source becomes popular?)

John mentioned the same thing that Bob did, not many academic libraries are using open source. Right now, open source seems to be used more in the public arena, but WALDO wanted academic library support since that was their primary audience.

They had demos of both Koha Zoom and Evergreen. Koha Zoom presented the best architectural fit for WALDO by offering data and policy independence for each library. John also chose Koha because it was a more mature package overall.

Working with LibLime

WALDO and LibLime worked collaboratively during the initial meetings after making their decision. One day was spent with the librarians talking, sharing their needs with the LibLime folks and the other day was spent with LibLime addressing those needs and telling the librarians what they could do.

After these meetings, LibLime came back to WALDO to work with 6 libraries to make note of all of the requirements to meet their needs.

WALDO set pretty high expectations on LibLime, but the company stood up to the test and came back with what was requested in time. In the end, the time and cost proposals looked favorable to those at WALDO and so they made their final decision.

The Future

In addition to their contract for support with LibLime, WALDO is also paying for over $600,000 worth of development (course reserves – call slip processing – music collection requirements), $200,000 of which is being held for other uses like an ILL module. All of the development that has been planned will be done by August 2008 and then shared back with the community.

In addition to this initial development plan, WALDO is asking new subscribers to contribute to an open source development fund. The initial contribution level will be at 15% of direct subscription service costs. In the end the funds could exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars, all to be put toward developments that will later be shared with the entire Koha community.


John’s talk was pretty impressive. When you see the amount of money being thrown into proprietary systems that are fostering the culture of work arounds that Josh mentioned, and then you see what that same money can do in the open source environment, it’s amazing!! I’m really excited to see what other consortia like WALDO to for the open source community over the next few years.

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After talks by Joe Lucia, Bob Molyneux and Joshua Ferraro we had a Q&A sessions at the VALE symposium. I’m going to put these in note format so that you can hopefully follow who said what:

Q: One person’s enhancement might be another person’s bug – how do you control that with open source?

  • Joe – the release process depends on who gets to commit final changes to the code base – the community needs to figure this out over time – not every enhancement necessarily has to be released to the common code base
  • Josh – depends on the project – in the Koha community the community votes on a release manager and that manager gets to decide what’s included in the release

Q: Can you give us an example of what you mean by peer review process?

  • Joe – VuFind is a great example – the community is not large get – peer review is dependent on what works well among experts – academic versus non-academic is not an issue as it is in journal peer review
  • Josh – two types of peer review – one from the user perspective and the other from the developer’s perspective
  • Bob – it’s not a formal process like journals – it happens in the community by peers – but not an editorial board

Originally uploaded by nengard

Q: Can you explain more what kinds of staff changes need to be made to support open source?

  • Joe – staffing changes may be at the expense of some librarian positions – but it’s a necessity – it becomes the smart thing if you’re invested in your infrastructure – need to have a technological staff in house that can handle these new systems
  • Josh – you have to have technologists involved – they don’t have to be in the library – but they have to be involved – no vendor lock in means you can start with a company and move on to supporting it yourself if you so choose
  • Bob – library schools teach IT separate from the library people – you need to teach it both at the same time – there is no reason to have either or (like me) – there is no a critical mass of librarians with these skills because library schools are not turning them out – and this failure has occurred during the golden age of libraries – the patrons are beating their path to our door – but we don’t have the skills – it’s a shame that Josh had to to what he had to do in creating a company to ease his frustrations

Q: People are talking about the ILS going away, why are we developing something new if that’s the case?

  • Josh – circulation is not going away – acquisitions is not going away (whether it’s print or electronic materials – they have to be acquired in some way) – cataloging is not going away – these are core functions of the library – the only difference is that with the open-source ILS the community drives the innovation – the community decides what they need and the products are developed to meet those needs – this means we have a more timely product
  • Bob (great analogy) – one author writes an article about a problem and then another librarian comes around reads it and sees something the first author missed and writes another article – and the original writers says “thank god – you figured it out” – it’s the many eyes theory (me: this is like my developing at Jenkins – i always had many eyes) – the open source ILS is a more valuable ILS because of this

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VALENJ: Koha Open Source Library System

Next up, LibLime‘s Joshua Ferraro. Josh talked to us about why LibLime was started and what both LibLime & Koha could do for libraries.

Joshua Ferraro
Originally uploaded by nengard

Why start LibLime?

Josh would often hear librarians saying that they liked the idea of open source, but we have no way to support it. So, Josh started LibLime to offer libraries support for open-source software in hopes that once the company was started that particular objection would disappear.

How LibLime Works

Open-source software is freely avaiable for download on the web – so why do we need LibLime? Like many other open source products (Linux for example) there are commercial entities that offer services for the software in question. LibLime is around to assist libraries in data migration, hosting, development, customization, training and support.

LibLime offers services for multiple open-source products. The key product to this day’s event was Koha, an open-source library system. As a customer of LibLime, ultimately you steer development for the system – if someone sponsors a change or upgrade, it gets rolled right back into the community – meaning we all benefit from each other’s participation. Another great thing about open source solutions like Koha is that implementation of these upgrades usually happen in days and week instead of years and decades (like some proprietary packages).

Has LibLime Worked?

Ask anyone in an open-source company and they’ll tell you that they’re very busy (I’ll tell you that I’m very busy!). In 2005, LibLime had 1 employee and 1 customer, as of March 2008, they have 18+ employees, hundreds of customers – a 400% growth (compounded for 3 years).

Customers are getting actively involved in the process. Freedom to innovate gives us a chance to change the culture in our libraries – we have become used to living in a culture of work arounds (us working around the way our software products are built) – open source gives us the chance to actually have software do what we want!


Josh mentioned that librarians often ask him, “Isn’t open source risky?” Josh answers “Isn’t any decision you make on an ILS risky? Especially in this environment with vendor consolidation – etc etc?” I totally agree – who knows where your ILS will be next year – or who will be controlling the development and the money! Why not have a product you can take with you to whomever you’d like as the landscape changes?

I have heard Josh speak several times – obviously – so I already knew I’d like this talk and agree with him – based on the question and answer session that followed his talk, I think others felt similarly.

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VALENJ: Evergreen Open Source Library System

Bob Molyneux of Equinox was second to speak at the VALE Symposium the other day.

Bob started by filling us in on the state of the open-source software US public library market which is only about 1%, give or take. He didn’t have the data for academic libraries yet, but he was sure it was less than the publics.

That said, a new wind is blowing and big consortia like MassCat, WALDO, Indiana open source ILS initiative, and the Michigan library consortium are all looking into open-source alternatives. The first biggy to switch was Georgia PINES using the Evergreen system that they developed to “scratch and itch” as Joe put it.

What we learned from PINES

Library users like access to the large virtual library – they don’t care about our politics or the difficulties under the hood. Patrons will also bypass libraries without access to consortial resources in favor of libraries with that access. Bob welcomes us to the long-tail :)

Bob states that “we [libraries] have failed.” We have let our libraries become information silos – separate, barely communicating collections of information – “and Google is eating our lunch.” The logic of IT is to break down silos and to integrate these collections. Unfortunately, we have these problems because of several reasons – some our fault and some the fault of others. Two biggies on this list are that our legacy vendors lack vision and we as librarians lacked vision.


The open-source ILS (OLS) may look similar to our old systems, but under the hood it’s completely different – it’s modular and the code is being shared – even between possible competitors like Evergreen and Koha, simply to make both systems better – we’re not just duplicating what has already been done, we’re fixing the wrongs of our past.


Another great talk! I love the idea of libraries breaking out of their silos and sharing information for the good of the people – or as Joe would have said for the good of the “commons.” I agree that I’d rather search a group of libraries at once than just one local library at a time. When in library school I used to love using DIALOG because I was able to search multiple databases with one search, eliminate duplicates and get citations all in one easy action – why should our catalogs be any different?

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VALENJ: From Open Stacks to Open Source

This week I was lucky enough to attend an event at The College of New Jersey entitled Next Generation Academic Library System Symposium and hosted by VALE (Virtual Academic Library Environment of New Jersey). The goal of this day was for the members of VALE to decide if they wanted to join in on a shared open source ILS community.

The program started with an intro to Open Source by Joe Lucia, University Librarian, Villanova University and President of PALINET Board. Joe started off by letting us know that he thought of himself as an Open Source Evangelist – which made me say “hey, that’s my job!” :) Throughout his talk, Joe quoted so many great resources that it was hard to keep up. The video and slides should be available online soon (I’ll keep you posted) – but for now, here’s my summary.

Joe called his presentation a thought piece on why open source makes sense for libraries. I did a review of literature for Drexel that was pretty similar to this – but I have to say that Joe found some better resources and makes some better arguments than I did in my paper.

He started off by talking about the concept of the “commons.” Libraries exist to support and extend the commons for the community we serve – particularly the intellectual commons which fundamentally valuable to support access and innovation. — The commons can be a physical location like streets & parks – but is more related to ideas – like the theory of relativity and writings out of copyright in the public domain.

He recommended reading The Wealth of Networks by Yochai Benkler. Benkler says that the “commons” refers to a particular institutional form of structuring the rights to access, use and control resources.

The library as a commons

Libraries are situated within the domain of three commons

  • they provide their communities with open access to intellectual and cultural resources – no single individual controls or uses up the resources of a library
  • our resources are accessible to anyone who walks in – accessibility to all translates into “open stacks”
  • open source is an extension to our culture of openness

The next book that Joe recommended to us was The Success of Open Source by Steve Weber. (start updating your wishlist – that’s what I’m doing).

Open Source & Libraries

If anyone should be doing open source anywhere – it’s us!! Open source shares our values & missions!!

We need to open up our sense of what we’re about – open source software with the “library space” enhances the library as a center for participatory culture and collaborative enterprise.

What is open source?

  • open source can be commercial – but is not proprietary – the commercial entities neither own nor control access to the code base
  • most good applications begin because a developer needs to “scratch an itch” – a response to something that has to be done that can’t be done with available solutions
  • it’s typically built on or extends what’s already been done
  • when it’s successful it’s modular – not a big monolithic package
    • this then results in a development process that can be scaled to a very rapid update process because you’re just updating pieces instead of the hierarchical approach of the monolithic packages
  • “to many eyes, all bugs are shallow” (from the Cathedral & the Bazaar) – if lots of people are looking at the code base it’s gong to get pretty lean and pretty clean pretty fast because anyone who seeing something wrong will fix it

Why not switch?

Some librarians are surprised to find the open-source products can cost a similar amount to the proprietary solutions. Joe argues (and I agree) that the issue isn’t the cost – but how the costs are distributed and what control you have over it – there is a greater investment in development for open source than there is for actual support. This means that you’re paying for improvements to the application when you’re paying for open source and with the proprietary stuff you’re paying to have someone answer the phone and read through a script with you (sorry that was my negativity – not Joe’s – based on recent experiences trying to get support).

Librarians will often ask “open source sounds all really nice idealistically – but how are we going to do it?” Libraries are sitting on a lot of assets that they invest in proprietary software it’s a matter of how you redirect the money you’re already paying for technology into a different arena. It’s not “can we do it?” it’s “how do we do it?”

Why not take 25% of what we currently pay to propriety software and put it into open source- that would be a significant beginning – could initiate a revolution in library technology. What an amazing idea! I love it – in fact John from WALDO mentions something like this in his talk (which I’ll summarize after this one). We may even need to re-allocate positions to technology development where possible – if we change where we’re putting money it will improve our work flow within the library. Having technologists on staff will make all the difference.

We need to deepen the culture of technology collaboration and resource sharing in libraries – and stop worrying about what’s in our little baskets and start sharing – there is a competition among libraries – who does such and such better – we need to get away from this. I always found this funny – I think of libraries as places to share information – and yet I often find libraries or librarians who are unwilling to share resources.

Joe ended with: “It can be done, and we can do it!”


What a great talk!! Joe did an amazing job of revving the audience up for the rest of day. I also think he gave us a lot to think about and a lot of great resources to check out regarding open source and how it fits into libraries. Keep an eye out for his slides and video!! It’s well worth a look!

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