Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Major Open Source ILS Products

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Major Open Source ILS Products

Article excerpt

History and Background


Koha claims the status of being the first open source library automation system. This product traces its roots to 1999 in New Zealand, where a group of three libraries, the Horowhenua Library Trust (HLT), needed a new automation system to replace their current library automation system, called Catalist, which was not compliant with the looming Y2K issue. Rather than purchase a commercial system, HLT contracted with a consulting company named Katipo Communications to develop a new Web-based system. They named this new system Koha, the Maori word for gift or donation, and released it as open source, allowing libraries anywhere to use and help develop and support the software. The HLT libraries began using Koha on January 1, 2000.

A fairly quiet period followed the initial release of Koha, with a few individuals and libraries picking up on the system. No groundswell of interest resulted right away. The initial version of Koha was quite adequate for three libraries of HLT that together served a community of about 30,000 residents with a collection of about 80,000 volumes. At that point, Koha did not have some of the features considered mandatory for most libraries--no support for MARC, Z39.50, SIP, or NCIP. It did not seem scalable to handle the load of very large libraries. Nevertheless, the number of libraries interested in Koha continued to increase. Around fall 2000, for example, the Coast Mountains School District in the province of British Columbia in Canada adopted Koha with technical assistance from Steve Tonneson, the district's network engineer.

Interest in Koha increased dramatically when it was adopted by the Nelsonville Public Library serving Athens County in Ohio. This library, including a central facility in Nelsonville and six other branches throughout the county, serves over 62,000 residents with a collection of about 250,000 volumes. In about 2001, the library began investigating options to replace its Spydus library management system provided by Civica. Nelsonville was one of only a handful of libraries running Spydus in the United States. With Civica's corporate headquarters in the United Kingdom and its main library operations based in Australia, local support options were limited. More important, the library had strong ambitions to use open source technology in creative ways in support of its mission to the community.

Nelsonville's director, Stephen Hedges, began exploring whether open source software could provide the kind of automation platform that would meet the library's needs and provide a suitable replacement for Spydus. The library focused on Koha, which was the only reasonably complete open source ILS available at that time.

The initial assessment of Koha revealed that it required further development before it could support a medium-sized public library such as Nelsonville. The library required support for MARC21 bibliographic records to stay within national standards and to have a path for migrating its database from Spydus. The library participated in statewide MORE resource sharing initiative, requiring support for Z39.50. The library also required SIP2 or NCIP for use with its self-check stations. Koha lacked these features at that time. (1)

In order for Koha to be a viable system for Nelsonville, significant development was required. Rather than looking to a commercial system that might already have these features in place, the library decided to invest in enhancing Koha and issued requests for proposals for specific development tasks. The library estimated that the costs for extending Koha would fall under what it would otherwise have paid for a system from a commercial vendor. (2)

Koha advanced through this sponsored development model. HLT financed the initial development of Koha for its needs as a set of small libraries in New Zealand. Its automation needs were modest, served well by a system with a simple bibliographic database. …

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