Open source library automation
I remember when my library first introduced the automated catalog. It was a black screen computer with bright green lettering. It was amazing to me that I could now search for the books I wanted without having to finger through the card catalog. We have come a long way since then and have many choices available to us. One of the choices that has recently become more viable is the open source integrated library system.
One obvious way to provide your patrons with better services is to improve the look, feel and functionality of your OPAC (online public access catalog). Although there are proprietary applications to do this, they can be very costly, making your overall library automation budget stretch its limits. An alternative would be to use one of the many open source OPAC layers available for download today without any extra cost to you or your library.
The first major open source OPAC to hit the web was WPopac, now known as Scriblio (http://scriblio.net), which
was developed by Casey Bisson while at the Lamson Library at the Plymouth State University in 2006.1 Scriblio takes the power of the WordPress content management system and integrates the OPAC into it. Libraries using Scriblio simply use WordPress to design their entire library site and then patrons can search for books from the library homepage (see Figure 11.1) without ever realizing that they have left the library site for the OPAC.
The second open source OPAC release was in 2007 with VuFind (http://www.vufind.org). Released by Villanova University to ‘empower users by supporting personalization and social networking services such as tagging and peer-to-peer comment sharing,’2 VuFind’s simple interface quickly became very popular among OPAC critics (see Figure 11.2).
Finally came the release of SOPAC2 (http://thesocialopac.net) by John Blyberg and the Darien Library later in 2008.4 SOPAC2 went one step further than the previous two options and followed the Scriblio model by integrating the OPAC directly into a content management system, the difference being that SOPAC2 is integrated into Drupal instead of WordPress. This means that the library can now have a seamless look and feel, and patrons can search through both the library site and the OPAC (see Figure 11.4).
There are four free open source OPACs for you to choose from, so how to make the choice? Part of your decision is going to be personal preference because they each offer very similar services to each other. The other part, and this is a big one, is to determine whether or not the OPAC has connectors for your particular integrated library system yet. If the OPAC cannot communicate with it then it’s not the one for you. That said, there are always new developments happening and so if you like one more than another, just contact the developers and see what it would take to get a connector written for your integrated library system.
All four offer an efficient, easy to understand search box. Although we as librarians prefer to perform more complex searches, the average internet user is a fan of the Google model, also known as keyword searching. All of these tools take that into account. In fact, Scriblio and Blacklight only offer a single search box option, so there is no advanced search.5 SOPAC2 offers a slightly more advanced search page and VuFind offers a traditional-looking library advanced search page. Although the search systems are all different, they all offer the option to filter your results by various different headings and item types, making it easy to narrow your results down to the right subset of items.
In addition to the simple search interfaces, all of these options offer permanent links to bibliographic records and search results. This means that as a librarian you can copy the URL from the address bar in your browser and send it to a patron via email or instant message and when the patron clicks the link it will take them to the same screen you were looking at. This is something that is slowly becoming standard in the traditional OPAC, but is not yet widespread.
All of these options also take into account modern social web features such as RSS feeds and commenting. VuFind and SOPAC2 go a step further and allow for patrons to add tags. SOPAC2 also allows patrons to add ratings and reviews to records in the catalog. All of this extra data is then stored outside the integrated library system so as not to interfere with librarian-supplied data, while still giving the patrons a sense of belonging to the library in more ways than one.
If your library is planning to change the integrated library system experience for the entire library, not just patrons, then maybe an open source integrated library system is the right choice for you. There are currently two major possibilities on the market: Koha (http://koha-community.org) and Evergreen (http://open-ils.org). In addition to these two there many other small projects that are worth looking at as well.
Development on Koha6 started in 1999 in New Zealand. Members of the Horowhenua Library Trust (http://www.library.org.nz) in New Zealand decided that after contracting development of the integrated library system to Katipo Communications they wanted the code released into the wild for use by any and all libraries worldwide. In January 2000, the first version of Koha was released.7 Ten years later, the system is being used by at least 945 libraries worldwide.8
Unlike many traditional library systems, Koha is completely web-based; this means that staff functionalities and the OPAC are accessed through your browser. In its current version, 3.2, Koha offers access to all of the major modules necessary to run a library: patron management, cataloging, circulation, acquisitions and serials (see Figure 11.5). There are also many tools and reports available to automate processes and provide statistical data.
Like many of the open source OPACs, Koha offers patrons social functionality as part of its standard OPAC. These include things like RSS feeds, commenting, tagging and creating lists of favorites in the library (see Figure 11.6).
Although six years younger than Koha, Evergreen is a strong open source integrated library system contender on the market today. Evergreen was developed by the PINES library system (http://gapines.org) in Georgia, USA, and was debuted on September 5, 2006.9 Evergreen was different from any open source system before. It was originally designed to manage the 252 libraries in the PINES consortium, making it the biggest open source release the library world had seen to date.
Since that initial release, Evergreen has been adopted by at least 54410 libraries worldwide. In its current version, 1.6, Evergreen offers libraries access to many of the modules they will need to run their library: patron management, cataloging and circulation (see Figure 11.7). There are also reports and tools to help libraries automate process and gather data. Although it does not yet offer an acquisitions or serials module,11 these modules are in development and should be available in a future release of Evergreen.
Evergreen’s OPAC also provides patrons with a clean look and feel they have come to expect from modern websites (see Figure 11.8). The Evergreen OPAC allows patrons to narrow their searches using facets (also known as authorized headings), browse for items on the shelf around the title they are viewing, share items with fellow patrons by creating ‘book bags,’ and copy and paste any URL into emails and websites.
Both OPACs also offer enhanced content from outside services. This means that they make use of book jackets and reviews from sites like Amazon.com, Google Books (http://books.google.com) and LibraryThing (http://librarything.com). These added services make the OPAC a little bit more appealing to patrons as they browse your collection.
Like the four open source OPACs, Koha and Evergreen are similar in many ways, and different in a few. Evergreen was developed with the consortium in mind, so although Koha can and does work in a consortium environment, Evergreen handles the consortium rules and permissions much better. On the flip side, Koha makes more sense for large and/or special libraries because it has the ability to manage your library’s acquisitions and serials. That said, these small differences are slowly disappearing as Evergreen developers work on finishing serials and acquisitions support and Koha developers work on creating system groups and consortium-like permissions.
The beauty of the open source integrated library system is that the more libraries that are using the system the more new and improved features become available. When Koha was developed it was made for one library and its specific needs. When Evergreen was developed it was meant to work in one specific library consortium environment. Over the years both systems have been adopted by libraries that are unlike the original audience and the developments that have come out of those adoptions makes both tools more powerful and valuable.
As with any open source application, it is important to test all the systems available to you before making a decision. Both Evergreen and Koha offer online public demos (usually in more than one place) that you can try before you decide. Once your decision is made you can handle the migration on your own or turn to any number of support companies worldwide.12
Deciding to change such a fundamental part of your library’s operations as the integrated library system or OPAC can be scary and, like choosing any of the applications in this book, might not be the right step for your library. It is important to look at open source alternatives alongside your traditional resources so that you can make an educated decision about your automation needs. As with any software decision, be sure to consult your colleagues worldwide to see what their experiences have been and what they recommend.
1.Bisson, Casey. ‘Designing an OPAC for Web 2.0′ presented at the ALA Midwinter, January 20, 2006. http://homepage.mac.com/misterbisson/Presentations/ALAMidwinter-2006Jan20.pdf.
2.Lucia, Joe. ‘Villanova University Releases VUFIND, an Open Source Next Generation Library Catalog.’ Library Technology Guides, July 15, 2007. http://www.librarytechnology.org/ltg-displaytext.pl?RC=12664.
3.Sadler, Bess. ‘First Release!.’ RubyForge: Blacklight, January 26, 2008. http://rubyforge.org/forum/forum.php?forum_id=21035.
4.Blyberg, John. ‘SOPAC 2 Released: the socialopac.net launched.’ blyberg.net, September 25, 2008.http://www.blyberg.net/2008/09/25/sopac-2-released-thesocialopacnet-launched/.
5.At the time of writing, Stanford University has developed an advanced search module for Blacklight, but it has not yet been added to the codebase for all to benefit from.
6.Koha is the Maori word for gift, but not just any kind of gift; it is a gift that is offered with an expectation that it will be reciprocated.
7.Eyler, Pat. ‘Koha: a gift to libraries from New Zealand.’ Linux Journal 106 (2003): 1.
8.This number was found by searching for libraries using Koha on lib-web-cats (http://www.librarytechnology.org/libwebcats/). It is important to note that since anyone can download the software and use it without charge, there is no way to know for sure how many libraries might be using Koha.
9.‘Georgia’s 252 PINES Public Libraries Preparing Debut of Evergreen Software, Web-based Catalog.’ Library Technology Guides, August 21, 2006. http://www.librarytechnology.org/ltg-displaytext.pl?RC=12162.
10.This number was found by searching for libraries using Evergreen on lib-web-cats (http://www.librarytechnology.org/libwebcats/). It is important to note that since anyone can download the software and use it without charge, there is no way to know for sure how many libraries might be using Evergreen.
11.As of May 1, 2010, there are versions of acquisitions and serials modules available for testing. To learn more about acquisitions you can read my summary from the 2010 Evergreen conference at http://www.web2learning.net/archives/3770; Ian Walls has a nice summary of serials also from the conference, at http://bywatersolutions.com/?p=474.
12.Eric Lease Morgan has compiled a list of open source support companies that have been known to work with libraries in the past at http://infomotions.com/tmp/oss/support.html. As he notes, this list is not exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start your research.