Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
Dawn of a New Era
On September 5, 2006, over 250 libraries in the Georgia consortium, PINES, began using a next-generation integrated library system (ILS) they wrote from scratch. Within two months they racked up two million checkouts and half-a-million renewals for a collection of eight million items and 1.5 million borrowers. While they aren't the first to use an open source solution for their most essential operations, they are the largest and most complex system in the United States to attempt such a transition. The potential impact of this event on the library marketplace, which has recently been dominated by mergers and acquisitions, cannot be overstated. Open source software solutions are not new, with applications like Apache now de rigueur among libraries (see the OSS4Lib site). Even open source integrated library systems are not new. But none has approached the scope and complexity of PINES. There are two options for libraries looking for an open source solution for their ILS. The Georgia system, called Evergreen, can scale to serve very large libraries. Koha has also been available for several years, and it continues to be updated and improved with additional functionality. It can also handle millions of records, although it is not designed for consortial environments, as is Evergreen. Evergreen and Koha When the Georgia PINES consortium decided to write its own ILS in 2004, it staked its future on open source. That gamble allowed its members to use the latest technologies and standards to build a flexible and scalable yet complex system. Rather than being held back by a legacy infrastructure, they were free to dream about the best possible system and build it. And building it was much less expensive than going with a commercial system, even when factoring in the increased staff required. Besides saving on software licensing and support fees, the use of commodity hardware and an architecture that allows for scaling up as needed with relatively inexpensive Linux machines enabled them to save well over $1 million over the Solaris hardware the vendor required. Beyond saving money, the system is more effective. Mike Rylander, one of the Evergreen developers, said, "Our libraries are sharing, at patrons request, more than twice the number of books now than they were before Evergreen." Libraries that wish to migrate to Evergreen can either support themselves or contract with Equinox Software, launched by the Evergreen team, for a fee. Strength in numbers Evergreen presently handles circulation, cataloging, and the library catalog functions, with serials and acquisitions to follow in summer 2007. (For more information see "Evergreen: Your Homegrown ILS," LJ 12/06, p. 38-41). Since the summer of 2003, the Nelsonville Public Library (serving Athens County, OH) has used the Koha open source ILS. It is now running the latest version of Koha, which exhibits some flashy search options that may not be available from commercial vendors yet, such as faceted browsing of search results and relevance ranking. LibLime, an open source support company, bolsters libraries implementing Koha, providing development, customization, and training. It has experience with developing and implementing Koha and offers support for both Koha and Evergreen. Your ILS election ILS transitions are painful even in the best situations, and your natural tendency may be to avoid changing systems. But the next time you are considering a system upgrade, or a different system entirely, know that there are two very worthy candidates you may not have considered. Meanwhile, if I were a commercial vendor of integrated library systems, September 5, 2006, is a day I would not forget. __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST Equinox Software esilibrary.com Evergreen Development Site www.open-ils.org Evergreen Public System Gapines.org Koha www.koha.org LibLime Liblime.com Nelsonville Public Library Catalog search.athenscounty.lib.oh.us OSS4Lib Oss4lib.org