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Adopting an open source library automation system allowed a small group of libraries on Maryland's eastern shore to save money and create a more intuitive, user-friendly catalog system for both librarians and patrons.
Library automation systems allow librarians to keep track of which materials patrons have checked out and when those materials are due back in. They also allow patrons to access the library's catalog system online to search for books and put them on hold, as well as renew books they've already checked out.
The Kent County Public Library's three branches provide a catalog of 50,000 items to its 11,000 patrons, says Karen Collier, a public services librarian and one of the library's two unofficial information technology staff members. It first automated using Dynix software in 1999.
The library's last Dynix install was the Horizon 7 library automation system with Sybase on a Sun server, says Jerry Keiser, the library's director. Officials had been planning to upgrade to Horizon 8, but after Dynix merged with Sirsi, the combined company stopped work on Horizon. The library's existing server was reaching the end of its lifecycle, so library officials would not only need to migrate to a new server and a new Horizon install, but they would also have to migrate again if they wanted to adopt SirsiDynix's proposed Horizon replacement.
Buying a new Sun server would have cost $32,000, so Keiser decided to look at open source software as a way to save the library money. "Every nickel I can save on something, I can [use to] buy a book," he says.
The staff considered several options, including open source packages Evergreen and Koha, as well as some proprietary systems, Collier says. They settled on Evergreen, a system the Georgia Public Library Service started developing in 2005 after it couldn't find a library software vendor that could meet its needs. Evergreen version 1.0 went into production in September 2006, and was released to the public shortly thereafter.
"We liked the feel of the community surrounding [Evergreen] for one thing, [and] the price was right," Collier says. The staff also liked that the system was designed to support libraries working in partnerships, and the support services available from Equinox Software, a consulting company specializing in Evergreen were another selling point. "[Equinox] was very amenable to making ... [Evergreen] work for us," Collier says.
By migrating to Evergreen, the library was able to buy a $6,000 server running Debian Linux instead of the $32,000 Sun server, and it also saved tens of thousands of dollars in support costs, Collier says.
In addition to Equinox, the library's staff worked with Alpha-G Consulting, which has experience in working with Horizon systems. It took several months of work and planning to migrate the library's data, Collier says. Alpha-G handled the migration, and because this was the first time they'd moved a system from Horizon to Evergreen, they took things slow and did lot of testing to ensure they didn't miss anything. "When we finally did the migration, everything worked," she says. "It was pretty painless."
The library deployed the new system on June 4, and the reaction from both staff and patrons has been positive. Collier says she finds Evergreen's interface is well laid out, and is well-designed to fit the library's work flow, while patrons are commenting that the system's search engine is allowing them to find books in the catalog they weren't finding with the previous system.
Other libraries that are considering switching to Evergreen should take the time to look at its pros and cons and make sure it has all the features they need, Collier says. For example, Evergreen doesn't yet support the Z39.50 protocol, which allows libraries to automatically share inter-library loan information. That functionality is scheduled to come in the next release, and in the meantime, the library has been able to handle inter-library loan requests manually, as it doesn't get many of them, Collier says. Evergreen also doesn't have an acquisitions system, which librarians use to track their book purchases and book-buying budget, and while the Kent County Public Library hasn't used an acquisitions system in the past, it might want to in the future, she says. An acquisitions system is on Evergreen's development road map for version 2.0
Evergreen's development road map shows the developers working toward the package's 1.4 release, which will add features such as internationalization and pre-overdue notices.
Justin Palk holds a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and spent two years working as a software developer before becoming a journalist.