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Feature: Migration

Librarians stake their future on open source

By Michael Stutz on December 21, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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A group of librarians at the Georgia Public Library Service has developed an open source, enterprise-class library management system that may revolutionize the way large-scale libraries are run.

The system, Evergreen, whose 1.0 release came in November, is an Integrated Library System (ILS): the software that manages, catalogs, and tracks the circulation of library holdings. It's written in C, JavaScript and Perl, is GPLed, runs on Linux with Apache, uses a PostgreSQL database, Jabber for messaging and XUL as client-side software. The system allows easy clustering and is based entirely on open protocols.

Evergreen powers the GPLS' network of libraries, PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services), consisting of 44 different public library systems in 123 counties covering almost the entire state of Georgia -- 252 member libraries in all. The system has 8.8 million items in its index and 1.6 million active cardholders. In fiscal year 2006, there were almost half a million loans made between its libraries.

Librarian Brad LaJeunesse, PINES System Administrator with GPLS in Atlanta says that his "main motivator" for Evergreen was that the world of library software is "pretty dismal, and the products are awful. Trying to run a state-wide library system on duct tape and bailing wire is pretty difficult."

It's an open secret that ILS systems today are a frustrating mess for smart librarians (and patrons). Asked what problems he had with prior systems, LaJeunesse is quick to tally off a list: "Scalability. The ability to treat organization units as individual entities. Lack of granular permissions. Poor customer service. Lots more," he says.

And yet, the ILS is the backbone of the modern library -- if it's down, the library's down. "It's a mission-critical piece of software," LaJeunesse says.

The PINES network first went live in December of 1999 using the proprietary Sirsi Unicorn ILS, says PINES Program Director Julie Walker.

She says that a few years ago, when PINES decided to develop its own open source ILS to replace Unicorn, it had to hire two new developers, increasing their administrators from two to four. But this team doesn't just support the system -- they're creating it.

"I think that what they've done is nothing short of remarkable in the library world, and really, in any world," says Walker. "I'm really, really pleased with what they've been able to pull off."

The first alpha demo of Evergreen happened early in 2005, and was followed by a beta in July 2005; then came a barrage of "little mini releases," where users could give input on development as it was happening, says Walker. "We really kept our libraries involved every step of the way, and every time we had something new for them to look at we'd put it out there and they'd comment on it."

Finally, in September of this year, Evergreen went live on all 252 libraries in the system. Walker says that when the libraries closed at six o'clock on Friday evening, they turned off the old system and spent the weekend migrating; by the Tuesday after Labor Day, all of their systems throughout the state of Georgia were on Evergreen. There were a few "bumpy moments" on Tuesday because they didn't expect nearly as much traffic to the site as what hit them -- but otherwise, it was smooth sailing.

"It has really been the easiest conversion I've ever been through in my 25 years of working in libraries," Walker says.

One of the happiest consequences of having development done in-house is the response Walker now gets to feature requests.

"I think that's the biggest frustration we hear from all of our library colleagues," Walker says. In the past, if you requested a change, she says, "you went into an 'enhancements queue,' and the member base voted on it, and it took a really long time -- if ever. There aren't very many consortiums of 252 public libraries, so what we wanted a lot of times wasn't what the rest of the customers wanted, so it got real frustrating waiting for things to happen."

Now, she says, sometimes things happen overnight -- literally. "We suggest something one day, and the guys fix it that night, and the next day we see it!"

In fact, the catalog has many features and innovations that are lacking in non-free systems. It does on-the-fly spellcheck and gives search suggestions and adds additional content, such as book covers, reviews, and excerpts. The Shelf Browser shows items ordered along a "virtual" shelf built out of the holdings of the entire system. Patrons can create "bookbags," which are lists that contain a selected collection of annotated titles. Bookbags can be kept private or shared as a regular Web page or as Atom or RSS feeds.

"If you choose the 'share' option, then you've created a URL of that list, and you could then email that URL or post it on your MySpace page," Walker says. "And then when somebody clicks on it, it opens up and you've got your live links right into the catalog -- so then your friends can place holds on those books, too. It's got a lot of really great applications for libraries if they want to do a book list for a book club and put it up on the library Web site, and the people can just click on it and go directly in."

Over the next year or so GPLS plans to write an acquisitions module that will be used for the selection and purchasing of library materials, and plans more social networking applications along the lines of tagging and collaboration between patrons -- what Walker says are "exciting things that we think would be fun to add to our catalog."

According to Walker, the financial savings from Evergreen come on a number of levels.

"Our Sirsi system ran on a great big Sun server that was quite expensive. We poured a lot of money into that over the years to continue to upgrade it, plus the housing of it was very expensive. [Evergreen] runs on a Linux cluster, which is a lot less expensive. Also, we're not paying licensing fees anymore. When you're talking 252 libraries, which is what we are today, that's the great big savings."

According to a study that PINES conducted in 2002, Walker says that if all of their libraries would have to buy a new system, it would cost more than $15 million dollars, plus about $5 million dollars a year for maintenance. They run PINES for a lean $1.6 million a year.

Librarians are not all strangers to open source, nor is this even the first open source ILS; the Koha ILS has been around for years. But Koha "wasn't built with the scalability or deep organizational hierarchy that PINES requires," says LaJeunesse. "It would work fine for a 10-branch library system, but not for a statewide system."

Tina Burger, a vice president at LibLime, a company that helps libraries adopt open source software, says that her company is now providing Evergreen support along with the support they already provide for Koha. "Evergreen is ideal for large-scale deployment in very large systems (hundreds of libraries, tens of millions of records)," she says.

LaJeunesse says that they are presently in discussions with other institutions about development partnerships; and while GPLS is the only institution currently using Evergreen as their production system, he suggests that will change very soon: "Ask again in a month," he says with a smile.

Walker confirms that the inquiries have been coming in from both academic and public libraries. "We've been fielding a lot of calls and we've been making a few presentations at some conferences, so I think people are really interested in having an alternative to vendor-based systems."

By designing its own Linux-based system, PINES took its future in its hands -- and now it's happier for the risk.

"Libraries are not the biggest risk-takers in the world," says Walker. "We talked about that a lot when we were making the decision to go in this direction, and finally a couple of us looked at each other and said, 'You know, we're librarians -- how often do we get a chance to really take a big risk and see what we can do?'" she laughs. "And we're really glad that we did."

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on Librarians stake their future on open source

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Digital Repositories

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 07:13 AM
Nice, but how does this compare to <a href="https://dspace.mit.edu/" title="mit.edu">Dspace?</a mit.edu>

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A repository is very different, Koha is comparable

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 03:49 PM

Dspace is a repository not a library system. Repositories generally lack a lot of extras that make integrated library systems such a pain in the ass to write.


Examples include, but are not limited to subscription tracking, membership / library cards, circulation (,checkin checkout, overdue notices and fines, etc.).


There may be some similarities in the search interfaces and ontologies, but in a repository there is generally, especially in a digital repository, just one 'copy' of each edition. An integrated library system ought to be able to track many copies of the same title/edition.


That's just the surface. But to be sure, there are a few function in repositories, that are not in library systems. Different purpose == different tool.


If you want a more relevant comparison, it might be more useful to ask how does <a href="http://www.open-ils.org/" title="open-ils.org">Evergreen</a open-ils.org> compare with <a href="http://koha.org/" title="koha.org">Koha</a koha.org>.

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Re:A repository is very different, Koha is compara

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 09:59 PM
"If you want a more relevant comparison, it might be more useful to ask how does Evergreen [open-ils.org] compare with Koha [koha.org]."

That was my first thought.

all the best,

drew

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Cool

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 10:28 AM
Open source should be a natural thing for libraries. Libraries are about culture and giving people access to culture and spreading it and sharing it and making knowledge available to everybody.
Open source is similar in many ways.

It sounds like they developed a really good platform and that they going big time with it, and that they will reap the rewards of it.
And if others aren't scared of moving to a new system then more will jump along.

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Re:Not So Cool

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 06:14 PM
Go write your own code.

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Re: but this is ..... linux.com

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 12:24 PM
Maybe if you went to windows.com and wrote an e-mail to Billa Claus he might send you down the 'right' path to finding your ideal windows app.

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Re: but this is ..... linux.com

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 10:06 PM
You don't need to go to windows.com to write an e-mail, now do you?

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Re: but this is ..... linux.com

Posted by: Administrator on December 22, 2006 11:07 PM
No, I believe you go to something stupid like live.com.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;)

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Re: but this is ..... linux.com

Posted by: Administrator on December 23, 2006 03:43 AM
Yes, but... I'd hoped that linux users would be helpful, even to the less fortunate...

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 10:08 PM
> It must be a true relational database
Oh, but RDBMS tend to be a bitter choice for tasks where you can't feed them with pre-setup schema. Many cataloging things are way better done with hierarchical DBs, like Sanchez GT.M, FramerD or (commercial) Cache.

--
Michael Shigorin

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 22, 2006 10:48 PM
We've been using dBase, but no one (ie. one expert on the spot, and one remote) wants to maintain it anymore; and due to some mishandling the datafiles got corrupted, and no one wants to fix it. So now TPTB want a packaged all-in-one solution. And it's gotta be preconfigured for library use, cuz no one is going to do a bloody thing with it after the fact. We've tried a bunch of demos and freebies, all without finding any that really work right. As I say, one problem is that most of the freebies seem to be just compiled spreadsheets.

Since this is a lending library with multiple catalog subsets, I'm not sure hierarchal is the way to go, but it's not something I grok sufficiently to make the decision. I know they're not going to even look at another raw database that would need the interface built by us.

Thanks for the suggestion, tho.

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Move to Linux?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 22, 2006 10:24 PM
Now how about move all the computers and thin-clients to Linux?<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;)

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Re:Move to Linux?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 23, 2006 12:59 AM

The Mount Rainier Public Library (Mt. Rainier, MD) has done just that: The library now uses an Edubuntu server, together with several thin clients that patrons use to browse the Internet, etc. See the article at <a href="http://dc.ubuntu-us.org/events/2005/sfd2005.php" title="ubuntu-us.org">http://dc.ubuntu-us.org/events/2005/sfd2005.php</a ubuntu-us.org>.

<nobr> <wbr></nobr>

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Re:Move to Linux?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 23, 2006 11:28 AM
I believe the servers all run on Linux. Workstations are more of a local issue, and local resources tend to be very limited for public libraries in Georgia. I know this is one good reason to migrate, but it is simultaneously an impediment, and it creates a certain amount of inertia.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 23, 2006 03:03 AM
thats too bad, sorry they can't enjoy the advantages!

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That should all run on Windows

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 23, 2006 05:58 AM
Now, I'm ignorant except for what I just read but, it seems you should be able to configure it a bit and have it run on Windows (server and/or clients, both); all of those things have Windows versions. XUL might need a mozilla browser, but there's a Windows version of that. Hey, pay me, and I'll do it for you<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:). Or get an eager member to do it.

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Re:That should all run on Windows

Posted by: Administrator on December 23, 2006 09:40 AM
Sure, we'll pay you the same as we do everyone else<nobr> <wbr></nobr>;) But that is a thought -- maybe it'd recompile/reconfigure gracefully. Worth a look, anyway.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 23, 2006 08:09 AM
How about running linux ontop of a virtualpc running Windows? Heck, it's probably better for security

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Re:That should all run on Windows

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 23, 2006 01:51 PM
Run the server side stuff on a Linux server. Heck you could even run that on a virtual machine using VMware server on one of your existing Wnidows servers.

If your lucky you might be able to find a pre-built virtual machine with most of the software you require.

www.vmware.com

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Re:That should all run on Windows

Posted by: Administrator on December 23, 2006 04:16 PM
That's a thought, if TPTB will go for it, tho a 2nd machine as a server isn't likely to happen unless/until we expand the building. You wouldn't believe how packed-full that library is...

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Wikipedia article

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 24, 2006 08:55 AM
Seems Evergreen found its way into Wikipedia;
* <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_(software)" title="wikipedia.org">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evergreen_(software)</a wikipedia.org>

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Re:Too bad they started a second ILS

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 24, 2006 04:24 PM
Actually not. They know about Koha - it's just not the scale they need.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 31, 2006 09:56 AM
Have you looked at Koha? I suggest that Windows is not esp. important except perhaps politically. You really ought to set up a simple box with Linux then load Koha and forget about Windows compatibility. It is very simple and has an active, mature development community.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 31, 2006 03:24 PM
I haven't heard of Koha, but all suggestions are welcome -- you never know when one will fill the need.

Problem here is that it's a Windows crowd who are NOT geeky and DON'T have the time to relearn the OS, find new apps for other stuff the system is used for, etc. And I'm not sure there's anyone who is both competent and available to maintain a non-Win box.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:/

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Too bad they started a second ILS

Posted by: Administrator on December 24, 2006 07:59 AM
this has been around a long time
<a href="http://freshmeat.net/projects/koha/" title="freshmeat.net">http://freshmeat.net/projects/koha/</a freshmeat.net>

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Great article

Posted by: Administrator on December 22, 2006 07:25 PM
Thanks for the information.

I work at a college and we are heavily researching open source alternatives for our systems. I sent a reference to this article to our library director and IT staff.

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System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 22, 2006 11:29 AM
Our club library is in need of a catalog and lending app -- needs to be economical, easy for non-geeks to use, with a reasonably full feature set, and must handle fairly large datafiles. Any suggestions?

Opensource would be great, but it MUST run on Windows (cuz that's the environment we've got and TPBT ain't gonna change that). It must be a true relational database (not a compiled spreadsheet, as so many seem to be) and must import/export data files in CSV and/or dBase.

The ability to interface with an existing ISDN catalog would be great, too.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 24, 2006 11:41 AM
Not sure about the ISDN catalog interfacing but here is a link to a good app that you can use for cataloging your club library and also using it for tracking the lending and such. Also, it has been tested to work with IIS 5 (not sure which version of Windows you are running) as well as Apache on Linux.



<a href="http://opendb.iamvegan.net/" title="iamvegan.net">http://opendb.iamvegan.net/</a iamvegan.net>



It looks like Jason is migrating his old website over to a wiki, so bear with him. You can however download the files, themes, etc and also take a look at some demo sites to see if this is an app that will suit your needs.



Hope this helps you out a bit.



-Bill

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on January 23, 2007 07:57 AM
Koha is available to run on Windows. You'll need to know your stuff to set it up, but it'll run with a true relational db and act pretty much like it was working in linux.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 24, 2006 12:46 PM
[goes to look] Thanks -- don't know if it's what the library wants (passed link on to one of the librarians), but it looks relatively simple to set up and use. The library PC has WinXP, but no IIS.

[fiddles with demo site] Very newbie-friendly, that's for sure. Lots of thought went into organization and workflow.

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 24, 2006 12:57 PM
well not sure how many users you have or how much traffic you expect to have but XP does have IIS built in (though not as robust as the server OSs) which could be used for this if you enable it. However (this being linux.com afterall) I encourage you to use linux and apache. If you need help with IIS on XP you may want to google for some help.

Good luck!

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Re:System for smaller library and Windows PC?

Posted by: Administrator on December 25, 2006 01:12 AM
About 35,000 items, about 200 regular users, and 2 or 3 librarians, only one of whom groks databases (and that person does little of the real work). So not huge as these things go, but well above the average home-use!

The system does not have internet access, and never will (a certain wisdom in paranoia dictates this, since people other than the librarians sometimes have access/use of it).

Oh, XP has IIS built in? I guess I never thought to look, since, well, I like XP on the desktop, but I just don't think of XP as an internet-server OS<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:) My first thought in that arena is always BSD or Solaris, but that's probably overkill for this situation!

Anyway, thanks for the reference. Even if the library doesn't use it, it looks like something I could use for myself... my library overfloweth<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

#

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