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Koha: A Library Checks Out Open Source - page 2

Welcome to Nelsonville, Ohio; Hot Bed of Open Source

  • August 30, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

A big part of the development process being done to modify Koha for the NPL is the much-needed addition of file management and search systems used by many libraries throughout the US. While Koha has been deployed in other nations, the product has never had a need to conform to US inter-library standards, which NPL would need in order for their systems communicate with other libraries.

The first of these standards is Z39.50, which, according to Koha developer Steve Tonnesen, "is a protocol that is used to search library collections. Basically you can sit down at a Z39.50 client, type in a query, select some libraries, and it will connect to Z39.50 servers at each of those libraries and return a list of results from each library."

Tonneson, who is also a network administrator for the Coast Mountains School District in British Columbia, Canada, indicated that while Koha has Z39.50 client support, NPL needs to have Z39.50 server support as well.

NPL is is also requesting MARC (MAchine Readable Catalog) support as well as NICP, a protocol for inter-library circulation of books. All three of these projects will need to be finished before NPL can fully adopt Koha.

Koha is a relatively new open source program, with about 20 active team members scattered around the globe. It was started in 1999 when the Horowhenua Library Trust, a pulic library system in rural New Zealand, opted to write their own software with the help of NZ software firm Katipo Communications.

According to Pat Eyler, who is the current Kaitiaki ("manager") of the Koha Project, "Katipo recommended that the new application be open source as well. This had three great advantages over proprietary software. First, it protected HLT; no matter what happened to Katipo, the software would be available and HLT could hire anyone to support it. Second, it freed Katipo from becoming a software marketing company; they were able to keep their attention on writing software for HLT and not have to sink resources into selling Koha to other clients. Third, it allowed other libraries to work with the software; installing it for little or no cost, extending it to fit their own needs, and then sharing those changes with all of the other libraries using Koha.

"Fittingly," Eyler added, "this new software would be called 'Koha,' a Maori word meaning 'gift.'"

Thus far, Koha has been a gift to the libraries that have adopted it since its initial release. As each system converts to Koha, it has added additional functionality to the application. Since the application is licensed under the GPL, that means that all users of the application benefit from the incremental efforts of the developers.

The NPL is fully behind their investment, not just in terms of time but also in funding. Just this week, the library has issued a formal RFP for the MARC support, which Hedges believes will be just the impetus the Koha project needs to build the functionality NPL needs.

Despite the funds spent on training and development work, Hedges has absolutely no regrets about the money being spent now. "We may be spening $10,000 this year," he explained, "but we will be saving $10,000 in license fees for every year thereafter."

Hedges has also seen a lot of interest in the project from neighboring libraries. Once the conversion is finished, he predicts that the interest will sharply peak, as the NPL flavor of Koha will very likely match what NPL's neighbors need.

Hedges believes that the pay-off will be much greater than the effort put into setting up Koha when NPL is left with a custom-designed system that can later grow as the library's needs grow.

"Sure, there's a committment," Hedges explained. He and his staff do understand that this is what "free" really means.

"It's free software in that it's free to change."

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