Open Source Software for Libraries: Experiments

Since I first arrived at Prosentient Systems in January 2012, I’ve been working on and experimenting with open source software for libraries. Initially, I was somewhat hesitant, since my background is in English, French, and Library and Information Studies. However, the more I’ve learned and experimented, the more I’ve wanted to continue working with open source software!

To that end, I recently purchased a new desktop computer (my first since 2003). With a 2.6ghz and 4gb of RAM, it’s reasonably fast enough to do whatever I might want to do.

Step 1: Install Debian (i.e. Linux)

(This involved installing the base system, adding myself as a sudo user, getting the sound working [I like working to music] by manually editing the alsa-base.conf to detect my integrated Intel sound card, installing Chromium as a browser, setting up some firewall software, and installing vim and vim-runtime [as Debian only comes with vim-common and vim-tiny files which aren’t quite enough for my text editing needs].)

(I’ve also thought about setting up an SSH server so I can also remote into my Linux box from my Windows netbook using PuTTY, but…I’m willing to put that off for the time being.)

Step 2: Install Koha using the community-generated Debian packages


(Well, not quite. It’s 9:11pm, so it’s Doctor Who time. However, later in the week, I’m going to give it a go using the instructions available at

Since I’m already a fairly active Koha developer, I’m pretty familiar with the code, and I’ve already done quite a bit of troubleshooting, so I’m not really worried about this. I can handle MySql (the database). I can handle Zebra (the indexing engine). Admittedly, to date, I’ve only done an assisted standard install and an assisted dev install (since I didn’t have root access to the server). However, I’m pretty confident that I can get Koha up and running. Actually, after I do a standard install via the packages, I might set up a regular dev install and a standard install (from the Git clone)

I might also try installing from a downloaded Tarball, as well as setting up a dev install using “Koha Gitify”.

There are lots of different ways of obtaining Koha code and setting up an instance, and I want to try them all!)

So thinking again about the knowledge that I might need to set up Koha…I like to think again of the LAMP acronym.

L->Linux (I’ve installed Debian, and I’m reasonably proficient using the command line)
A->Apache (I see how Koha uses apache, I’ve gone through the files, and I’ve set up my own web server in the past using apache, so…it might take a few tries, but it’ll be all right)
M->Mysql (it’s a relational database. While I typically interact with it using a GUI, I’m sure I can handle it from the command-line as well. The GUI might be a bit faster and provide easier scrollback, but I can also install one if I really want to.)
P->Perl (While I still want to improve my design skills, I have yet to meet a Perl script/module in Koha that I haven’t been able to understand [thanks to my own persistence and the generous help of some very skilled and amicable Koha community developers]. Given time, all the code in Koha is understandable.)

I doubt that everyone setting up Koha is going to need to have an in-depth knowledge in all these areas, but I’m sure it helps. Hopefully, it will mean I don’t have to hassle people in #koha too much ;).

Step 3: Install DSpace


(While I have quite a bit of experience modifying the DSpace JSPUI and some of its Java classes, I don’t have extensive experience writing Java, compiling Java, working with Postgresql, or troubleshooting DSpace. So…this might be a project I leave for a little while. I’m keen, but I’m more active in the Koha community and I find that Koha is much more relevant to the majority of libraries than DSpace.)

Step 4: Who knows?

I’m thinking of trying out lots of different systems. Here is a list that I’m pondering:

1) Archivematica (originating from Vancouver, BC – it is used for digital preservation)
2) VuFind (a PHP-based discovery layer for library applications)
3) WordPress (as a Content Management System)
4) Evergreen (the open source library management system/integrated library system)
5) Drupal (the CMS)
6) Islandora (digital library/archive)
7) Fedora Repository (digital library/archive)
8) Greenstone (digital library/archive)
9) Kete (digital library/wiki?)

Does anyone have any ideas about other open source software for libraries that I haven’t mentioned and that might be worth trying out?

While I only have Linux on this machine, I could create another partition for Windows XP (I still have my old desktop install disk laying around) or I could set up a Windows XP VM in Virtual Box. So…send me a message, post a comment, or give me a shout and let me know anything else I should try.

For now…Doctor Who Series 7 Finale!


Koha vs The World

Marshall Breeding article about the library automation marketplace in 2010 (the article is from 2011). It talks a fair bit about Koha and quite a few other library management systems (or rather their companies). It mostly looks at the numbers of new customers, new sales, total installed (apparently a grand total despite being near the label for 2010).

As expected, SirsiDynix (Symphony, Horizon) and ExLibris (Voyager, Aleph) are the biggest players. Innovative Interfaces (Millennium) was also another expected powerhouse.

I was surprised to see EOS with ~1000 installs, since I was not very impressed with their software. Of course, that’s not to say that I was impressed by Horizon, Voyager, or Millennium either. It’s just that those latter 3 are huge in academic and public libraries, while EOS markets mainly to special libraries. I’ve only heard of one client who uses EOS and they’ve moved away from it. I know heaps on those other three systems.

Since Koha is supported by multiple vendors, it takes a bit more work to see its net installs, but it’s formidable as well. It’s ~1000 as well (ByWater Solutions, Equinox Software, and PTFS – Liblime). Of course, the numbers for Koha are only for the 3 big US companies. There are lots of smaller vendors and institutions using Koha throughout the USA.

These numbers are also self-reported by the vendors, so…caveat emptor.


Brendan Gallagher, CEO of ByWater Solutions, provided me with this link, which is much more contemporary and very interesting in terms of the migration toward ByWater Solutions by other systems (especially users of the proprietary PTFS – Liblime version of Koha).

This report is also by Marshall Breeding, but these numbers are probably even less comprehensive since they are just compiled from one library listserv.


Automated estimation of how much the Koha project has cost in terms of coding…


Kuali is a very well funded academic and research open-source library “environment”, but…it doesn’t look like they’ve gotten very far and it doesn’t look like it was actually designed for librarians or archivists to use…

But it’s an interesting concept. I like that they’re trying to re-envision how “resources” should be handled by an automated system. Yet, one problem with that is the users of this system might completely alienate themselves from many if not all other systems out there. While you could argue that systems that follow existing standards aren’t innovative, they are functional and interoperable.

Mind you, this system seems to want to take plugins and multiple data formats into account, so maybe it really can do it all.

Or rather…maybe it WANTS to do it all, but I think it is a very long way away from achieving that. Presently, this system seems more like an accounting system than a resource management system designed to describe and facilitate access to print and electronic materials…

Koha in Canada || Origin: Koha

Wondering about the origin story of Koha?

Sure, you may have heard that it was originally created in New Zealand and that it is open source, but how much do you really know?

Check out this code4lib article:

So…I’m living and working in Australia, but I’m originally from Canada. Koha has a pretty strong presence in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Europe, India, Africa, and probably a few other places that I haven’t mentioned.

But not Canada.

Or at least…information about libraries using Koha in Canada is rather sparse!

inLibro is one company in Québec that offers hosted Koha services. I think there might be one other that advertises as well.

Other than that…I think most adoptions of Koha have been by individual institutions. For instance, check out this link about how Prince Edward Island (a petit province in Canada) uses Koha for all of its school libraries!

Here’s another link that takes you to the PEI school Koha catalogue:

I would love to hear about more Koha projects in Canada, so leave comments if you know of any. I’ll continue to do research and try to promote it among folks that I know.

If you’re interested in taking a look at Koha for yourself, consider downloading the Live CD:

I haven’t investigated it fully myself, but it should contain a self-contained Linux (Ubuntu) operating system, Koha, Zebra (the indexing software), and everything else you need to get started using Koha! It’s not generally recommended for production installs, but I imagine it is a great way to get started using Koha and maybe it is suitable for a little library run by volunteers. I’m going to experiment with that at a later date ;).