A survey of Koha in Australian special libraries : open source brings new opportunities to the outback.

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1

A survey of Koha in
Australia
n special

libraries : open source brings new
opportunities to the outback.

Introduction

Since 2007, the library management systems landscape has changed markedly, with a
variety of open source systems
(Breeding 2008b)

gaining an increasing share of the market

(Breeding 2008c)
. In Australia, penetration by open source systems has been led by the
recent adoption of Koha by an increasing nu
mbers of libraries.

This paper presents a case study of Koha in a rural health library setting, and

then presents
the results of the first

s
urvey

of Australian Koha us
ers regarding the viability and practicality
of this popular open source system.

This sur
vey encompasses both

libraries using Koha
support co
mpanies, and also some which have self
-
installed systems.

Case Study

: Koha in the Greater Western Area Health Service (N.S.W., Australia)

The Greater Western Area Health Service (GWAHS) provides health c
are to the population
of a huge rural area of 444,900 sq. km. or 55.52% of the state of New South Wales
,
Australia
. This is a region more than twice the size of the entire British Isles

and larger than
the entire state of California.

There are 113 health
care facilities (52 hospitals and 61
community health centres) spread throughout this vast region.


The library service has five small librari
es with which to service a very

dispersed clientele.
Three libraries are concentrated in the far eastern Bathurst/
Orange regio
n (Orange Base
Hospital Library;

Centre for Rural & Remo
te Mental Health(CRRMH), Orange;

Health Library
Service, Bathurst), one in the large regional centre of Dubbo (Dubbo
Base Hospital Library)
and the fifth

(
the
Far West Health Library) serv
ices the
remote western area from the
mining
city of Broken Hill.












2



Figure 1.
Greater Western Area Health Service. Library locations are indicated by the
large stars.


By 2006, only one of the 5 libraries in GWAHS (Dub
bo) had a web catalogue
.
There was a
general realization that the accessibility of the GWAHS library service would be greatly
enhanced if a combined web presence could be established.


There were several

problems to be overcome before the goal of a combined

web presence
could be realized :



The 5 libraries were operating on 5 different library systems.



GWAHS was formed in 2005 as a merger of three existing health services
.
Area
service networks have
had to be constructed from

very differing existing systems.

As
a result, developing a

co
-
ordinated library service was

a slow process.




GWAHS is an area of large distances and

presents

logistical difficulties in providing
face
-
to
-
face service. Using information technology (web catalogues, blogs, email etc
) is a
logical approach, but
many

staff are

not

on the GWAHS em
ail system. The
Intranet is not
, therefore, sufficient to reach many library users, and
Internet

based
tools which can be accessed externally are necessary. User feedback indicates that
Location of GWAHS


3

many staff res
ort to their home
Internet
, or rura
l


Internet

cafes” rather than
use
limited work
Internet

facilities.



Most GWAHS facilities do not have resident medical staff. Primary health care is
provided in concert wi
th a wide range of co
-
partners,

including
the Ro
yal Flying
Doctor Service, Aboriginal Health Corporations, Divisions of General Practice,
and a
University

Departments of Rural Health
. An effective library web presence must be
accessible by all of these stakeholders.



GWAHS has had well documented budget
ary problems, and had difficulty finding
funds for the project.

Similar financial constraints precluded upgrade of any existing
systems to web versions.



The health service
server capacity was overloaded
a
nd not able to handle new
application
s.

There were,

therefore, certain requirements which

were necessary for the project
:

1.

The
combined site had to be
Internet

based to reach the diverse user clientele.

2.

The library system needed to have all basic modules, and be capa
ble of handling
data from the
five
existi
ng systems.

3.

Funds were very limited. The system needed to be both cheap and
provide
value for
money.

Why
Open source

?

The first approach in the project was to canvass existing vendors to investigate whether any
of the existing
commercial
library systems c
ould be adapted to the purpose of an area
-
based
combined web catalogue. Response was mixed, but two of the existing vendors did su
bmit
bids (and one or two other vendors as well
).
One of these was an innovative solution,
whereby the largest three libraries

were full members,
with
the remaining smaller librarie
s
working

in OPAC mode only at a minimal cost, updating their holdings by periodic
downloads of cataloguing data. Howeve
r, even with this novel proposal
, the commercial bids
were still beyond the very
limited financial resources available.

The suggestion was made that transferring to an open
-
source system would resolve the
problem of software cost while providing all of the common modules.

Prosentient Systems has a long association with health librarie
s via the
national
GRATISNET

inter
-
library loan

network. When Prosentient announced that it was now
supporting the Koha software
,

it was seen as an opportunity to achieve the desired result
and have competent technical support available. Other
open source

systems such as
Evergreen were investigated, but the availability of local t
echnical support for Koha was a
very

important factor.


Hosting of the GWAHS Libraries Network



In the case of GWAHS, there were cogent reasons for an externally hosted system :



K
oha runs best on the Linux platform. This is n
ot supported by the NSW Health
W
indows
-
based environment.


4



The health service server capacity was inadequate to mount new applications.



Many library users were external, and not reached by the health service int
ranet.



Health service IT support

staff
had little familiarity with open source products.



Customiz
ations and development of the software were difficult in the health service
environment.



Reliable support companies were available.



One annual support fee (low
e
r than for the previous vendor)

which simplifies the
business case considerably, as internal costs do not need to be calculated.

Installation

In April

2008, the conversion

to Koha2

was
commenced.

The GWAHS

task of migrat
ing data from 5 systems into a si
xth

had very few problems. One
of the systems left duplicate MARC records for multiple copies, but otherwise data transfer
was clean. Data conversion costs were very economical.

Patron data likewise transferred
without problems.

The willingness of the sup
port company to conduct training at one of the rural sites was very
helpful, allowing system parameters, network rules and similar matters to be dealt with in
one sitting. The

GWAHS Libraries Network installation went live in August 2008.

Links to the GWAHS Libraries Bl
og, PubMed and the Health Service website formed part of
the customization
.


5


Figure 2 : GWAHS Library Service main page

The system was upgraded to Koha3 in early 2009.

Koha : challenges and opportunities

for GWAHS
.

The switch from in
-
house systems to a web
-
based
open source

library system, is a great
a
dvance for GWAHS, but is not entirely trouble free. The following points are of note.



Web
-
based systems need good Internet

access to provide optimum benefits. Many
parts of GWAHS are very isolated, and
Internet

response times vary enormously.
Opac times in

Koha seem to be largely acceptabl
e, but Cataloguing and Circul
ation
mod
ul
es are ofte
n difficult to use

if the health service network is running slowly.
The
recent development of a PC version of the Circulation module (which is regularly
downloaded to the
main database) may greatly assist this
.





Broadband coverage in rural areas
of Australia
remains patchy. Slow speed and
narrow bandwidth remain problems for GWAHS
users
.

However this problem is
insignificant compared to the former problem of studying in a
remote location without
direct desktop access to library services. The Federal Government Australian

6

Broad
band Policy initiative will soon

reach some areas of GWAHS and hopefully
lead
to
upgrade
d

Internet access.



Professional development for GWAHS library
staff is necessary to implement change
and to keep up
-
to
-
date with rapidly developing web technology, Conference
attendance and meetings are often difficult and costly to arrange. Teleconferencing
and videoconferencing are used, but are a poor substitute.

The outcome for GWAHS

For GWAHS, Koha is an example of
open source

technology

which can be readily and
successfully implemented even in an environment where information technology

is basic and
funds are limited. C
hange can be successfully achieved through
the networking of resources
and a willingness to confront the challenges of serving clients spread over a vast area
.

Balnaves and Keast
(
2009a)

discuss the process in more de
tail.


Spread of the

Koha concept to Australian special libraries
.

T
he Greater Western AHS Library N
etwork


(July 2008 : 5 librar
i
es) was the first network

of
Australian health libraries to move to Koha. The experiment aroused considerable interest in
the health library community.

GWAHS was soon followed by the
South Ea
stern Sydney
Illawarra Area Health Service Libraries Network

(January 2009 : 11 libraries) and the
southern part of the Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service Libraries Network

( August 2009 : 5 libraries).

The potential exists with
open source

for smal
l libra
ry networks
to put their libraries
on the Web at minimal cost.

Several isolated health libraries also made
the move.

Adoption of Koha by other Australian special libraries has also spread rapidly since 2008
(although isolated in
-
house installations

date as far back as 2004). The largest by far of
these
is the recent addition of the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Library Services
(
Marc
h 2010).

There are now upward of 45 Australian libraries using Koha
.
The added functionality of the
Koha3 r
elease has made the system much more viable

and attractive
.

Survey of Australian Koha u
s
ers

In order to ascertain the reasons why libraries made the sh
i
ft to Koha, and what they actually
though
t

of the performance of the system
, the

author conducted an
In
ternet
-
based survey of
Australian Koha libraries

(Keast 2010)

in February 2010, an expanded version of an earlier
survey

conducted

in June 2009 (when several of the respondents had only recently gone
live). The survey was forwarded to all Australian Koha libraries
which could be traced. The
response rate was 21/45 or 46.67%. The
respondents wer
e health & medical libraries (71
%)
and other specials (
29
%).

The respondents included clients of both major support
companies, and 7 in
-
house installations.
There was little d
ifference in responses between
any of these

groups. The results of this survey are discussed below.


7


Why change

library systems

?

:

For a few libraries, installing Koha provided a library system
, something

which they could not
afford be
fore, H
owever mos
t libraries surveyed did have a pre
-
existing system

(85.7%)
.
9/21
formerly had a Web catalogu
e.

Two

main reasons were given in the survey for changing to
open source

systems :

1. Dissatisfa
ction with previous systems, especially

the lack of flexibility in
achieving
customizations.

“It didn't do what we needed it to do; in particular, reporting was difficult. There was no
flexibility in the system, and lots of new "fixes" were obviously queued forever.”

“Software very old, inflexible. Poor support, expensive

maintenance fees.”

There was a large amount
of dissatisfaction with existing conventional systems, and some
library experiences were unpleasant and definitely not user
-
friendly. Some examples :



The
U.S. parent company decreed that all
users should
purcha
se all upgrades.

A
l
ibrary with

a minimal budget

was
left with a bill for

$
A
6000 for an upgrade it did

no
t
need

and could not afford
.



A very adequate
Australian based small library system, suffered a loss of technical
su
pport
after its founder died. The c
ompany
was
subsequently sold

to
a
new owner.
The n
ew company merged with a U.S. based company, who announced that they
would no longer support the product. Users were offered an upgrade to another new
product (which turned out to be heavily school
-
focu
sed
and unsuitable for medical
or
technical
collections).



“The previous vendor quoted $10,000 to extract our data from its system which was
too expensive for a small organisation and also seemed somewhat excessive for only
1,600 titles.”

2.

Budgetary difficulties
.

The global financial crisis
has been felt by many small libraries, and many health services as
well. Upgrading existing systems, graduating to web
-
based catalogues, and paying for
customiz
ed developments are simply beyond

the resources of
many small libr
aries. Koha is
seen as a low
-
cost alternative, with lower maintenance costs, and considerab
ly lower start
-
up costs.

Jeffrey
(
2010)

in an inte
resting internal paper written
from a commercial system
vendor viewpoint
, points out certa
in trade
-
offs that making the
open source

decision on cost
grounds involves.

o

Dedicated support from a support company, or considerable in
-
house
expertise is still needed, and these functions cost in both staff time and
expertise.

o

Support will generally c
ome from

an IT

professional rather than a product
specialist


8

o

Regular updates are not guaranteed and are dependent on the whims of the
“community”

o

There is a lack of quality assurance ( a good example was a garbled and
incomplete set of manuals for Koha2,
largely addressed in Koha3)

o

With many developers

involved,

there is a
n overall

lack of direction for
open
source

products.

o

While customizations may be easier

with
open source
, this means that there
are inconsistencies in the product between installations,
source code may
become compromised, and there is little clear direction as to which
customizations will (or should) find their way into the overall product.

Most of these points have some validity and provide food for thought. However, for many of
the libr
aries surveyed two questions only were paramount (a) Does this syste
m satisfactorily
deliver basic
functions of a library management system ? (b) Does it do this

at a lower and
affordable cost ?

This clearly mirrors the situation in GWAHS, where the criti
cal question
was : “Could a combined web presence be achieved with an overall reduction in cost ?”

Why Koha ?

While local support and cost savings were strong motivations to move to Koha rather than
other
open source

systems, most libraries conducted

a tho
rough investigation into
Koha’s
range of functions and flexibility
, and that of its open source competitors
.
Balnaves
(
2008)

gives a succinct analysis of crit
eria for evaluating open
-
source

systems
, and applies these
criteria to

seven of the most well
-
known
open source

systems.


Bissels
(
2008)

gives a
detailed account of the demanding evaluation process for the UK
-
based CAMLIS network
[which adopted Koha3].

Hosting

and support

:

Breeding , writing


in 2008
(Breeding 200
9)

states
“ In the current environment, almost all
libraries implementing
open source

ILS products do so with paid support contracts “.

In
2008, this was certainly also true of the Australian scene (although 1 in
-
house tertiary
installation dates to 200
4). However, since then, increased functionality and better manuals
in the Koha3 release have
seen
a number of in
-
house installations

in Australia
, but these are
mainly in
tertiary or
ganizations or government
organizations with good IT departments.


The GW
AHS

situation of

having many external users, over
-
stretched IT support and limited
server capacity, and a general lack of familiarity
with Linux was echoed by many

others,
leading to external hosting being the preferred

majority

solution.

Role of support

companies

:

Open source

systems are seen by many libraries as a cheap alternative to commercial
library systems,
but they are by no means free.

Breeding
(
2008d)

has identified several
essenti
al services which a reliable suppor
t company should perform :



Conversion of data


9



Installation



Configuration of software for use with the library’s hardware



Training for

library staff



Hosting



Custom development.
Open source

software is very
flexi
ble, and local
customizations can be incorporated into the overall product.

If a library chooses to hos
t an
Open source

system in
-
house, then all of these functions need
to be per
formed internally. Many small organizations
lack the

information technology skills
to
do this, and there are heavy costs in labor and staff time in successfully mounting and
maintaining the
open source

system.

The implications for support companies are int
eresting.
An
open source

support company
must be able to offer clients better performance of all the above functions than a client could
perform in
-
house.
One of the main reasons given for Australian libraries opting for hosting
was a local presence of rel
i
able support companies.

Balnaves
(
2008)

makes the

point that
substantial commitment by a support company requires a critical mass of customers
,

and
that many
open source

projects have achieved that critical mass through

the patronage of
one or more library networks. Individ
ual special libraries also seeking to convert to
open
source

then have substantial support companies to choose from. While a few
other
Australian companies have dabbled with isolated Koha installa
tions, Calyx Information
Essentials

and Prosentient Systems
are
the leading
Australian
Koha
exponents who have
achieved a critical client mass.

Evergreen and other
open source

systems have not
yet
established a strong Australian su
pport base
. Many

Australian

librarians have looked at
other
open source

system
s,

but
chosen Koha because of the strong local support.



Breeding
(
2008a)

discusses the need for
libraries to insist on continued quality service from
their support companies. As
open source

adopters grow in number, the support company
must also grow in expertise and personnel to maintain high standards of service for the extra
clients.

Unlike a comme
rcial library management system where the software is owned by the vendor
and accessed under license (and changing systems is a major and difficult investment), it is
theoretically possible for a library using
open source

to take their business elsewhere w
ithout
changing systems
,

if the support company fails to perform. This is a strong inc
entive for a
support company to

not only perform support functions well, but to

also

continue producing
client
-
focused customizations,

and

contribute

developments to the

overall product.

Opinions of Koha performance by Australian Koha Libraries :

Installation :

Virtually all libraries found installation of Koha software trouble
-
free.


10

Data conversion :

Few libraries reported problems, although one library with an in
-
hous
e installation needed to
write a simple conversion program.

The GWAHS experience of migrat
ing data from 5
systems into a sixth

was by far the most

complicated reported, but even

this performed well.

Performance of individual modules :

Survey findings are s
ummarized in the following table. Not all libraries used all modules. One
library network uses Koha for
serials and acquisitions only [
being more usable than their
existing system].


11



Table 1.
Australian

library rating of Koha features



5.
Excellent

4.


Good

3.
Average

2.

Poor

1.

Very poor

Don't
use

Total

Cost of system

55.0% (11)

40.0%
(8)

5.0% (1)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

20

Cost of maintenance

45.0% (9)

45.0%
(9)

10.0% (2)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

20

Range of modules

25.0% (5)

60.0%
(12)

15.0% (3)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

20

Ease of customisation

23.8% (5)

61.9%
(13)

9.5% (2)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

4.8% (1)

21

Display & screen layouts

4.8% (1)

47.6%
(10)

28.6% (6)

19.0% (4)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

21

User manuals (online)

10.0% (2)

35
.0%
(7)

45.0% (9)

5.0% (1)

5.0% (1)

0.0% (0)

20

Ease of cataloguing

23.8% (5)

33.3%
(7)

38.1% (8)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

4.8% (1)

21

Authority control

10.0% (2)

30.0%
(6)

20.0% (4)

20.0% (4)

5.0% (1)

15.0%
(3)

20

Downloading & Z39.50
searching

28.6% (6)

42.9
%
(9)

19.0% (4)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

9.5% (2)

21

Circulation

9.5% (2)

61.9%
(13)

19.0% (4)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

9.5% (2)

21

Acquisitions

10.0% (2)

30.0%
(6)

25.0% (5)

10.0% (2)

5.0% (1)

20.0%
(4)

20

Reporting functions

15.8% (3)

42.1%
(8)

15.8% (3)

5.3% (1)

5
.3% (1)

15.8%
(3)

19

Support from Support
company

60.0% (12)

20.0%
(4)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

20.0%
(4)

20


All modules rated as well above average, with customization features, downloading and
circulation rating highly. Unsurprisingly, system cost a
nd maintenance costs rated highly,
with the client expectation of up
-
front cost savings being achieved. Both major support
companies achieved
ver
y
satisfied customers in these early stages.


12

Open source

systems by their nature have features that would bene
fit from further
development. Screen displays
were seen by some as less than perfect, and report writing
functions perhaps not as flexible as they could b
e. Online user manuals inspired

less
confide
nce, although manuals are

h
ugely improved since Koha2. Aut
hority control is one
area for improvement, but the GWAHS experience of 5 library
thesauri

created by
independent libraries, with Z39.50 downloads also in the mix
,

is perhaps not the ideal
situation to judge this feature !

Customiz
ations, mashups and
ope
n source

enterprise :

Several respondents to the survey report combining their Koha installation with various Web
2.0 tools, or with other
open source

applications. The Koha catalogue is merely the centre
of an extended range of online services. Tools men
tioned include D
-
space, Amaya, PDF
Creator, Open Office, GIMP, blogs & Delicious.
Customiz
ed Koha features were

prevalent in
document delivery and current awareness services. This ability to build o
ther
open source

services around the basic library catalo
gue is one of the most attractive features of
open
source
.
This is much more difficult to do with many commercial library systems, with time
delays until the next pr
oduct release

(and no guarantee of the desired features even then)

being one of the
major p
oints of discontent.

The following diagram is a vision of what can be achieved.


13


Figure 3.
“Enterprise
Open source

: a vision”
From :

Balnaves and Keast
(
2009b)

Ove
rall impressions of Koha :

“It has transformed the services of our l
ibrary. W
e have more clients tha
n before. Work load
has increased significantly.”

“Good low cost system which makes a web presence economically affordable for small
libraries.”

“It's a fun
ctional system that is relatively easy to
customiz
e, but is still missing some of the
bells and whistles of the more established commercial products. I think this will change as
Koha matures and more programmers contribute to the code.”

“Wonderful, low
-
cos
t solution for our library which did not have the funds to purchase a
commercial product”.

The survey respondents were very positive about the Koha experience to date. There was a


14

realisation that
open source

is NOT free, but there was a general feeling t
hat Koha was
“value for money”.

Conclusions

The u
se of Koha in GWAHS is a
case study of an open source library management system
empowering remote users with greater access to library services than was possible under
conventional systems.

Several Austra
lian health libraries have followed this lead since 2008, with other non
-
health
special libraries also joining the Koha community.

Although libraries adopting open source
are very aware that open source is not free and there are significant costs in both
time and
money involved, s
atisfaction levels with the

Koha
product are high and continued adoption
and development of open source library systems in Australia appears certain
.

Most Australian Koha installations have occurred in the last 3 years and few l
ibraries have
long
-
term experience with open source products. As the number of open source system
users increases, there will be increased pressure on support companies and developers for
further enhancements of open source software. These developments wil
l need to be
managed efficiently to maintain the currently very high client satisfaction levels

Koha can be strongly recommended as a open source system worthy of consideration by
librarians seeking a low cost web
-
based alternative to conventional library
systems. The
rapid spread of Koha amongst Australian libraries emphasizes its viability and growing
competitiveness in the library management system market.

References :

. "Greater Western Area Health Service Libraries Network." Retri
eved 3 March, 2010, from
http://gwahsopac.intersearch.com.au


. "GWAHS Libraries Blog." Retrieved 20 March, 2010, from
www.gwahslibrariesblog.
blogspot.com


. "Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service Library Catalogue." Retrieved 11
March, 2010, from
http://nsccahs.intersearch.com.au/
.

. "South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Health Servic
e Library Network." Retrieved 11 March,
2010, from
http://sesiahs.intersearch.com.au/
.

Balnaves, E. (2008). "Open source library management systems : a multidimensional
evaluation."
Australian Academic
& Research Libraries

39
(1): 1
-
13.

Balnaves, E. and D. Keast (2009a).
Open source systems bring Web 2.0 to special libraries
.
10th International Congress on Medical Librarianship, Brisbane, Australia.

Balnaves, E. and D. Keast (2009b).
Open source systems b
ring Web 2.0 to special libraries
[Powerpoint]
. 10th International Congress on Medical Librarianship, Brisbane,
Australia.

Bissels, G. (2008). "Implementation of an open source library management system.
Experiences with Koha 3.0 at the Royal London Homeop
athic Hospital."
Program :
electronic library and information systems

42
(3): 303
-
314.

Breeding, M. (2008a). "Making a business case for open source ILS."
Computers in Libraries

28
(3): 36
-
39.

Breeding, M. (2008b). "Open source library automation : overview
and perspective."
Library
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