Technical investigation of open source

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Last updated September 27, 2014.

Investigation of Evergreen proceeded with discussions with its developers and some academic libraries including McMaster University and Project Conifer, a group of academic libraries in Ontario that were considering developing Evergreen sufficiently to enable its use in academic libraries. While Evergreen was developed by and for a consortium of Georgia public libraries, it seemed to have the potential of being scalable and workable as a platform for development of additional features. It was promising enough and mature enough that the Library’s systems staff installed the software and loaded a full copy of the Library database to allow staff to do a gap analysis. Results of that analysis can be found in the chart at: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/staffweb/depts/ils/projects/ilsreplacement/ with reports by various functional groups. Note that there are comments that sometimes give an assessment of what it would take to remedy a gap. [A gap assessment of Koha was not done to this level of detail so that column does not contain this type of report]. Evergreen looked promising but it definitely lacked some features essential for academic libraries. For instance, academics have a changing patron file that needs to be updated to reflect enrollment and library privileges; fixed due dates are common; and the capability to recall items is often required. Interface with various university systems is also needed, e.g., the ability to export voucher data to university payment systems.

The library sent Stuart Miller to the VALE (NJ) “Next Generation Academic Library System Symposium” in March 2008, which discussed Evergreen, Koha and some other library open source systems, including VuFind. It was openly acknowledged that SirsiDynix’s decision to abandon Horizon 8.0/Corinthian had created a sudden increase of interest in open source products among libraries.

Contact was also made with WALDO, a consortium of fifteen academic libraries in the New York area (the largest being St. John’s in Queens, NY) that was implementing Koha. LibLime, the support company and the North American release manager for Koha, had completed several enhancement projects funded by WALDO; St. John’s was then in production. A conference call with Joshua Ferrero and John Rose of LibLime was held on April 10, 2008. (See “Some Basics on Koha Discussion with LibLime April 2008” on http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/staffweb/depts/ils/projects/ilsreplacement/.)

Koha’s drawbacks were found to be primarily technical – there were questions about its scalability to much larger databases. No large ARL library had been involved, and there was a suggestion the software might need to branch to support ARL library workflows. Library systems staff continued to monitor developments, but it was eventually dropped as an option. It was considered better to wait for changes to support academic library work to be completed before expending the effort for a complete evaluation that involved installing a local copy with the full library database. By the time those changes were available, the library had already decided to participate in the Kuali OLE project.

In 2009, the Library also thought it should review the state of the new OCLC Worldcat library management system; a summary report can be found at: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/staffweb/depts/ils/projects/ilsreplacement/. Due to many non-existent features at that time, a detailed gap analysis was not thought to be necessary. In addition, there were doubts that this new product could achieve acceptable performance levels, and the Library’s past experience with the quality of OCLC support and services led to skepticism about its ability to provide even an acceptable level of support for a mission-critical service such as an ILS. The fact that the library is open until 1 AM weekdays and is heavily used late at night and on weekends tends to influence decisions about whether trying to use a hosted service makes sense. Library systems staff do provide support nights and weekends, and it was felt this level of support would be difficult to afford via a hosted service.