Open source Koha settles in Smalltown USA

A public library in the small town of Nelsonville in Ohio has become the latest customer for the New Zealand-developed Koha open source library application suite.

A public library in the small town of Nelsonville in Ohio has become the latest customer for the New Zealand-developed Koha open source library application suite.

Koha, a Maori term for gift, was first developed in 1999 by Wellington-based Katipo Communications for the Horowhenua public library.

“It was a Y2K project and went live on the first day of business in 2000,” says Katipo “webmistress” Rachel Hamilton-Williams.

Koha is open source and freely distributed through its own website, but it is not necessarily tied to Linux. It is implemented chiefly in MySQL and Perl but will also run on NT, says Hamilton-Williams.

“And a student at one of our school customers ported it to Windows 2000 to gain a Scout badge.”

Nelsonville is notable in that it is another public library site, perhaps only the second after Horowhenua, but Hamilton-Williams says she’s not completely sure; there may be another public library somewhere that has quietly implemented it.

Most of Koha’s custom to date has been in community libraries and the libraries of private organisations.

“It’s in use at Philanthropy Australia [a non-governmental philanthropic organisation], in schools in British Columbia, Canada, at a university in Japan, and a lot of small community libraries in New Zealand and the US,” she says.

Earlier this year Katipo appointed a one-man US representative, Pat Eyler, based in Washington state near Seattle.

Prospects hear about the product through a number of channels, Hamilton-Williams says. Katipo and local librarians who have used Koha will promote it at international library conferences, “we get to hear of RFPs for library systems through the normal channels and put in a response”, or some clients just find it on the web.

Koha handles all the basic library functions: issuing, return and reservation of books and journals, book acquisition and budgeting. It is free of charge so long as the customer does not want anything more than these functions. Customers sometimes develop their own additions to the suite, or get local commercial firms to do it, a task naturally made easier by Koha’s open source origins. Nelsonville is adding support for the US Library or Congress standard, including its Machine-Readable Catalogue, and other upgrades. It has tender requests out for these and Katipo is likely to bid for some of this work.

One wrinkle that US libraries tend to want to iron out is the removal of the “ethnicity” field in membership records. New Zealand libraries like to keep track of those statistics, says Hamilton Williams, but in the US being asked one’s ethnicity on a form is a more politically sensitive issue.

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