A State-Wide Koha ILS

This is a blog post I've been meaning to write for a long time now. For those who don't know, a lot of public libraries in WA are currently moving, have moved, or looking at moving to new LMS providers. Legacy systems that most of the state were using are becoming end of life and it's time to move to new, web based services. Along with this is a push to form some sort of 'one library card' system. The South West Consortium have already done a small scale version of this. Something that has become apparent through my own interactions is that due to high costs, and technical knowledge, our country and rural libraries may not be able to upgrade along with the majority of the metro libraries 1.

What I'm proposing is a very rough idea. There are certainly problems that need to be addressed before it can be enabled, however it is a plan. I figure by at least putting it out there, people can pick it apart, add to it, and even come up with something better. What I fear is, that it's too late for the majority of our metro libraries as many have already signed long contracts with new vendors. That said, if it can help our our regional libraries then I'm sure it will be worth it.

N.B. I'm going to use the State Library of WA (SLWA) as the centre of this. I am aware that they may not be in a position to achieve any of this, cost and knowledge wise. It just makes sense to have a central government body being the main keeper of this 2.

The Idea

The elevator pitch for this is:

A central Koha install to serve as a single LMS consortium for the state. Allowing regional and remote libraries to access a state of the art LMS at low cost.

Centrally hosted, libraries can share a user database and/or catalogue. Enable easy interlibrary loans between councils, and give a much needed tech boost to libraries allowing access to state wide eresouces.

The Details

For those who don't know, Koha ILS is an open source library system, developed originally by the Horowhenua Library Trust in 1999 and is now used world wide. Only one public library in Western Australia currently uses Koha and that's the Shire of Derby/West Kimberley.

Using SLWA as a base, the Koha install can be self hosted or externally hosted and run as a 'cloud based' service. Advantages exist for both scenarios, as well as disadvantages.

For an internally hosted system, there would be significant investment needed in both hardware, and technical skills. This initial setup could prove to be quite a significant cost, especially becoming a hosting provider for 30+ libraries. The benefits come in the form of keeping the system internal, and employing skilled workers to maintain the system. Allowing the industry to take control of its own destiny, and foster strong technical knowledge in open source systems.

Counter to this, paying an external hosting company to run and maintain this setup could also prove to be expensive. However it comes with the benefit of being quick to setup, and using existing industry expertise to run and maintain the system. Hosting is relatively easy to move if a cheaper or better solution comes along, ensuring the system always runs on up-to-date industry standard hardware. The main disadvantage of this is the lack of control, relying on third party vendors, and potentially large setup costs.

Costs would need to be divided between all participating libraries unless suitable State funding was provided. To make the system affordable and equitable, this would need to be based on population (a current method used by many vendors). The larger libraries would be essentially subsidising the smaller ones.

Benefits

Apart from allowing regional and remote libraries to access a modern LMS at low cost, what else does a state-wide Koha ILS provide?

APIs
By providing a solid base using one LMS, it allows for third party developers focus on. Being open source, Koha supports many APIs and protocols and allows for new ones to be developed. Mobile apps, online resource access, cataloguing, interlibrary loans, RFID, self service options, there are many possibilities.

Open Source
Those who know me, know I promote open source quite often 3, especially in libraries. The free sharing of ideas, knowledge, and technology is something libraries should support openly. By moving an entire state onto an OSS platform you can help to encourage more support for OS software, add development time and money into the project. The added benefit being that the library industry becomes the leader of the technology, rather than following what vendors want and allow.

Controlling our own Destiny
Currently libraries rely on third party vendors dictating the technology roadmap of library management systems. By switching to an open source project, the libraries can then directly influence how the project will evolve. If you want something added to the project, just do it.

Problems

Like any major project there are problems and issues that need to be addressed. These are the major ones I can think of, but are by no means all of them.

Costs
This is the biggest of the initial problems. Funding for libraries is always difficult and when you want to do a project as big as this you're going to run into trouble. The only ongoing solutions I can see are splitting costs among all participating libraries. I haven't crunched the numbers for this but I'm confident it'll come out much cheaper than most large vendors.

Ownership
My other passion project is privacy. If the state library took ownership of this initiative suddenly you have Local Government records being controlled by the State Government. Issues around access to records by law enforcement agencies, ownership of records, etc. need to be sorted out before all parties agree. By becoming an LMS host for public libraries, there would need to be strong and clear communication lines developed (more so than there already is).

Expectation
The State Library would essentially become a hosting provider, and expectations around fixes, downtime, and resolutions would need to be clearly set out from the beginning. The advantage of using Koha would be that councils could choose to move their instance to another host or host internally themselves if the program no longer met their requirements 4.

The Next Step

I've had this idea floating around in my head for a long time and I needed to put it out into the world. There are people who are much smarter and more knowledgable about open source software, hosting, and State Government resourcing. What I hope it that those people see this and it starts to sow the seeds in their minds.

There is another reason for this post, and it's to address the end of life of VDX(Virtual Document eXchange), the current interlibrary loan software used by Libraries Australia, and SLWA. Maybe a solution would be to invest in the creation of an open source solution, much like Horowhenua Library Trust in New Zealand did with Koha. I would rather put time, money, and resources into creating an open source solution to the ILLs problem than a vendor supplied version.

Now the idea is out there. Think about it, pull it apart. Write blogs about it, tweet me, talk to influencers, other library staff. Even if you're against the idea I'd love to know why, what could be done to make it better, and what we should be doing instead.

Update One

As Chris Cormack pointed out on twitter:

Source.

Update Two

Apparently there is already an enhancement request in active development for Koha to do ILL hosting and from the looks of it, is based around replacing/enhancing Innovative Millennium software.

  1. Most don't even have SIP2 enabled on their current systems.

  2. I will of course pick this idea apart before the end of the blog post.

  3. Some would say too often!

  4. This is not ideal though, as the idea is to keep a united front. That said, APIs might allow the system to appear as one consortium despite being spread over several hosts [citation needed].