Thursday, May 7, 2009

MassCat's move to open source software: An update

9:30-10:45 AM, Thursday, May 7, Meeting Room 5
More pictures available on flickr.

Nora Blake's Powerpoint presentation will be posted later.

MassCat has around 90 libraries, mostly schools, that pool resources and are ot a part of the other library networks in the state.

It started live full force with Koha in the fall of 2008 with over 1,200,000 holdings. They signed with LibLime to partner in the migration. They had to break down the existing catalog into individual files for each member library. To distinguish each library they had to add prefixes onto each barcode. Because they didn't want every library to have to replace their barcodes the searching by barcode requires filters and/or keyword searching.

The catalog started with over 625,000 records, but many were duplicates and it was not as clean as they would have liked because of how things had to be broken down by library.

Why Open Source? They had a direct influence on the development of the software and benefited from the work lots of other people are also doing to develop it.

They chose Koha after looking at Evergreen. Koha's OPAC was more attractive, had an integrated serials management system, a clean staff interface, was entirely web-based (no software downloads for clients). Looking forward to a 3.2 release this summer.

Link to OPAC:

Currently, can't search a group within a group. To scope a search to a specific library's collection, each library has a unique URL from which they can broaden they search. They working on developing more sophisticated searches defined by geographical areas - likely to be a drop down search option.

Nora would prefer a larger font in the OPAC, but this is fairly easily changed by browser customization. Book jacket covers come for free - using Amazon. The downside is it just searches by ISBN and grabs the first result. Sometimes this returns no image.

The main page has a "lists" tab and the public lists display all the public lists, they currently can't be limited to just one library's. Patrons can create private lists. (Lists are for bibliographies).

Students are using the comments attached to books. To create a comment you have to login and they're reviewed by library staff before they are posted.

For holds, the pickup location can be changed from the location of the owning library, but in this network this is not often done. Notification of when holds are available for pickup is an opt-in email notification system. This can also be controlled from the staff side. Libraries can also create event notifications and use the same email system to send these out. With the addition of another company, text messaging can also be added into this system. Masscat is looking into doing this next year.

The staff interface has a news section on the home page which is used for communication with the participating libraries. A current problem: management of holds that can not be filled is not really working - if a library can't fill a hold they mark it as such, but it just sits in their hold queue. There are work-arounds that libraries are using, but an integrated solution is hopefully in development.

Under Circulation reports there are two holds links: a queue and "to pull". The "to pull" is not what it sounds like and will hopefully go away with the next release.

You can load images for patrons to associate with their account, individually or in a batch.

In the 3.2 release they are working on audible clues, especially helpful when on the front line for flags - such as fines, notes, etc.

A big shift: the system automatically emails overdue notices. If no email address is associated with a patron's account an email is sent to the library's email address. This presents some logistical issues in the schools and has required that they change their workflows a bit.

A tool that MassCat created was a shortcut to a z39.50 search. This search was available before but buried. This is in addition to the three primary types of searching: basic, advanced, and catalog. When you execute a z39.50 search you get a pop up window that lets you refine your search and check off the libraries whose collection you want to search. Member libraries have discontinued their OCLC accounts as a cost savings, but Nora still has one and can use it to look beyond the libraries in the list. Once an acceptable record is found via a z39.50 search its just one click to import the MARC record.

They've found that Koha has a lot of development still to do and a lot of what they expected wasn't actually there, at least not in a usable form. It works, but there are areas, especially around holds, that still need a lot of work. Its complicated because a lot of libraries are using it as a Union catalog and aren't actually using it as a live system - so it can't display real time status for their items.

They had expected a faster new release cycle than what is typically provided from proprietary vendors, but so far, this hasn't been the case. However, bug fixes and improvements are made "fairly frequently". Another big difference is that since its open source, the faults are much more widely known - there's nothing to be gained by hiding them.

The Koha community elects a "release management". The entire process for how improvements are agreed upon to include in a release isn't clear. Its done in committee meetings and Nora is confident that the improvements that she's made will be included in the next release. LibLime is the tech support that MassCat has contracted with. Some local public libraries have tried using Koha alone. It would require a lot more staff and time to do it without LibLime. Nora said she would need to hire at least one more staff person with a more technical skill set were they to consider going it alone.

There a lot of supporting email lists and web sites that are in the powerpoint presentation which will be linked to once its online.

They did not find training material that would work for their needs, so they created their own.

The virtual catalog is in development and MassCat is waiting to see how this develops to find out how they can work together.

Reporting: there's a lot of "out of the box" reports in addition to the ability to create customized sql reports. On the Koha wiki community members are sharing their sql reports so others can benefit.

In summary: its much better than what was before. The transition wasn't easy and "not the BEST thing we've ever done" but Nora's happy with it and believes most of the contributing libraries are as well and they're certainly sticking with it.


randall-stross said...

Let's all wish MassCat success with their move to open source...

Randall Stross

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