The OWHL online catalog is “Going Green” at the end of this month. We will be replacing our current integrated library system with a new online catalog and circulation system called “Evergreen.”
The Evergreen Integrated Library System (ILS) was developed in 2006 by the Georgia Public Library Service and has since been adopted by more than 1,000 libraries worldwide. Evergreen’s software is “open source,” which means that the source code is freely available to download and can be modified and developed by anyone with programming knowledge. An open source project is a little like Wikipedia. Its development relies upon the commitment of its user community to add value to the base product and to share those enhancements. In order to avoid chaos, a designated group of people reviews new initiatives, and incorporates those that are of general utility into subsequent “releases” of the software. Individual users or groups may additionally customize their own installations of the program.
Since the OWHL joined NOBLE in 2003, we have used a “proprietary” system developed by Innovative Interfaces, Inc. called Millennium. Three years ago, NOBLE and two other large library consortia in Massachusetts (MVLC, the consortium that includes Andover’s Memorial Hall Library, and C/W MARS, the consortium that includes libraries in the central and western part of the state) received grant funding to study the implementation of an Open Source system. Cooperatively, the three networks selected the software, prioritized improvements and shared training and expertise in order to design a system to meet the needs of their member libraries.
Why Open Source? Open Source is a philosophy that I find very appealing as a professional educator committed to access to information. However, there are many pragmatic reasons why Evergreen is a good fit for NOBLE and the OWHL at this time. These include:
1. Affordability. Proprietary systems are expensive to purchase, and require a commitment to a very expensive annual maintenance agreement. Theoretically, OS systems are “free.” That is, an individual library or group may download and use the software without an explicit payment to anyone. In practice, OS systems have been described as “free as in free kittens, not free as in free beer.” NOBLE and its partners will need to support development work, but will also benefit from development work done by other libraries. The expenses are both predictable and controllable.
2. Transparency. Proprietary systems do not afford access to their code. Consequently, users are not able to make changes to improve system utility. Rather, users request changes from the vender, wait and hope for these changes to be introduced in a subsequent release, and then pay additional maintenance for the new functionality. With Evergreen, NOBLE staff will be able to directly access the system code, and may change it as appropriate.
3. Perpetuity. Library Systems venders often merge and sometimes go out of business. They might also choose to retire systems in favor of new ones. The use of an open source system guarantees NOBLE permanent access to the system.
4. Interoperability. Venders make and control suites of products that are intended to work together. It can be difficult or impossible for users to add additional functionality from an OS product or one supplied by a different vender. In OS systems, developers can construct bridges to permit other products to work seamlessly with the ILS.
5. Localization. Quite specifically, OS permits you to have exactly the system you want, as long as you support the development of those customized features. Our frustration with the limitations of the Millennium system was as important in our adoption of an OS approach as the potential to save money and better control costs. Casson and Ryan
We are excited about Evergreen, and will be happy to answer any questions you might have.