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Questions and Answers from TechSoup Webinar: Story of an Open Source Library on Oct. 21, 2010

Questions and Answers from TechSoup Webinar: Story of an Open Source Library on Oct. 21, 2010

  • Our free webinar was held on Thursday, October 21, 2010, 11:00 a.m. Pacific (Noon Mountain / 1pm Central / 2pm Eastern). This webinar covered specific open source tools (some of which you may not have heard of before!) that work well for libraries and the benefits and challenges associated with their use. Meadville Public Library uses open source software on 90% of their public access computers.

    Cindy Murdock Ames, IT Services Director and Kyle Hall, the library's on-staff developer, shared recommendations for libraries considering open source software and how to get started successfully. Cindy has been using open source software for over 10 years, which has allowed the library to save licensing costs and have more control over its computing environment. The library uses open source tools for their websites, e-mail, Internet firewall, wireless router, proxying, filtering, and productivity software. They use thin clients for Internet access and Koha for the circulation and public catalogs.

    View the archive online.

  • Hi - I'm wondering is Kyle the only full-time developer working for the library system?  Have you guys hired consultants here and there or was that mostly in the very beginning when you started going to open source?  Great information!  Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Yes, I am the only developer for the library system. Cindy and I represent the entire IT department for our library system. AFAIK, we have only hired one consultant who trained Cindy very early in her IT career.

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar. 
     
    Q: What Operating System do you have to have for Open Source?
     
    A: For Open Source operating systems there are many to choose from--there are myriad versions of Linux, and there's also the BSD's, such as OpenBSD and FreeBSD. Here we use Ubuntu for our Linux desktops, Debian for our Linux servers, and OpenBSD for firewalling & routing.  But there's also some Open Source software available for Windows and MacOS,
    such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, & OpenOffice.
     
    For a sampling of OS software available for Windows, you might like to check out the OpenDisc project, which bundles a selection of popular OS software onto a CD.  http://www.theopendisc.com

    If you're curious about the various OS operating systems out there, http://distrowatch.org is an interesting place to go.
     
  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.
     
    Q: When hiring a full-time programmer to support FOSS in the library, what kind of skills do we need to look for to insure the coding skills will be valuable for years?

    A: (Cindy) Since things change so quickly in the software world, flexibility is important.  Look for someone who's willing to take the time to learn new tools.  When Kyle started here, for example, he was definitely a PHP man.  However, Koha is written in Perl, so he spent a lot of time learning the finer points of Perl.  A good foundation in the principles of programming should help ensure long term success.
     
    A: (Kyle) Someone who has a drive for self-learning is the most important thing. I am constantly learning new languages and software. Nearly all my current skills have been self-taught. I always think of college as a place that teaches a person how to learn, rather than just a place to be taught.
  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.
     
    Q: What do you do for print release/pay-to-print?

    A: (Cindy) We don't use anything print release or pay-to-print.  I think it's something we've considered having Kyle develop, but our director felt that our relatively low print volume didn't justify the cost.
     
    A: (Kyle) Nothing, but we are looking at integrating PyKota into our Koha/Libki system for this purpose.

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.

     

    Q: Is there access for mobile devices in Koha?

    A: (Cindy) Well, it is web-based, so you can use Koha from anything with a browser.  As far as I know there's also support for SMS messaging to notify patrons of overdues and what not.  However, we haven't tried it out yet.
     
    A:(Kyle) Any mobile device with a web browser can access it. I know there are web services that can modify standard pages for mobile use that have been used with Koha.

     

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.

     

    Q: How do they handle the lack of Shockwave support on Linux/BSD

    A: (Cindy) I haven't had any complaints about it being missing on the public computers.  While most of our public computers are running Linux, we do have a few computers in the Children's area running Windows.  When we run into a compatibility issue like that we direct people to use those computers.  I don't think it's all that often, though.
     
    A: (Kyle) Shockwave is dead. When Adobe purchased Macromedia, they basically did away with Shockwave. Flash replaced it years ago and works just fine on Linux.

     

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.

     

    Q: what kind of policies do you have re merging changes, new features to the oss community?

    A: Kyle can probably address this better than I [Cindy] can, because he's done most of the development here.  I've only contributed a few minor patches.  We don't have any official policies per se, but I believe Kyle keeps a public repository of his work.  When we're doing work for Koha, it depends on the type of work.  For minor patches, those generally get submitted & often accepted into the main Koha codebase fairly immediately.  If it's a larger piece of work that the other developers are interested in getting into Koha, then I think the same is true.  If it's something highly specialized for our own purposes, or if it would interfere with main Koha's normal functionality, it might not.

     

     A: (Kyle) Each project is different, but Koha has a release manager that decides what gets merged and what doesn't. The release manager changes for each version of Koha, and is usually someone hired by one of the main Koha support vendors.
     

  •  

    The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.

     

    Q: Is there a matrix to determine computer power based on size of ILS database(s)?

    A: (Cindy) None that I'm aware of.  It's probably best to ask the community of the particular ILS.  However, there's definitely a relationship between the side of database and the computer specs required.  There are definitely things you can do to optimize speed as well. For example, when we first upgraded our Koha server this June, we thought we had gone overkill on the server's specs--it had a lot more memory and processing power than our original Koha server.  In the many months of testing we did, the server speed seemed fine--circ transactions were quick, etc.  However, when all the libraries were using it, there were definite speed lags.  We were stumped as to why, and discussed it with some folks on the Koha mailing list.  We got a lot of suggestions on how to optimize mysql, and it worked.  Also, we serve up our reports system on another server, using mysql replication.  So it acts as a real time backup for the database, as well as offloads the burden of running reports from the main server.
     
    A: (Kyle) No, but you can find discussions on the Koha mailing list. Our server has 4 cores, 8 gigs of RAM, and 1 TB of storage in a RAID10 configuration.

     

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.
     
    Q: what is the max number of bib records (in Koha)?

    A: As far as I [Cindy] know, there is no maximum, the only limit would be the hardware specs of the server.  However, I could be wrong.  I do know that there's a library in Cyprus (Near East University) that has over a million records in their Koha installation.

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.
     
    Q: What are the challenges of advocating for Koha to library administrators? How about buy in from IT departments that maybe locked in to proprietary software? What strategies did you find effective?

    A: We have been really fortunate because we haven't had to contend with either--our director (John Brice) was the one who got us into Open Source, and has been a strong advocate of it ever since.  Also, we're the IT department for the whole county library system, so we haven't had to deal with trying to persuade reluctant IT people.  We did have to persuade the county librarians that Koha was the best choice for us, though.  My suggestion would be to do a thorough comparison between Open Source offerings vs. proprietary offerings--costwise, but also feature wise.  Emphasize the flexibility that Open Source can offer by custom development. You may also want to start out small.  Don't start with an ILS, start with a smaller project like a web server, a mail server, even a desktop.  Prove how well it can work for you with smaller successes and build up to the major mission-critical stuff like an ILS.

     

  •  

    The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.

     

    Q: You are fortunate enough to have an on-site IT person.  What about those of us who are not so tech -savvy and do not have an IT department.  How user friendly is the "free"  stuff?

    A: (Cindy) Well, it depends on how deep you want to get into it.  To get your feet wet with some Open Source software that you can easily install on Windows, for example, you might try some of the software from the OpenDisc project, which has a selection of Open Source desktop software such as OpenOffice.  If you want to try Linux, Ubuntu (http://ubuntu.com) is pretty user-friendly, and you can try it out without having to install it with a LiveCD.
     
    A: (Kyle) The most important attribute is to have a willingness to learn. Software like OpenOffice is well within the reach of a non-technical person.
     

     

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.

     

    Q: Squid & DansGuardian vs. OpenDNS?

    A: I [Cindy] actually use OpenDNS on our wireless service at MPL.  I started using it in order to eliminate having to maintain a separate filtering server just for the wireless; our wireless service has a separate Internet connection, mainly for bandwidth conservation.  OpenDNS is exceptionally easy to use--all you have to do is direct your computers to their DNS servers.  However, as far as I know you can't disable it on a per-user basis, and you don't have control over which websites are filtered (though maybe you do on the paid versions, I have no idea).  With squid/squidGuard/DansGuardian, to turn filtering off temporarily you can change the proxy settings in the browser.  (Note:  In Firefox, to make Firefox revert to your preferred settings once the browser is closed and reopened, all you have to do is create a copy of the prefs.js file, named user.js.  I also make it owned by root on Linux machines for good measure.)  With squidGuard & DansGuardian you have full control over the blacklists used, and they're both highly configurable.
     
    A: (Kyle) OpenDNS, while much easier to use, is no where near as powerful and configurable.

     

     

  • The following is a follow-up answer to a question asked during the webinar.
     
    Q: Do either come with pre-defined whitelist/blacklists?

    A: Yes, I believe DansGuardiancomes with pre-defined whitelists & blacklists.  For squidGuard, you can download a number of lists from links on their site.