Koha, the first open source integrated library system, has made steady gains in its functional capacity and in the number of libraries adopting it as their primary automation platform. Within the United States, roughly 342 libraries representing a total of 535 facilities have implementations of Koha complete or underway. LibLime ranks as the dominant Koha development, support and hosting vendor.
Part I. LibLime Enterprise Koha
LibLime has launched an enhanced version of the open source Koha ILS, called LibLime Enterprise Koha (LLEK), hosted on a highly-scaleable platform and designed to offer a broader set of functionality with high reliability and fast performance. LLEK makes use of Amazon’s platform-as-a-service cloud computing infrastructure.
This version includes a variety of enhancements that have been sponsored by LibLime customers as well as separate modules that LibLime has developed outside the Koha software itself. Some of the enhancements to Koha currently available only in LibLime Enterprise Koha include support for MARC21 holdings formats, 13-digit ISBNs, an off-line circulation utility, check-out slips sent to an e-mail address, hourly loans for course reserves, batch loading of patron records, granular staff user permissions and enhanced SIP2 capabilities.
LibLime also bundles Biblios.net and GetIt as part of the LLEK package. Biblios.net is a cataloging utility that includes a large body of MARC records in the public domain, allowing libraries to easily identify and import records into Koha. LibLime is also developing GetIT, a stand-alone library acquisitions utility with hierarchical fund accounting and vendor records with ordering and invoicing features. Both Biblios.net and GetIt have been designed to integrate with any ILS and are not specific to Koha.
Other companies, both within the United States and internationally, have been involved in similar business activities, as mentioned in last month’s Smart Libraries Newsletter. These include PTFS and ByWater Solutions in the United States, PTFS Europe, BibLire in France, Turo Technology in the United Kingdom, Catalyst IT Limited in New Zealand, and others. (See http://koha.org/support/pay-for-support for a more complete list.)
LibLime Enterprise Koha includes many features and enhancements not available in the public version. This product is available only through LibLime’s software-as-aservice hosted option and is not available as software for installation on servers hosted by the purchasing library. The GPL open source license under which Koha resides allows private modifications to be made to the software as long as that software is not distributed further. LibLime’s practice of hosting Koha with private modifications does not violate the GPL license.
Many of the enhancements found in LibLime Enterprise Koha were subsidized by development contracts made with LibLime’s customer libraries. One of the major customers involved in supporting LibLime’s development efforts is the Westchester Academic Library Directors Organization (WALDO). In January 2008, WALDO contracted with LibLime for support services and development to implement Koha for its 12 full members and for other libraries that choose to acquire the software through the consortium. The contract for the original 12 members with LibLime included $282,000 for the core functionality needed for the initial implementation, $210,000 for supplemental enhancements and an additional $200,000 contingency, totaling $692,000 toward the enhancement of Koha. An additional 9 libraries have now joined the WALDO contract, which requires a development contribution from each participant. These new members have committed an additional $122,000 for software development. In addition to WALDO, other LibLime customers have funded specific development projects.
The enhancements to Koha funded through LibLime contracts will initially be made available to only its own customer base, giving it a competitive advantage over the other organizations involved with Koha support. LibLime indicates that it will ultimately contribute the source code of its enhancements to the public version, but only after it has been deployed to its own customers for a pre-determined period of time. LibLime continues to voice strong support for the open source development model, though it has altered its processes to favor its own library customers and to preserve its competitive advantage. Joshua Ferraro, CEO of LibLime, states that the new products and software development process represent a more sustainable business model for the company.
The company also launched Koha Express in September 2009, a hosted, self-service version of Koha which libraries activate through an online e-commerce process. Libraries pay an annual subscription fee of $299 per year for Koha Express and take responsibility for migrating and loading their data. Libraries subscribing to Koha Express can take advantage of the online documentation, Koha mailing lists and other self-help and peer groups for support but do not have access to LibLime’s customer support personnel. Koha Express is based on the public version of Koha, minus the LibLime-specific enhancements.
LibLime also continues to offer support services for what it calls Koha Community, the public version now maintained by developers external to LibLime that does not include its private enhancements. LibLime has many customers on this platform and will continue to offer installation, migration, and support services for either hosted or locally installed sites.
Part II. The rift
Until recently, the development of Koha had been accomplished through a collaborative process, even among competing companies. It was a system where companies would compete for library customers, but where all contributed toward the development of a single strain of the Koha software. A release manager, appointed from within the community of developers, coordinated the integration of the patches and enhancements from all of the programmers involved with Koha across all of the affiliated companies and support organizations.
LibLime’s launch of a private hosted version, though legally compliant with GPL, has enraged the other companies involved with Koha. Deep animosity now exists between LibLime and the other companies and individuals involved in the support and development of Koha. The prevailing view among the developers external to LibLime is that there has been a fork in Koha development, a state where multiple independent versions split apart with significant variations. LibLime issued a statement proclaiming that it does not consider its version a separate fork of Koha. Once the software forks, each branch takes its own path of feature enhancement, version control, and patch management. Due to the fact that independent and separate software development performed by LibLime will be contributed back only after it has been used by its own customers for a period, there is no practical way to coordinate development and bug fixes. In a field like library software, which is characterized by a scarcity of development resources, support of multiple versions of a product is far from ideal.
From its founding in early 2005 until mid-2009, LibLime actively contributed fixes and enhancements to the public version of Koha. LibLime asserts that during this period, it contributed the vast majority of the programming for Koha, incurring significantly higher costs than what it was receiving in fees for sponsored development.
As new competitors entered the fray, the company found it necessary to channel its resources toward its own customers first and to the broader Koha community secondarily. Consequently, LibLime has withdrawn from the cross-company collaborative group and now performs its own separate development effort.
There has been an exodus of personnel from LibLime. Some of the departures are part of normal turnover and others are related to the rift between LibLime and the broader development community. Many of the personnel appointments for which LibLime previously issued press announcements have left the company. These include Debra Denault, Senior Vice President of Operations, who is now Director of Customer Service at Relais International; Galen Charlton, VP of Research and Development is now VP for Data Services at Equinox Software; Joe Atzberger is now an Evergreen Developer at Equinox Software, Nicole C. Engard, Open Source Evangelist for LibLime, is now the Koha Documentation Manager jointly employed by ByWater Solutions and BibLibre. Other technical personnel including J. David Bavousett and Chris Catalfo have also left the company. LibLime has shifted from employing full-time programmers to contracting for outsourced development services.
Since the rift took place, both communications and development have parted. LibLime has been absent from the public Koha development lists and IRC meetings. LibLime operates mailing lists open only to its customers. The non-LibLime developers continue to work with the public version of the Koha codebase while LibLime plows its efforts into the premium enhancements involved with LLEK.
While its competitors complain that LibLime Enterprise Koha represents a fork in the codebase, LibLime counters that forks are not unprecedented. Ferraro points out that the catalog for Horowhenua Library Trust, the original Koha implementation, contain modifications that have not been integrated into the public codebase. He maintains that LibLime has historically contributed all of its development into the public version and that the volume of development performed by LibLime greatly exceeds that of other individuals and organizations involved with Koha. Though it will be through a delayed process rather than its previous practice of real-time updates of its development to the core Koha repository, Ferraro insists that LibLime remains committed to contributing the code it develops into the public version.
In September, the various companies involved with Koha support and representatives from libraries using the software have begun discussions to create some kind of oversight group or foundation for Koha. LibLime has not participated in these discussions. LibLime currently owns key assets related to the software including the koha.org domain, trademarks on the Koha name and the Koha logo, as well as copyrights to software and documentation. Much uncertainty remains about any broader organization that might be established to coordinate Koha development and maintain legal ownership of the intellectual properties associated with the project.
Despite these circumstances, LibLime continues to win contracts for its services. Recent libraries signing up with LibLime include Hiwassee College and the SIT Graduate Institute. Some libraries have also moved away from LibLime. INCOLSA, Inc, which manages a consortium of libraries in Indiana using Koha, recently shifted its support contract from LibLime to PTFS. These events illustrate that open source library automation comes with its own set of complexities, including strident competition for library customers.
In today’s environment libraries not only have choices between proprietary and open source automation products; they also have multiple options among vendors providing support and hosting services and now variations in the software itself.