From Sirsi to Koha...

Welcome Sharon Moreland, our most recent guest blogger! Sharon is the Director at the Tonganoxie Public Library in Kansas, and a contributor to the Cookbooks. Sharon will be a regular blogger for MaintainIT, telling the tale of her experiences with Koha as her library starts a new chapter with open source. Welcome, Sharon! (Oh, and I was the one who added the photo of Sharon to her post. I couldn't help myself!) :)

-sarah ----

The big decision at the very first Board meeting I attended as the new wet-behind-the-ears director here in Tonganoxie, was whether we should join the new NExpress consortium, a sub-set of Kansas libraries joining the established Kansas City Library Consortium (KCLC). It was an easy decision: of course we wanted access to 2.5 million items and the state-of-the-art Sirsi ILS, so we started the long process of migrating. We weeded, inventoried, fixed call numbers, and cleaned up the shelf-list in preparation for re-barcoding the entire collection. (Unique item IDS... they'll get you every time!) We also had to prepare the public -- let them know a "new and improved" library card would be coming soon, because our library card numbers were only 4 digits and the existing patron records couldn't be uploaded into Sirsi. sharon moreland: Sharon, with her Cookbook Sharon, with her CookbookMy library was lucky to be one of the first to join KCLC for two reasons:

  1. The consortium had an experienced system administrator and excellent Consortium librarian who was our liaison.
  2. I used to work there and knew these (somewhat quirky) people personally.

Unfortunately, libraries who joined later, after the system administrator left and the Consortium librarian left and the replacement personnel were new and, well, not very good, had a VERY different experience than we did. The timeline to join stretched and stretched and patience with the personnel grew thinner and thinner and after unsuccessful meetings with the KCLC Director and the Kansas City Public Library Director, our NExpress-Northeast Kansas Library System Director called us all together to make a decision... do we stay or do we go?

Jim Minges, the System Director, called together his board, the NExpress libraries, and the libraries waiting to join NExpress and an outside facilitator to help us work through our options. Koha rose to the top, so Jim invited Josh Ferraro, LibLime, to give us a presentation (in his suit and sandals...such a GenXer he is!). I was sold--we kept throwing out, "does it do this?" questions and Josh's face would light up at the thought of writing some new widget to do whatever it was we suggested, like linking the catalog to the New York Times bestseller list. New library cards? No need, LibLime can extract our patron records. The best part though, the thing that we audibly gasped at was when we heard it would only take 4-8 months to migrate ALL of our libraries to Koha...our experience with Sirsi was 18-24 months.

In the beginning, I had reservations about leaving KCLC because my little library was borrowing over 5,000 items a year from libraries outside our NExpress sub-set. Leaving KCLC meant losing access to those materials. But, being the cooperative and collaborative group of librarians that we are, we decided to analyze the data, see what exactly we were borrowing and then see if we could change our collection development habits to fill the need. The joke was that we'd seek grants for smut, slasher films, and Sex in the City (erotic fiction, adult graphic novels, horror films and TV series on DVD).

We're still hammering out the details for this, but cooperative collection development in itself is an exciting by-product of this whole process. I'm not exactly sure what the next step is. I think NEKLS staff is working to get us out of our existing contract and we’ve been assigned a project manager from LibLime to help steer us through the migration. Each of us need to decide when and how to share the news with our Boards and patrons - I let the cat out of the bag on MySpace and had to put something in the paper this week and I invited Jim to explain the situation to the Board in March. We'll wait and see what the response is!

As I'm writing this, I just got an email from the State Librarian, Christie Brandau, via Jim Minges, "You made the top story on the online LJ!! Congrats to you and NEKLS staff and libraries!!"

Sharon Moreland

Director, Tonganoxie Public Library, Kansas


Great story! I especially love the way you and your colleagues adapted and changed strategies and grabbed new opportunities. I get really frustrated at some of the vendor stories that I've heard over the years -- libraries having to pay money to get access to their own data or waiting years for functionality that the rest of the world takes for granted (e.g. RSS feeds). And open source software fits perfectly with the mission of libraries. I mean, libraries are the originators and first practitioners of "Open Culture". I don't have a problem with commercial software in certain contexts, but the ILS is our mission critical software, and we have to have some freedom to innovate and experiment.

absolutely - we started down the road to open source with KLOW - My Kansas Library on the Web (, which uses WordPress blogging software to create awesome library Web sites (Brenda Hough and Liz Rea get the kudos for that one). I love the idea of being a perpetual beta test site and the NEKLS folks are budgeting funds for software development with LibLime.

I liked your post! Thank you for sharing. The John C. Fremont Library District's story is similar to that. We had a horribly confusing, drawn out siris dynix experience. We belong to a consortium, and quite a few of the libraries involved have had a rough go of it with sirsi. We went to koha on our own... we are a small library in rural Colorado and have had no trouble with Koha. We are saving so so much money too! The staff finds koha easier to manage. We couldn't afford the book jacket images with sirsi and now we have the amazon images through Koha. Our patron's love it. We have been live with Koha for 3 months now. We are lucky to be able to do our own tech support, but I have heard good things about LibLime. Good luck to you.

At the 2008 PLA conference, I went to a 'start up' meeting for a new koha users group that John Brice from Meadville Public Library is organizing - it will include everyone, those of us without the in-house tech support who chose to go with LibLime and you adventerous souls who go it alone. I can't find any specifics about it out there, but I'll keep looking.

I'm so excited to know that you will be guest blogging here on the MaintainIT site. I always love your energy, your practicality, and your willingness to try almost anything (at least once :-)). Getting blog bursts of that spirit here will be great.

I'm proud to have been part of this decision to move to KOHA and even though I'm no longer with NEKLS, I am going to be here cheering from the sidelines as you all push the envelope and really develop something amazing and user-centered. Go NEKLS! :)


Thank you, I hope to be entertaining and slightly informative. User-centered, for sure...that's my goal with any new program.

Love the story. I am curious, what did you say to the board?

Keep us informed rule!

I let Jim do the talking and we played up the "this is the next step" and "a natural progression" angles. I can send ya the memo (or ask Sarah to link to it) and hopefully an article will be published in next week's paper. According to the meeting minutes, "The Board officially expressed its support for NEKLS’ decision and affirmed its commitment to NExpress." I have such a great Board!

I'm so glad you're going to be sharing our story with everyone. It's an exciting time at NEKLS and what makes it possible is all the outstanding librarians in NE Kansas (like you) who are willing and so very able to take on new challenges like this one.

Welcome aboard the good ship Koha! Our libraries here at CCFLS are still in the process of migrating to Koha, but our first library online with it, Meadville Public Library, has been using it for almost a year now. Tempus fugit!

FYI, John Brice and I will both be speaking at a session at PLA@ALA in June; he'll be talking about Koha and I'll be talking about all the other Open Source solutions we're using here at MPL/CCFLS. The session is titled "What the User Expects and How to Get There". It's on June 28 starting at 1:30.

We just heard from John that the new by-laws we cobbled together at the PLA User's Group start-up meeting will be coming out for review soon. I hope you get a full house at your session! I know I used the Meadville Web site as an inspiration for ours when we started using WordPress.

I'm just the fanatical convert - you folks at NEKLS are the open-source preachers. I had to be convinced to go on this ride, but I was won over by Josh's presentation and our collaborative collection development solution. I think using WordPress for our Web sites opened the way for other open source solutions. Brenda and Liz get kudos for that brilliant piece of innovation.

I totally commend you on leaving a behemoth and taking a leap into fresh air by going with an Open Source application like KOHA. I also joined the Open Source revolution in a slightly different direction. All of our public access computers are open source Linux for just over a year now. What a ride!

I went to the KOHA website and read through their documentation. I am very impressed with the overall professionalism.

Thank you for sharing your story. I am so happy to see other libraries going the open source way.

You go girl!!

Marian Wynn
Library Director
Geneva, Alabama

I've heard stories of libraries using Open Office and Linux for their public PCs, even going so far as to make desktop icons that look sort of like their matching Microsoft program. I'm not familiar with the Gates Grant stipulations that might impact a library's decision to go open source, but it's a possibility I'd like to consider for my library. The problem would be finding a linux-friendly computer technician...mine is married to Dell and Microsoft. Congrats on being a leader in this library revolution ;-) Librarians: the quiet radicals.