Koha ILS: Right for your Library?

When choosing an ILS for your library, it is important to consider many factors including size, funding, and compatibility with other consortia.  In order to get an overall feel for a system, one must test that system and do extensive research before choosing the best ILS for a particular library.  It is for this reason; many libraries should look into using a relatively new ILS called Koha.

Koha “is the first free software library automation package” and is growing tremendously in a worldwide market as a reliable ILS (Koha 2010).  The researchers behind the program began in 1999 before the 2K switch and ever since then have been growing and pushing for a new kind of ILS that would be universal to all library systems, including home-use.  First released as a beta program in 2008, the system is now live worldwide in three languages.

A main proponent in making this worldwide ILS is Koha’s policy on a no-vendor lock-in (Koha 2010).  Meaning the program will stay a free open-source software that enables libraries to download and install Koha themselves and have the “in-house expertise to purchase support or development services from the best available sources” (Koha 2010).  This provides libraries the option to be free to change their support company and export their data system at any time, as long as the support company that library chooses allows it.

Since this particular ILS is open-source software, it enables libraries worldwide of all sizes such as public, academic, special, and home libraries to benefit.  Not only does it provide basic options in functionality, it also offers comprehensive and advanced options including “modules for circulation, cataloging, acquisitions, serials, reserves, patron management, branch relationships,” to name a few (Koha 2010).  It utilizes an RDBMS searching function working together with an external search engine to provide users the most powerful searching possible.

The different modules Koha offers is completely comprehensive in that in the cataloging function, it is operable with MARC records which aids in acquisitions.  Because of the added advanced searching capability, acquisitions workflow is tremendously improved and serials information can be easily imported supported by other systems and technologies already operating in many libraries. Thus creating a smooth transition into the free system.

With regard to the reserves function, users can keep materials and adjust the circulation statistics and different checkout rules for those items, similar to that of Voyager for no cost.  For example, if the system were to be used in the academic setting, professors can place items on reserve for students and the user of Koha could enable the system to only allow the student to check out the material for a three-hour period to allow other students to access the material.  Enabling this function is extremely important to maximize workflow and accessibility.

This ultimately leads into the importance of patron management capabilities with the ILS software.  Koha automatically runs reports that send out reminders to patrons via email (or school email) and physical mail.  These reports can be run on a few different systems such as Microsoft Access, similar to that of Voyager’s Reporter.  This allows the user to have a better grasp of circulation statistics and holdings at any given moment (Koha 2010).

Koha also allows libraries to smoothly transition because it is truly a platform-independent solution that can be integrated immediately.  The OPAC, circulation, management, and self-checkout interfaces are all based on standards such as XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript (Koha 2010).  Meaning, any existing software can easily be transferred into Koha’s system because it is compatible with any World Wide Web technology.  This is especially important with electronic resources, as their document management allows for documents to be displayed in a myriad of different formats to be accessible by patrons with Internet access.

Recently, Koha 3.2 was released that corrected several bugs and added new abilities and differences including: the ability to batch modify items, batch delete items, a complete rewrite of the label maker, patron card creator, how budgets are handled, added more patron permissions, check out messages, fast add cataloging, custom RSS feeds, SOPAC integration, enhancements to acquisitions including those that allow for ordering over Z39.50 and from a staged MARC (and MARCXML) file, and the ability to merge bib records, and there are also talks of adding another metadata format storage system to be even more easily integrated into a home library (Engard, 2010).

Of course, with the new added features, Koha provides a plethora of tutorial and training material to aid librarians in smoothly integrating this new system into their existing ILS.  The students at Wayne State University created the Koha English training manual in English, however, there are several versions in many different languages including Spanish, French, German, Greek, Arabic, and Portuguese (Koha 2010).  The website also offers a Wiki page for their developers to discuss nuances in Web 2.0 librarianship and offer coding guidelines and API documentation to continuously improve the system.

Along with training manuals available in PDF format, there are also tutorials available on the Koha Wiki that discusses anything from simple frequently asked questions to upcoming Koha conferences (Koha 2010).  The company suggests prospective users go to different conferences in their area to get a full feel of the system through demonstration.  This is important for librarians to engage in because sometimes it can be difficult to find time to schedule a vendor to visit their own library.  However, with the amount of information provided by the website alone, training sessions can be done in-house and save time while making the large switch to a different ILS in the library.

Though, if training in house or if the tutorials are not enough, Koha offers free support as well as paid support depending on the extent of aid or training that must go into integrating the system to a particular library.  The free support includes the manuals discussed above and also the Koha bug database that includes a list of problems that have been discovered to be typical problems users may face.  The website also offers the ability to subscribe to their mailing list or to engage in their IRC, or real-time chat.

If this support is still not enough for your library, or if you do not have a systems librarian, one can pay for their support.  These companies around the world support Koha and “are happy to provide libraries with the full array of vendor services” (Koha 2010).  This includes installation, migration assistance, data integrity testing, staff training, software maintenance, and development of new features as they are released.

What can be seen as a negative is the amount of clicking to find information provided on the Wiki page.  One must click on a particular link and then go through the A-Z list of more links to help solve a problem.  However, the company encourages users to provide feedback, both positive and negative, to enable them to make decisions to change the feel of their website and to grant the wishes of their users.  Individual developers make these technical decisions, including libraries that directly or indirectly contribute new features, and members of their release team (Koha 2010).

For these reasons, Koha would be a wonderful ILS asset to any library, including public, school, special, academic, and home libraries.  The only issue with public, school, or home would be the use of MARC for cataloging.  Many times, MARC record is more complicated than necessary for the typical school or private library and may be a reason to go with a different ILS.  However, Koha is making a concerted effort to add an array of different formatting choices to continue to provide services to libraries of all kinds, worldwide.

Engard, N. (2010). What I learned today. Retrieved from http://www.web2learning.net/archives/4200/comment-page-1#comment-221157

Koha. (2010). Koha library software about. Retrieved from http://koha-community.org/about/

Koha. (2010). Koha users worldwide. Retrieved from http://wiki.koha-community.org/wiki/Koha_Users_Worldwide


    1. Hi Chris,

      Thank you for clarifying that! Their history page is a bit confusing, I know I was trying to review the most current version. Thanks!


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