Open source library automation systems continue to make inroads into an increasing range of library types and sizes. Before the last two or three years, the adoption of open source library automation systems was relatively rare. In recent times, a larger number of public libraries have chosen to adopt open source library automation, usually with paid services from a commercial company. Koha, with the support of LibLime, and Evergreen, with support from Equinox, have found a growing following of public libraries in the United States. Until recent months, we have not seen academic libraries make formal commitments to open source automation systems. We reported in the February 2008 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter that the WALDO consortium of academic libraries will be moving to a hosted Koha system.
First Academic Library Implements Evergreen
The Robertson Library of the University of Prince Edward Island became the first academic library to move to the open source Evergreen library automation system. The library went live on Evergreen on June 4, 2008, only about a month after the library's decision to migrate from its existing SirsiDynix Unicorn system. Under normal circumstances, the implementation of a new automation system by a relatively small academic library wouldn't necessarily be a significant news event. But as the first academic library to venture to adopt Evergreen and to do so in a four-week sprint, it warrants some attention. We also take this opportunity to review some of the recent developments regarding Evergreen and Equinox Software.
Prior to its implementation by the Robertson Library, Evergreen has not seen production use outside of the public library sphere. The software was created for a consortium of public libraries, with specific attention to their automation requirements. The software lacks functionality required by most academic libraries, such as modules for acquisitions, serials control, and course reserves. Not only did the library make a bold move as the first academic library to implement Evergreen, it opted for a frantic migration process that led the library to production use of the system only four weeks after the initial decision.
It should also be noted that this migration did not arise out of the need to move away from a legacy system that no longer was receiving support or development. The Robertson library was previously using Unicorn, the flagship system of the largest company in the industry.
Robertson Library, which opened in 1975, serves the University of Prince Edward Island with a print collection of about 300,000 volumes. The University was formed in 1969 through the merger of Prince of Wales College and St. Dunstan's University. Mark Leggott has served as University Librarian since October 2006. Mark has been a long-time advocate of open source software.
Leggott indicates that the implementation of Evergreen falls within the library's overall technology strategy. "I like the collaborative nature of open source community and we are moving all our systems to open source software." An earlier project included the development of a Virtual Research Environment based on open source components including Drupal and Fedora.
The Robertson Library brought many resources to bear to make this compressed timeline possible. The library relied on a number of persons—both within the library and from external organizations—to complete the migration to Evergreen. The project provided the opportunity for widespread involvement by staff throughout the library. The library's internal efforts were led by its systems manager Grant Johnson. Staff members from throughout the library contributed to the project, meeting almost daily during the last phases of the project. The blog documenting the process describes the many tasks taken on by library staff members, involving testing the system and finding ways to accommodate the many differences between the way that Evergreen functions relative to their existing Unicorn ILS.
Equinox Software Provides Evergreen Services The library contracted with Equinox Software for assistance in the migration process. Equinox Software is a small company devoted to promoting Evergreen and contracting with libraries to provide services surrounding the product. The company traces its roots to the individuals involved in the original development of Evergreen for the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS), and is steadily adding new personnel. The company provides support to GPLS for its implementation of Evergreen as an external contractor and has adopted a business model based on contracts with other libraries for services related to its support and development.
Equinox has recently recruited other industry experts to its ranks. Karen Schneider joined the company in May 2008 as its Community Librarian. Schneider comes to Equinox from the College Center for Library Automation in Florida where she was involved in research and development. She is a prolific writer in the library profession and beyond. Equinox appointed Dr. Robert Molyneux as Vice President for Business Development in November 2007. Molyneux formerly served as chief statistician for SirsiDynix with involvement in the Normative Data Project for Libraries. Shae Tetterton, also a SirsiDynix alumna, was hired by Equinox as a project manager in June 2008, working most recently for the South Carolina State Library.
The Robertson Library also drew upon the expertise of Dan Scott of Laurentian University, who has a history of involvement with Evergreen. Scott is involved with Project Conifer, working toward a shared version of Evergreen for several academic libraries in Canada including Laurentian University, McMaster University, and the University of Windsor. These universities plan to switch to Evergreen by May 2009. The smaller-scale implementation of Evergreen for the Robertson Library may provide valuable experience and insights concerning how the software functions in an academic library setting.
A Growing Community
The fold of libraries running Evergreen continues to expand. PINES, the original consortium to implement Evergreen, went live on September 5, 2006 for all 252 libraries. The PINES consortium has since expanded to 275 libraries spanning 140 counties in Georgia. Kent County Public Library System, a small rural library in Maryland, also recently went live on Evergreen. This library worked with both Equinox Software and Alpha-G Consulting. Alpha-G Consulting specializes in helping libraries that use the Horizon library automation system.
In April 2008 The Michigan Library Consortium signed a contract with Equinox to migrate to Evergreen. A small group of libraries within the consortium will transition to Evergreen over the summer of 2008 with additional libraries to follow. Evergreen has found a receptive audience in Canada. In addition to the Conifer Project mentioned above, the SITKA consortium in British Columbia has launched a shared instance of Evergreen available to libraries throughout the province, with about 15 libraries live on the system to date.
The Robertson Library does not expect to move to an open source automation system without ongoing costs. Rather, it expects to make investments in the development of Evergreen to help fill in areas of missing functionality. Leggott explains, "We wanted to reinvest what the library pays annually to our current vendor to the open source community by spending it on improvements to the Evergreen code."
Some of the challenges that the Robertson Library faces in its implementation of Evergreen involve finding ways to fulfill functionality not currently present the software. Evergreen was developed primarily for public libraries and lacks modules for acquisitions, serials control, and academic reserves—generally required for an automation system in an academic library setting. For each of these areas the library had to find other ways to automate this aspect of its operations. For acquisitions, the library moved this function from Unicorn to the library's local financial systems and into spreadsheets. Some aspects of acquisitions and serials control were moved onto the open source CUFTS link resolver system, resulting in some electronic resource management features not present in Unicorn. CUFTS was developed at Simon Fraser University for the Council of Prairie and Pacific Libraries. The library is working toward other alternatives for course reserves as well. Electronic reserves will be handled by a custom system created with Drupal and Fedora. They will use Evergreen's bookbag feature to handle print items placed on reserve.Evergreen also lacks a Z39.50 server. The library is currently exploring options to gain this functionality.
Leggott sees the move to Evergreen as a strong opportunity for the library, despite any functionality that had to be creatively implemented. "We are getting a lot of additional functionality and opportunity, such as a more open and flexible data model for doing whatever we want with our data."
Ready for Prime Time?
The use of Evergreen by the PINES consortium in Georgia demonstrates that the software can successfully provide automation for public libraries. Its expansion to the SITKA consortium and other public libraries leverages the functionality already present in the software. Introducing the software into an academic library environment presents much more of a challenge.
The unfolding story of the adoption of Evergreen by the Robertson Library demonstrates that the software does not come ready-built for academic library use, but is adaptable in the hands of creative and technically proficient personnel. Should we consider the implementation of Evergreen by the Robertson Library as evidence that Evergreen needs a lot of workarounds to function in an academic library? Or do we consider it as a versatile system capable of working with other open source applications as part of a broader automation environment?As other academic libraries consider Evergreen among their options, they can learn from the experiences of the early adopters such as the Robertson Library to help judge the ability of the software to meet their requirements.