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The History and Background of Koha

Smart Libraries Newsletter [April 2014]


Koha was originally created in 1999 through a contract carried out by Katipo Communications for a three-branch library system in New Zealand called the Horowhenua Library Trust (HLT). These libraries needed a new system to replace their current ILS that was deemed not to be compliant with the year 2000 date change, and they were interested in developing a new system rather than purchase another proprietary product. Katipo Communications, which offered a variety of information technology and development services, was selected to help the library with creating its new automation system. Chris Cormack, employed at the time by Katipo, served as the lead developer for the project and has remained active in Koha development ever since. He is currently employed by Catalyst IT, a Wellington, New Zealand-based consulting firm.

Consistent with many other business applications created in the open source model at the time, Katipo made use of other open source components: MySQL, for its relational database management system; Perl, for programming its business logic and interfaces; the Linux operating system, and the Apache web server. These technology components were well suited to mid-level business applications. Since its original version, these basic components have remained in place, though the program code has been re-written and radically expanded during its 14 years of development. Upon its completion and implementation, Katipo and HLT decided to release Koha as open source, so that its ongoing development might be more sustainable should other libraries want to use and improve the software. Koha, in the Maori language of the indigenous population in New Zealand, means “gift.” By making the software freely available, HLT saw this contribution as its Koha to libraries around the world. In the first few years following the creation and implementation of Koha in HLT, Koha attracted some interest, successfully building a small group of interested developers to work on the code, and gaining adoption by other libraries. A new phase in Koha's development and deployment in the United States began when the Nelsonville Public Library, serving Athens County in Ohio, decided to implement Koha to replace their existing Spydus ILS in 2002. In order to meet their requirements, Nelsonville sponsored an ambitious set of new features and capabilities, including support for MARC records in its cataloging module and Z39.50 for the transfer of records from cataloging utilities.

LibLime: The First Commercial Koha Support Firm in the United States

The completion of these new capabilities and its successful implementation in the Nelsonville Public Library sparked a wider interest in Koha by public libraries in the United States. To take advantage of this interest, a group of the individuals, including Joshua Ferraro, who led the implementation of Koha in the Nelsonville Public Library, launched a new company called LibLime in April 2005. The company continued to enhance the software, promoted the concept of open source software to libraries, and began offering services to help other libraries move to Koha from proprietary systems. To help the system meet the performance requirements of libraries with larger collections, Koha was extended with the Zebra search engine developed by Index Data.

LibLime was able to attract a large number of public libraries to Koha and its support services and became the leading company in this niche. As part of its expansion, LibLime acquired Katipo Communications' assets related to Koha in March 2007. These assets included the copyrights to the portions of the software developed by Katipo, documentation, and the domain name. LibLime also acquired the trademark for Koha in the United States and applied for the trademark for Koha in New Zealand. LibLime assumed responsibility for the Koha support contracts that libraries had made with Katipo.

In order to expand Koha into academic libraries, Lib- Lime entered a partnership with Westchester Academic Library Directors Organization (WALDO) to develop the features such as short-term loans for course reserves, acquisitions, and more advanced cataloging capabilities. WALDO's services to its members included discounted licenses to electronic resources and library automation services. The core WALDO members were then using the Voyager ILS from Ex Libris. As the contract for Voyager came due, WALDO opted to partner with LibLime to enhance Koha rather than renew with Ex Libris. With significant funding provided by WALDO for the development of these academic features, an arrangement was established for LibLime Enterprise Koha (subsequently renamed to LibLime Academic Koha) to be used within WALDO exclusively through an extended period of beta testing before it would be released to other developers.

PTFS Acquires LibLime

Many of those involved in the broader Koha development community perceived LibLime's strategy of independent development as inconsistent with the spirit of open source. Relations between LibLime and other Koha developers became strained. Following a tumultuous period, the owners of LibLime sold the company in January 2010 to PTFS, a software and services firm specializing in US federal government libraries. John Yokley leads PTFS as its Chief Executive Officer. At the time of its sale to PTFS, LibLime indicated that it provided support to more than 500 libraries.

PTFS had several business activities related to libraries in agencies of the federal government. It operated as a distributor for other ILS companies to market and support their products within its sector. The company had also developed its own product called ArchivalWare to manage collections of digital assets. The company saw Koha as complementary to its product strategy, allowing it to fulfill the need for a comprehensive Digital Library System combining the capabilities of ArchivalWare for digital assets and Koha for print collections. PTFS had provided Koha support services since 2010.

Divergent Paths Continue

Now under the ownership of PTFS, relations between Lib- Lime and the broader Koha development community in short order proved to be as contentious as before. Though initially PTFS and the broader community attempted to work out an arrangement to coalesce and coordinate development together, PTFS ultimately continued a course of separate development, releasing code in large blocks following testing and deployment by its own clientele. LibLime Koha, used primarily by its academic and special library customers, and LibLime Academic Koha, follow the company's own development strategy, with enhancements and bug fixes packaged in releases following its own numbering conventions. After four years of separate development, LibLime Koha has diverged considerably from Koha as developed and supported by the international community of developers.

Split Identities

One of the crucial areas of concern related to the domain name of the website for Koha. PTFS acquired from Katipo Communications. With the website under the control of PTFS, a new domain name, was launched by the broader Koha development community. Today provides access to LibLime Koha, and kohacommunity. org stands as the official site for Koha and provides access to current releases, documentation, and other resources.

The international Koha development community coordinates development surrounding the domain. Its monthly online meetings are conducted through an IRC channel, and ongoing communications are seen on its e-mail lists, including one focusing on development issues and other more oriented to libraries and functional questions. Developers or library personnel using a version of Koha obtained from koha-community. org can expect at least some initial help through these e-mail lists.

The divergent efforts in projects that use the name Koha cause considerable confusion, especially for those not familiar with the historical details and competitive issues. Libraries that download and implement LibLime Koha or LibLime Academic Koha from or cannot expect to receive help outside that provided by LibLime and its customers and vice versa. After several years of independent development, no resolution to the split in development or identity seems likely. Those interested in Koha need to be well educated regarding these issues.

Recent News from PTFS

Upon its acquisition by PTFS, LibLime founder and CEO Joshua Ferraro departed the company. Patrick Jones was named the Executive Director of LibLime with the responsibility of the company's involvement with Koha. In February 2014, Amy Begg De Groff was named the LibLime Division Manager. PTFS has recently won two major federal government contracts that include Koha as part of a Digital Library System.

In January 2014, the company announced a 5-year multi-million contract awarded by the National Geospacial-Intellegence Agency to replace its current Ex Libris Voyager ILS, which supports the GEOINT Research Center. The Digital Library System relies on ArchivalWare and Koha components to manage print and digital assets. In November 2013 PTFS announced that it had been awarded a major contract from an unspecified agency within the Department of Defense to supply LibLime Academic Koha to support a very large collection of technical and research reports.

LibLime has a mixed record in the public an academic library arena, with some of its clients moving to other systems or support providers. Yet, the company's investment in Koha has been rewarded with these very large contracts for federal government libraries, its core sector.

Other Major Commercial Support Providers

Dozens of companies from all regions of the world provide services related to Koha. Below are some companies of interest.

ByWater Solutions was founded by Nathan A. Curulla and Brendan Gallagher in 2009 to provide services surrounding Koha to libraries, mostly in the United States. The company currently provides services to more than 480 libraries including more than 800 individual branch facilities. ByWater Solutions concentrates primarily on providing migration, hosting, and support services, relying on the development efforts of the broader Koha community.

Equinox Software, Inc. is the dominant services company for Evergreen, an open source integrated library system designed for use by consortia of public libraries. The company also provides development, support, and hosting services for Koha. Galen Charlton, one of the key developers of Koha, serves as the Manager of Implementation for Equinox and works with both Evergreen and Koha. Currently, Equinox has a relatively small number of library clients using Koha, primarily smaller stand-alone libraries interested in an open source ILS, but not well suited for Evergreen.

PTFS Europe provides commercial support services for Koha, Evergreen, VuFind, and other open source software products for libraries. It has also developed rebus:list, an open source reading list management utility for academic libraries. The company was co-founded in 2007 by Nick Dimant, who serves as the company's Managing Director, and Jonathan Field, serving as Technical Director. PTFS Europe was originally established as a distributor for ArchivalWare in Europe, and PTFS has a minority ownership stake in the company. PTFS Europe has subsequently become involved in supporting open source software for libraries in Europe, including both Evergreen and Koha. For its involvement with Koha, it relies on Koha supported through koha-community. org and not the LibLime versions.

Catalyst IT, based in Wellington, New Zealand, is a relatively large IT consulting firm that provides services based on open source software to a wide range of business sectors. While libraries represent a very small portion of its overall business, the company is active in the development and support of Koha in New Zealand, Australia, and beyond. The company employs Chris Cormack, the original programmer for Koha, who continues to be active in its current development.

BibLibre provides support services for Koha, primarily to France and other European countries. The company has recently entered into a business alliance with AFI, which is discussed in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter.

This list is not comprehensive. For a more complete list of organizations that offer support services related to Koha, see:

View Citation
Publication Year:2014
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 34 Number 04
Issue:April 2014
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:19403
Last Update:2023-01-26 04:35:04
Date Created:2014-06-05 13:53:56