The libraries of Virginia Tech University have begun the implementation of the open source Koha integrated library system and the Coral electronic resource management application. Virginia Tech selected ByWater Solutions as its technology partner, not only to provide support services for Koha and Coral, but also to enhance these systems to meet the library's specific needs while offering substantial savings relative to its current environment. The library will migrate from Sierra ILS from Innovative Interfaces, which was implemented in 2011.
Virginia Tech is a member of the Association of Research Libraries and will be the largest academic library in the United States to implement Koha. Virginia Tech has a collection of just over two million print volumes. The migration includes all the Virginia Tech libraries. In addition to the main Newman Library, its Art and Architecture, Veterinary Medicine, and Falls Church libraries plan to implement Koha. The library will also shift from ProQuest Summon to EDS. Support for EDS was also a factor in selecting this open source suite over other alternatives. The library focused on solutions for resource management tools used by its staff members compatible with its choice of patron-facing discovery service.
Open Source Strategy
According to Michael Kucsak, Assistant Dean and Chief of Staff for the Virginia Tech libraries, Koha will form part of a new technology environment for the library based on open source software. It's expected to provide more flexibility and enable more customization. Koha will replace Sierra for functions such as cataloging, acquisitions, and circulation of the library's print collection. The library will also implement the open source Coral electronic resource management system, replacing processes that were previously conducted on Innovative's Electronic Resource Management (ERM) and other tools.
Consistent with other academic libraries in the United States, Virginia Tech devotes most of its collection funds to subscriptions to electronic resources. Kucsak reports an 87 to 1 ratio of spending for electronic relative to print resources. The library has opted for a strategy based on separate tools for print and electronic resource management, with an integration layer connecting the systems to avoid duplicate work, to synchronize overlapping data, and to streamline the flow of data into its discovery environment. Nathan Curulla, Chief Revenue Officer for ByWater Solutions, states that the integration being developed between Koha and Coral will result in similar functionality as offered by library services platforms.
Virginia Tech sees Koha as a capable tool for managing an aspect of its core collection management activities. The integrated library system will continue to play a vital role, and Kucsak expects no diminishment in capabilities as it moves to Koha. Like other academic libraries, Virginia Tech has seen a decline in its acquisitions and circulation of print materials as the emphasis shifts to electronic resources. Further, the library increasingly extends its attention to new services such as support of research data management, digital collections, and studios in addition to traditional collection management activities.
Koha for Print Resource Management
Koha, consistent with the general scope of an integrated library system, focuses primarily on print materials and does not offer functionality for the management of complex collections of electronic resources. Since its initial implementation in 1999, Koha has been continuously enhanced through the collaborative efforts of a global development community. In broad terms, the functionality of Koha can be considered on par with that of the major proprietary integrated library systems, though work continues to create new features to meet the needs of the diverse libraries using the product. Koha has been adopted by many other academic libraries, but this will be its first implementation by a major research library in the United States.
Electronic Resource Management Strategies
Academic libraries increasingly require solutions to address the specialized functionality related to the management of electronic resources, such as encoding license terms, tracking the individual e-journal titles and holdings within each subscribed package, analysis of usage statistics, and automating activation of new subscriptions, renewals, and cancellations. Many of these libraries have invested in some type of electronic resource management tools to responsibly manage the growing body of subscriptions and open access materials.
Differing strategies for the management of electronic resources can be seen in academic libraries. Since integrated library systems do not in themselves address many aspects of managing these resources, specialized electronic resource management tools were developed. These included proprietary products such as Verde from Ex Libris and Innovative's ERM. Coral was developed as an open source alternative. These specialized electronic resource management products have not seen widespread adoption. When using a standalone electronic resource management product, a key challenge relates to avoiding duplication of data and workflow with the integrated library system. Many libraries opt to use local spreadsheets or databases to track many aspects of these resources.
The genre of library services platforms represents an alternative to operating separate systems for managing print and electronic resources. These products are designed to address resources spanning each format, providing a comprehensive set of workflow tools, metadata models, and knowledge bases. Products such as Ex Libris Alma and OCLC WorldShare Management Services have been widely adopted by academic and research libraries since their introduction in 2011. Libraries implementing a library services platform replace multiple incumbent products, including their integrated library system, any formal or informal electronic resource management tools, link resolvers, and knowledge bases. Since their introduction, there has been a strong trend for academic libraries to shift away from integrated library systems and standalone electronic resource management tools and to implement library services platforms offering more unified resource management capabilities.
Coral: An Open Source ERM System
Virginia Tech plans to migrate from the ERM module of Sierra to the open source Coral ERM system. Coral was initially created by the Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame, though interest in the software has expanded and a broad community of organizations contributes to its development. These organizations include the libraries of North Carolina State University, CalTech, Texas A&M University, and Rice University as well as SirsiDynix, which integrates Coral as part of its BLUEcloud Campus suite and BibLibre, an open source development and services firm in France that supports Koha and Coral for several French universities. The development communities for Koha and Coral are collaborating to create mutual points of integration to enable the two products to work well together with minimal duplication of data entry.
Services from ByWater Solutions
An important aspect of Virginia Tech's technology strategy relates to its confidence in ByWater Solutions as a support provider able to complete the migration quickly and help assemble an environment that meet its needs based on multiple open source components. ByWater Solutions is an active player in the global Koha development community and collaborates with other support and development firms as well as other open source initiatives to support an evolving environment responsive to its needs.
ByWater Solutions provides Koha support services primarily to libraries in the United States. Its customers include public, academic, and special libraries. Overall, the majority of its support contracts are for public libraries; however, in recent years the company has seen a growing number of academic libraries contract for its services (see Figure 1). Just under one thousand libraries have contracted with ByWater Solutions to provide Koha support services. Of this total, about 15 percent are academic libraries. Figure 2 shows the implementations of ByWater Solutions by library size.
Virginia Tech has planned for a very aggressive implementation schedule. The library anticipates completing its migration from Sierra to Koha by May 2018.
Bucking the Trends
The technology strategy that Virginia Tech is taking forward deviates from trends that have otherwise prevailed among academic libraries in recent years. Not only has the library opted for an open source integrated library system instead of a library services platform, but it has also chosen separate routes for resource management and discovery.
Virginia Tech has selected EBSCO Discovery Service as its strategic discovery environment and will not implement a resource management solution that does not support it. More generally, at least some libraries want to select their patronfacing discovery environment independently of the systems their staff members use for collection management. Counter to the prevailing tides, Virginia Tech ultimately opted for a resource management environment that would support its decision to use EBSCO Discovery Service. In this case, it meant a strategy based on open source components, each with distinct focus on print and electronic resources.
The adoption of library services platforms represents a major trend in academic libraries. The movement is not universal, as seen by selection of Koha by Virginia Tech. According to Kucsak, factors leading to this approach included a high degree of confidence in ByWater Solutions to deliver an efficient and cost-effective environment and an interest in using less cumbersome tools for routine areas of operation to allow the library to focus on new areas of service to their university in other strategic areas.
Virginia Tech: A Library Technology Pioneer
The Virginia Tech libraries have played an interesting part in the history of library technologies. In a pioneering initiative, one of the early library automation systems began in its Newman Library in 1974 by the university's system development department under the direction of Dr. Vinod Chachra. The project first created a circulation module that was placed into use by the Newman Library in September 1975. The Virginia Tech Library System was incrementally enhanced to become a complete integrated library system, which eventually became one of the major products on the commercial market.
Building on the success of its operation in the Newman Library, the university established a Center for Library Automation to market and support the system in other libraries. In 1985, the for-profit company VTLS Inc. was established by the Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, the university's technology transfer office, under the direction of Chachra as its President and CEO. The university shared ownership in the company until 1994 when Chachra bought out its equity in the company.
Following the separation of VTLS as a separate company, the Virginia Tech libraries continued to use the product until 2005 when it migrated to Millennium from Innovative Interfaces. The library migrated from Millennium to Sierra in 2011. Innovative acquired VTLS in May 2014. (For additional details about the history of VTLS, see “Innovative Interfaces Acquires VTLS” in Smart Libraries Newsletter 34, no. 7 [July 2014]: 4).