Several developments transpired over recent weeks related to the open source Koha ILS that reshape the niche of the library automation industry. Through its acquisition of LibLime, PTFS emerges as the dominant commercial support company for Koha. Equinox Software represents new competition as it expands its scope of interest beyond the Evergreen ILS to Koha. ByWater Solutions, though a small firm, continues to attract clients for Koha services and completed its first year of business. The rift between LibLime and external Koha developers continues. Those involved with Koha outside of Lib- Lime recently established a separate Web presence.
LibLime initiated the open source ILS support niche of the library automation industry in the US when it was founded in January 2005 by Joshua Ferraro, who had been involved with the implementation of Koha at the Nelsonville Public Library in Athens County, OH. Building on the success of this first open source ILS deployment in the US, LibLime saw the opportunity to provide installation, development, and support services to other libraries interested in moving away from proprietary ILS products.
The open source ILS alternative resonated with many libraries; by the end of 2008 LibLime had signed contracts with 108 library organizations, spanning over 500 library facilities, including large implementations such as the WALDO consortium in New York and the Northeast Kansas Library System. An important component of LibLime's business involved sponsored development, where libraries would contract for specific enhancements that would benefit other libraries using Koha. Many of LibLime's contracts involved significant development projects; WALDO alone sponsored over $815,000 in enhancements specifically needed by academic libraries.
In the course of its business history, LibLime gained ownership of many of the key assets related to the Koha software project. In February 2007, LibLime purchased the Koha division of Katipo Communications, the consulting firm that created the initial version of Koha for the Horowhenua Library Trust in New Zealand. This deal included the koha. org domain, the Koha trademark in the US, and copyrights to the code created by Katipo. LibLime also owned the copyrights associated with all the code and documentation created by its own employees and contractors. LibLime was not only the dominant support firm for Koha, but it also came to control much of the collateral intellectual property. PTFS, a company involved in library technology since 1995, saw Koha as a potential extension of its business activities. PTFS' flagship product, ArchivalWare, provided a platform for the management and access of digital collections. The company's strategic vision included the creation of a Digital Library System that would combine ArchivalWare with an open source ILS to form a comprehensive platform for managing print and electronic collections. Initially, PTFS explored both Koha and Evergreen, announcing in June 2008 that it would provide services to libraries for either product. PTFS ultimately focused on Koha as its ILS component and by September 2008 they joined the ranks of companies offering support services.
Over the next 15 months, about a dozen libraries representing 140 facilities had chosen PTFS for Koha support services. As a larger company of 130 personnel, PTFS entered the Koha support arena with significant resources and business experience.
ByWater Solutions was formed in April 2009 as a small consulting company providing services to libraries for Koha implementation and support. This company recently marked its first anniversary. Though a small firm with only 4 employees, it continues to demonstrate momentum in attracting new clients. In March 2010, ByWater named Ian Walls, former Systems Integration Librarian at the New York University Health Sciences Library as Lead Development Specialist.
Equinox Software, established in 2007 to support the open source Evergreen ILS, announced in February 2010 that it would begin offering services for Koha as well, including hosting, support, and development. Galen Charleton, Equinox VP of Data Services, left LibLime in July 2009 and continues his role as Release Manager for the pending 3.2 release of Koha. Equinox brings a general knowledge of the open source support business as well as specific expertise with Koha as it expands into this niche. As of this writing, Equinox had not announced new library clients contracting for Koha.
LibLime stepped into some controversy in September 2009 when it launched LibLime Enterprise Koha, a premium version of Koha, hosted on the Amazon EC2 cloud platform, which included features and modules not available on the public version of the software. While the GNU license that governs Koha allows for these private enhancements on company-hosted servers, many among the broader group of individuals and companies involved with Koha reacted negatively to this approach. LibLime's software development and that outside of the company proceeded separately, resulting in a fork of the Koha software into multiple distinct versions. A more detailed accounting of the events surrounding LLEK and the subsequent fallout was covered in the November 2009 issue of SLN, “LibLime launches LibLime Enterprise Koha, or, Rift splits the Koha development community.”
A recent outcome of the rift between LibLime and external developers involved the creation of a new Web site, apart from the LibLime-controlled koha.org. This site, koha-community.org, was quickly established through the efforts of a broad group of organizations involved in supporting or using Koha. This site now hosts the current non-LibLime distributions of Koha, documentation, news, and general information about this open source ILS.
PTFS entered the Koha support arena at full force through the acquisition of LibLime. This announcement was one of the major news events coming out of the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston in January 2010. Yet negotiations for the terms of the acquisition faltered and on Feb 11, 2010, announcements stated that the acquisition was cancelled. Interest shortly revived, and on March 15, 2010, PTFS announced that it had completed the acquisition of LibLime, in time for the annual Public Library Association conference in Portland, Oregon.
The LibLime name will continue; PTFS will integrate its own Koha operations with what it acquired and will form the LibLime Division of PTFS, headed by Patrick Jones as Executive Director.
PTFS recently hired Amy De Groff as its LibLime Transition Manager, arriving from the Howard County Library in Maryland, where she served as the Director for Information Technology. The aggregate customer base of Koha libraries now under PTFS totals 120 contracts involving 640 library facilities.
The events that have transpired over the last year have reshaped the open source ILS arena in the US. The prior clarity of one dominant company for Evergreen and another for Koha has been transformed into a more complex landscape.
This corner of the library automation industry now sees more intense competition. This segment of the library automation economy represents a fairly small piece of the revenue pie, which now has several companies competing for a slice. The companies involved face the challenges of finding sustainable business models in a competitive arena with a finite number of contract opportunities, with lower contract values than may apply in the proprietary ILS scene.
The settling out of this niche also takes its toll on libraries. While many or most have found satisfactory solutions, others have experienced more difficult paths. Howard County Library, for example, announced its commitment to replace its SirsiDynix Horizon ILS with Koha in October 2007. Since that time, the library has continued to operate Horizon and in 2010 signed with Polaris. In Indiana, many small public libraries left Unicorn in 2008 to join the Koha-based Shared Catalog of Indiana Online with support from LibLime. In 2009, support shifted to PTFS; several of these libraries have since joined Evergreen Indiana, a growing consortium based on the Evergreen ILS. In normal circumstances, libraries retain an ILS for a decade or longer. As the open source ILS arena shifts into this new phase, libraries will benefit as some of the past uncertainties level out into a more stable business climate.