Prince Edward Island school libraries have been using the MicroCat Library Automation System since 1993. This particular software program is outdated and users no longer have access to technical support (its developer went out of business in 2001). MicroCat is a stand alone system: all updates, repairs, and other management requirements have to be done on the specified computer at each individual location. Since the MicroCat system uses a DOS based program, it works best on Windows 98 and requires a floppy drive for backup purposes. Because of this, hardware in school libraries cannot be upgraded and hence remains outdated.
In Fall 2008, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in conjunction with IT Shared Services decided to replace the current MicroCat software program. After evaluating a number of library automation software programs and reviewing a number of open source options, the Department chose KOHA, a new open source web based software application. The word KOHA is a Maori word meaning “gift” or “donation”.
This particular capital grant project is being implemented in 4 phases. In Winter/Spring 2009, KOHA was piloted in 4 provincial schools: 1 senior high, 1 intermediate, and 2 elementary schools where the current department heads for school libraries are employed as teacher-librarians.
In January 2009, Bluefield High School was the first school on PEI to start using the open source web based software. Thanks to the work of the programmer, Richard Birt, the glitches in taking the MARC records from the old system into KOHA were fixed, thus making for a smooth transition.
During the Summer of 2009, the remaining provincial senior high schools were converted to KOHA and have been utilizing this system for circulation and management. Over the next couple of months the remaining provincial intermediate schools will be converted to KOHA. Department personnel are projecting to have KOHA implemented in all PEI school libraries within the next 2 years.
The response to KOHA has been overwhelmingly favourable thanks in no small part to the excellent work of Richard Birt and provincial project managers working in conjunction with the PEI Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
Teacher-Librarian Richard Baker sees many advantages with the new software. Searching is more powerful, cataloguing is easier, and circulation is a snap. The full inventory process in June was shorted from more than three weeks to less than one week with KOHA. The one drawback is that since KOHA is web based, when the Internet is slow or down, you have to revert to pen and paper. Luckily this only occurred a few times.