Evergreen/Sitka in practice, practically

Before I went and gave my endnote talk at the Prairie Partnerships conference in Regina Saskatchewan, I got to pop in and see a talk about British Columbia’s Evergreen/Sitka project. The talk was split into explanation of how the project came about and then some actual demo-ing of the back end of their customized install of Evergreen. It was a great presentation. Not only was it packed with the sort of numbers and data you could take back to your director, but it made an open source ILS seem like a totally sensible and practical approach to system-wide ILSes which, of course, it is.

The BC libraries were doing a combination of some of their own modifications and working with Equinox to provide additional support and services. BC Libraries have a few computer science types on staff doing a lot of local coding. Their system runs on a single server [no big servers in every library basement!] and remote libraries connect to it via the internet without any significant lag at top load of almost 550 circs a minute!

Sharon Herbert and Sabina Iseli-Otto gave the presentation and here are just a few things I have from my notes.

  • Link to the Sitka project page. They rebranded the project SITKA from BC Pines to give it a more local BC flavor. This is just a small point but one that bears repeating, you can call your ILS anything you want. You don’t have to tell your patrons “Hey look it up in the web opac bistro portal…”
  • In addition, each separate library that is using the system will have their OPAC have its own “skin” so that it looks the library it’s a part of. You can see the skins here: Fort Nelson, Prince Rupert, Powell River. This is not big stuff but it can definitely make an online catalog
  • Searchable version of the catalogue.
  • The women on the panel recommended people read Marshall Breeding’s Library Technology report about Next Generation Library catalogs where he says that the numbers are indicating that libraries currently have “more uncertainly than trust in their library vendors”
  • The OPAC project is just part of the general strategic plan that BC Libraries are doing which includes a One Card program a build-a-website using Plone, chat reference and other features.
  • One of the fear-allaying things that they talked about was the age old “what if the internet is down?” problem. While I feel that, in 2008, making plans about what do do when your library has no internet is a little like making plans for having no electricity, it does happen and it’s useful if an OPAC can function somewhat and also gracefully recover. According to Sharon Hebert, Sitka’s ability to do this is actually fairly impressive.
  • The women stressed “gap analysis” as part of the project rollout, evaluating what is missing from what they have, and making plans to build or buy it. Apparently a known downside to Evergreen is its inability to do something (can’t recall) with serials? Not only is the BC team going to identify and try to rectify this problem, but the joy of open source means they’ll be fixing it for everyone.
  • They estimated that BC libraries spend upwards of 750K in “operating and licensing” costs for existing OPACs. With licensing down to, well, zero, this frees up a lot of cash to pay programmers and support servers and other infrastructure. The goal is to have no libraries be paying more for Sitka than they pay for their existing ILSes.

The big elegant point where was one of competence and capability. As they said “As we demonstrate successes, others come around.” This was clearly a presentation designed to show the possibilities and the capabilities of something that to many seems like far off fantasy-land ideas but they’ve made it very real and very practical. I’m glad I got the time to see this before my talk.

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