Where goes Koha?

Yesterday I participated in my first IRC session in 14 years.  The occation was a meeting with Koha users and developers on the formation of a Koha foundation. The background is that the US company LibLime has decided to fork Koha, and establish an “Enterprise” edition.  The reasons behind are hard to understand, and for me who just joined the Koha community it seems like a huge departure from the idea of open source, and actually a departure from the idea of sharing that libraries stand for as well.

Since I first discovered Koha a few years ago I have followed the development through information from LibLime and thought they did a wonderful job of promoting open source and still survive as a company by selling services instead of products.  I have held this model up as a possible avenue of survival for norwegian ILS vendors and generally shouted out LibLime praise.

Since the news of the LibLime fork I have tried to understand the implications and how it will affect my library and installation. Fortunately Libriotech who implements our Koha installation and is our main service provider has clearly stated that they stand by the open source version of Koha and that they will not depart from the development and contribution model that has brought Koha to the point where it is today.

LibLime has brought upon its head a lot of dissapointment from developers around the world, and quite a few librarians react to this news as well. I am thus joining the choir of disaproval:-)

But yesterday I participated in a discussion that made me worry about the future of Koha. The purpose of the discussion was to establish some sort of organization that could take ownership of the Koha development and brand and hopefully avoid the situation we have today where LibLime owns the domain name koha.org and in the US have registered a Koha Foundation.

So the community is at a loss. What do we do now? Try to make a foundation that can take care of all the stuff that comes with an organization (for that is in reality what the development and use of Koha is turning into) or just try keep things going the way they have so far?

I know one thing, IRC is not a god format for discussions like this. I know that most of the participants where used to IRC from discussions and meetings on the development of Koha, but for a newbie like me, or any other “normal” librarian, it was a bevildering stream of text flashing by at a speed it was hard to keep up with. I tried to contribute but felt that what I wrote was injected into a totally different discussion than the one I responded to and it was hard to answer questions when things moved so fast.

I also noticed a distinct disinclination to try to organize things or try to build some sort of traditional structure. I mentioned that I thought we should approach IFLA and see if the only truely international library organization could possibly help in this case, but the response was that IFLA is to slow and to bureaucratic. I have thought about this and realize that the culture of open source and the culture of IFLA are probably so different that it would be a bad fit for both. So scratch that idea for now. Maybe later if IFLA re-invents itself as an  organization oriented towards individual members and with a more tie-less structure.

Having initiated and led the Norwegian Library Association special interest group for ICT in libraries (SIKT) I have experience enough to know that starting a foundation or association for Koha is going to take a lot of work, and a more hierarchical structure than we have today. I also think that the users, i.e. the libraries, should be in the driving seat, not the developers and open source enthusiasts. Librarians are pretty good at organizing things, and Koha exists for the libraries and their users. It would probably be a good idea if some librarians in one geographical area, that actually can meet and discuss f2f, develop a proposal of alternatives (not more than two or three) for how a Koha foundation/association could be set up, and then present this to the Koha community for discussion. Then we must have a meeting, an IRL meeting, that establishes the entity in a way that is recognizable to librarians around the world as a point they can approach for information and help in all questions relating to Koha. Yesterday I felt that the discussion was too fragmented, the options not clear and the realities of our situation too complex to do justice on IRC.

Marshall Breeding have put forth a suggestion on how to organize Koha as foundation and even if I find his thougths interesting I cannot see that his proposal would work as an international entity the way I see  neccesary for the needs for my library. Maybe we need to develop regional structures that all contribute to an international structure? An European Koha association, an US, an Asian etc.? There seems to be so many questions that it will take a while to sort them out. And sorting out messes is what librarians do so well. So, why not let the professionals do that, and let developers and companies contribute and play an auxillary role? I totally agree with Marshall Breeding in that we need to have libraries as the driving force behind the development here, for the simple reason that libraries survive and stay where individual companies and developers come and go.

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Posted in IFLA, ILS, Koha, Library Associations 2.0, worries
12 comments on “Where goes Koha?
  1. Magnus Enger says:

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying here, Thomas, but not the somewhat pessimistic tone… ;-) I think Koha has needed some kind of “governing” structure for a long time, and now it looks like something is happening.

    I agree wholeheartedly that libraries and librarians should be in the driving seat, the big question is how to get them involved?!?

    In the short term I think apporaching the Horowhenua Library Trust (HLT) will be best. I think they have the “moral weight” to “demand” to be made the caretakers of Koha assets, since they set the ball rolling in the first place. And they re library-oriented, not developer-oriented, which might help set the ball rolling in that direction.

    Koha FTW!

  2. I agree that HLT is probably the best short term solution, and that a long term solution is something that we should take really good time to develop. I hope I don’t sound too pessimistic, but yesterday I left the IRC session with a bad feeling, that is reflected in the post. I should have known that with so many great people working on Koha there will be a good solution to this that will bring us forward:-)
    As to how to get librarians involved? Get of IRC is one thing, set up a forum that is more easy to participate in, and invite people for special occations, interesting topics that are not too technical.

  3. Magnus Enger says:

    Have you tried the main mailing list? http://lists.katipo.co.nz/mailman/listinfo/koha A lot of the traffic is about finding solutions to more or less technical problems, but I think the ratio of librarians to developers is higher there than on IRC. Today that is probably the best venue for discussions that do not have to be “in real time”.

  4. Paul Poulain says:

    > I know one thing, IRC is not a god format for discussions like this
    well, Thomas, I must say i’m a geek, I use the chat heavily, but I totally agree that yesterday IRC was dis-organized. Too many ppl, too many voices, no leader.
    Otherwise, i’m not pessimistic as well. In fact, I think we are in the time of “birth pains”. Once the hard time is gone, i’m sure we will have calm & organized things.
    I think I don’t under-estimate the time and efforts needed to build a foundation, and probably that’s why it’s not already done now!!!

    About IFLA: I said I know someone from IFLA board, I’ll ask him

  5. Owen Leonard says:

    IRC certainly gives the advantage to those we are accustomed to it, and whose native language is being spoken. I appreciate you attending and contributing your opinion. I didn’t come away from the meeting with the impression that IFLA was rejected outright. I think all options are still on the table.

    Our ultimate goal is to have a self-organized Koha-specific organization. I would love for it to be library-driven, but for the time being it is the developers who most urgently feel the need for it. In my experience many librarians are still learning about what Open Source means. That might mean it’s too soon to ask for them to take the lead. On the other hand, I *don’t* favor a foundation/association which is only developer-centric.

  6. Owen: I see your point about the developer feeling the need for organizing more than librarians. I hope we can bring as many librarians on board as soon as possible so that we get as large as possible pool of talent and skills in the organization, whatever it will become.

    Paul: Great if you as an IFLA insider. Will be interesting to hear. I think there is a vendor group there, so it should for instance be possible to organize an open source library systems group maybe? To cover all FOSS library systems?

    I´m really happy that all of you are more optimistic than me on this issue. This is one case where I´ll be extremely happy to be proven wrong:-)

  7. [...] Where goes Koha? « Librarian 1.5 a few seconds ago from web [...]

  8. Ragni Zlotos says:

    As you know, Thomas, I am very curious about how the Koha thing will work out in Norway. So I really hope, this problem will be solvable, and I just wanted you to know, that I would like to help.

    I think it would be interesting to have a meeting with other Koha-interested librarian on the conference in Bergen 12th/13th november. This would be a great case to understand the nuts and bolts of community-developed software. And hopefully find ideas/people to overcome them.

  9. [...] Community. Thomas Brevik has suggested that there may be a role for an organisation like IFLA,  Where goes Koha? Roy Tennant has compared the commercial forking of Koha to that of Redhat Linux, Liblime to the [...]

  10. [...] när jag såg det här om Koha och LibLime så dök det upp en massa tankar och bekräftade aningar. Dock måste jag samla mig något. Men [...]

  11. Having been involved with several start-ups, I agree that starting a foundation or association for Koha is going to take a lot of work and I wonder how many of the community have similar experiences.

    While I agree that libraries must be involved as equal members, I completely disagree with the ideas that the developers should be disenfranchised, that the organisation should be hierarchical, or that geographical star-chambers are a good way to start developing the organisation. In effect, we’ve already had one geographical star-chamber developing the Ohio-registered Koha Software Foundation and look where that’s got us!

    I’m sorry to read that you found the IRC too overwhelming. I agree at one level, which is part of the reason I’m not active there all day every day, but I hope that we can do enough by email and on blogs like this to keep everyone involved. Maybe you could blog a call to librarians to fill out the survey at http://wiki.koha.org/doku.php?id=vote_in_prelim_survey

    If you help, maybe we can get more well-informed librarians involved in forming the organisation?

  12. Joann Ransom says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I am very optimistic that Koha will be fine going forward, despite the problems currently being worked through with Liblime. They are only 1 vendor and the solid progress which has been made to get 3.2 ready – without Liblime’s contributions – is real proof of the reilience of Koha.

    Keep participating!

    Cheers Jo.

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