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.