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Koha community squares off against commercial fork

May 13, 2010, 21:33 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nathan Willis)

"Koha is the world's first open source system for managing libraries (the books and periodical variety, that is), and one of the most successful. In the ten years since its first release, Koha has expanded from serving as the integrated library system (ILS) at a single public library in New Zealand to more than 1000 academic, public, and private libraries across the globe. But the past twelve months have been divisive for the Koha community, due to a familiar source of argument in open source: tensions between community developers, end users, and for-profit businesses seeking to monetize the code base. As usual, copyrights and trademarks are the legal sticks, but the real issue is sharing code contributions.

"Koha was originally written in 1999 by New Zealand's Katipo Communications, spearheaded by developer Chris Cormack. Katipo was contracted to build an ILS for the Horowhenua Library Trust (HLT) to replace its aging (and Y2K-bug-vulnerable) system, and to release the code under an open source license. The name Koha is a Māori word for a reciprocal gift-giving custom.

"The first public release was made in 2000. Over the years, Koha usage grew, and several businesses popped up to provide support and customization services for Koha-using libraries; as with many infrastructure applications, the ongoing support of an ILS is the real expense. An ILS not only serves as an electronic "card catalog" system for library patrons, but handles acquisitions, circulation tracking, patron account management, checkout, search, and integration with other cataloging systems for inter-library loan. Libraries do not change ILS vendors quickly or lightly."

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