Evergreen is an open source Integrated Library System (ILS) which is used by hundreds of libraries, particularly in North America.
The IISH is the only institution in Western Europe which has implemented Evergreen. Thinking about and implementing Evergreen has been a long process, which was successfully completed in 2014 with a technical upgrade. Special is, that the Institute eventually carried the migration all on its own.
Below are some experiences and recommendations, to share knowledge gleaned during this process with colleagues. More information is available from the author, Marja Musson.
Experiences with an open source ILS at the IISH
In 2008, it became clear that the Institute had to start looking for a new catalogue system. With the commercial product that we had, the upgrades became increasingly more difficult. This had to do, among other things, with modifications that were made especially for our institute in the past. Upgrades therefore became more and more expensive. The supplier also no longer wanted to support the product. When we had to look for a new Integrated Library System (ILS) in 2009, the policy of the Institute was: open source wherever possible, so we had matters in your own hands. That applied to all IT applications, therefore also to cataloguing. We set up a working party, supplemented by an outside employee who had extensive knowledge of open source ILS and communities surrounding these products. Research into open source ILS was difficult, because at the time there were virtually no libraries in Europe that made use of such software and worldwide it was still in its infancy. Lots of information was found on the Internet.
At the time we had to make a choice between KOHA and Evergreen (the only two ILS eligible), only the Rijksmuseum was implementing an open source ILS.
We were able to look at Koha there, but eventually the Evergreen serials module was the deciding factor for our choice. This was not yet well developed for KOHA (the holdings were not conforming to MARC21) and Evergreen was further ahead, although this was still in a final testing phase. In November 2009, we visited the Laurentian University in Sudbury (Canada) which already used Evergreen since 2007, so we could see it in action. We had confidence in the system as well as in the serials module, and so the choice was made.
The working party was then divided into smaller working parties that focused on various parts in preparation for the major migration: technical aspects of the migration, the authorities, serials and acquisitions. That was not easy, but eventually we did the migration of more than 1 million records ourselves.
In Western Europe, we are the only scientific institution using Evergreen. Evergreen is also used in Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, India, Mexico, Georgia and the United States.
Why open source?
For the commercial product that we had, the upgrades became increasingly more difficult. This had to do, among other things, with modifications that were made especially for our institute in the past. Upgrades therefore became more and more expensive.
With open source products one has a lot more control over the systems, without being dependent on third-parties, who charge a lot of money for all upgrades and modifications. Given the rapid changes in the field of making metadata available, exchange with other platforms, management and making available of digital collections, such independence is of great importance. Open source products offer much more flexibility and are eventually cheaper: you can do your own modifications, updates and migrations.
Another advantage we have experienced, is that you are forced to gain knowledge of the catalogue system as such (Evergreen in this case) and the cataloguing standard MARC21. Previously this knowledge was actually concentrated with one person, but with the developments concerning the availability of metadata and the rapid developments around digital collections, it is very important that such knowledge is shared and that the relationship between systems becomes clear to all. After all, if you do not properly catalogue in MARC21, this has a direct impact elsewhere in the processing chain.
During the preparations for the migration you will encounter all sorts of "deferred maintenance" and "incorrect" use of MARC21. This is inevitable when you have a long tradition of cataloguing and possess more than 1.2 million records. A supplier will not easily say that something is not done according to MARC21 or charge a lot of money for modifications.
Now that we are busy getting our records in WorldCat, we can correct these mistakes ourselves. That makes the upload to WorldCat cheaper.
Understanding takes time
Especially in the beginning, it took a lot of time to understand the system itself. If you are accustomed to years of working with the same catalogue system, the switch to a new system takes time getting used to.
In fact, a catalogue such as Evergreen does the same as a commercial product, but that may be in a different way from the one you are used to. That needs to be investigated. In addition, people tended to forget that in the past the supplier had already made many modifications - as asked for by the IISH - so you almost took for granted they would be there in a new system. Then people soon say that the system is flawed, which is not true. Communication surrounding such a project is very important.
In the beginning you need a lot of help from a developer and preferably someone with knowledge of catalogue systems (system librarian). It took us more than a year trying to understand the system, to make adjustments and to migrate. That does not necessarily apply to others. It depends on the knowledge, human resources and therefore also on money. In the long term, you are better off. Sharing knowledge is not only important in the organization but also in the Evergreen community and for potential users.
In 2014, we have conducted a major technical upgrade. This was necessary because after two years of working with it, there turned out to be some things that were not configured correctly from the start. At the same time the technical documentation was put in order.
The manuals for the use of Evergreen are in an open source database in a wiki environment.
What has Evergreen brought?
• No longer dependent on suppliers to make large bulk mutations and modifications or to perform upgrades. Thus cost saving.
• Less dependent on IT staff to perform minor modifications, improvements or to create reports.
• Broad knowledge of MARC21 among employees, not only in the collection processing department, but also in the IT department.
• Easier to make metadata from Evergreen available to other platforms, or for use in other applications within the organization.
Do’s and Don’ts
• Ensure that the management supports it. In the beginning you need a lot of time from a developer to configure the system correctly as well as for the first migration
• Make contact with users and the community and give them something in return (e.g. new applications that also benefit other libraries)
• You are not left entirely to your own devices: in addition to the community, there are some companies that - for a fee - can help you with migrations, upgrades or special modifications. The IISH did not have to make use of this.
• Do not automatically assume that an open source is flawed, because it does not contain certain applications. Often these were made specifically for your organization in the past and built into the old catalogue system or is it just works differently
• With open source products, it is tempting to make all kinds of modifications for your own organization. Do not develop things within your catalogue system that do not belong there at all. Other systems may often be better suited.