Koha How-To

Monday Minutes: What the spam! Where are those patron notices?

In this week's Monday Minutes Kelly and Jessie are joined by Evelyn, Systems Team at ByWater Solutions to discuss preventative measures with email spam in Koha.

You probably receive email spam and marketing messages regularly. But there is one difference between a spam message and a marketing message: permission. When a patron signs up for a library card, they most likely have opted in through your agreement with the library to receive notifications about their items at the library.

Email providers like Yahoo, Hotmail/outlook, and Gmail have been cracking down on spam for years. Most email providers have come up with standards on their own to crack down on spam and phishing scams.

Once an email is marked as spam, "the patron has clicked this is spam", patrons will no longer receive email notifications from your library. For example, when holds are available, a reminder to bring their item back to the library, or even an overdue notice. This blog post explains why this happens and what steps you can take to communicate with patrons on what they need to do next.

Spam Scenario

A patron sees an email come through and they mark it as spam. It could have been a reminder about an item due or a message from the library about a hold ready for pick up. If they have already marked an email from the library as spam, they most likely will not receive any additional notification emails from the library moving forward. Now, the next time they come in, and the hold they requested is no longer available, they are upset they weren’t notified. Whether it was an accidental or intentional marking of spam, the patron is certainly upset they didn’t receive the message.

Sometimes "spam score" is also affected by the domain you're mailing from too, even before the mail technically gets to the recipient! This is where DKIM/SPF/other alphabet soup stuff comes in. We talk fairly often about those things in tickets, and I've expanded on those a little in the Other Solutions section later on in this blog post.

What ByWater is doing for our hosted Koha partners

Members of our Systems team work diligently to track down why the message did not successfully get delivered to the patron. What we are seeing is that the email notifications are being delivered to the provider, however, the provider sees these messages as spam, and in return does not deliver the message.

So you are asking yourself, how can I prevent this from happening?

Examples to include in every notice you send

Adding a message at the bottom of each email will help providers establish that this message is coming from a reputable provider. There are 2 examples below to include in your notices. This document will provide you with some quick tips for customizations to notices.

Example 1

If you would like to opt out of non-mandatory email notifications, please visit <library opacurl> to manage your notification preferences.

Contact us at <library phone> if you need assistance or information on your account or notification preferences. For online access: <opac url>

Thank you for your patronage.

Example 2

You are receiving this email because you opted in through your agreement with the library.

For more information on library notifications, please contact us at <phone number>.

You have received this email because you're a valued library patron.

Please contact the library at <library email address> to adjust your email notification preferences.

Email Marketing

Koha has tools to send out notices outside of the normal notice process (such as Advanced Notices and Overdues), however, we do not recommend you use this tool for sending out a mass email to your patrons. For a library to go outside their standard amount of emails sent daily could throw up flags to indicate that this is a spammer. Once this flag has gone up, your library's email address will appear on Blacklists, and then future emails will be refused.

We would recommend looking into email marketing software to do this type of mass email, such as Mail Chimp or Constant Contact. We can easily retrieve all your patron emails through a report and then you can easily upload the patron emails into the outside email marketing software. Please let us know if you need assistance accessing a list of your patron's emails for this purpose. Here are 2 different reports you can run to retrieve all patron reports.

Report 1: All patron emails

SELECT email, emailpro, B_email
FROM borrowers

Report 2: Patron data with multiple emails and first/last name

SELECT firstname, surname, email, emailpro, B_email
FROM borrowers

Within the tools module, libraries can use the News feature to put a notice on the OPAC for patrons to see.

Here is a helpful blog post about using the News Feature. https://bywatersolutions.com/education/monday-minutes-utilizing-the-new-news-feature-for-opac-customization

Koha has a patron emailer plugin that was designed to send messages to patrons with specified text. This was not meant to serve as a full-time email marketing tool. If you are using this plugin as an email marketing tool, we would recommend (as mentioned above) looking into email marketing software to do this type of mass email, such as Mail Chimp or Constant Contact. If a library goes outside their standard amount of emails sent daily, this could throw up flags to indicate that this is a spammer.

Koha does have a feature that allows staff to generate and send custom notices based on report output. This is a great way to create multiple notices for different situations to notify your patrons. You can read more about this feature on Monday Minutes: Emailing Customized Patron Notices.

Other Solutions

Dedicated IP’s

An implementation through Amazon Web Services (AWS SES) which we're rolling out fairly slowly to protect the reputation/health of the Dedicated IP pool. This is done by asking our partners to each be mindful of the kind of messages that they send (ie: avoiding mass emailing through Koha/patron emailer) as well as requiring a footer in the emailed notices they do send from Koha.


Imagine Alice wants to send a letter to Bob but wants to make sure no one else can send letters to Bob pretending to be her, which would make Bob trust her letters less overall (rough explanation of spam score). She could use a special stamp (DMARC policy) on the envelope to ensure her mail is handled in a certain way.

When Alice hands her mail to her post carrier, the post carrier sees the special stamp and knows immediately to check for Alice’s return address (SPF record) and to compare her signature on the envelope with her known signature she’s provided the post office (DKIM). If those two elements are present and correct, the post carrier brings the letter to Bob (DMARC checks are complete and email is delivered). If they are not, the mail is given to a predetermined mailbox to follow further instructions given by Alice.

If a partner is sending mail through SES then they are asking SES to send on their behalf, so these special stamps require SES to put the return address and signature on the envelopes. It’s a simple process and only requires that the partner/the partner’s IT team be able to add to their DNS records.

To Recap

Pshew. That's a lot. To recap:

  • It takes a bit of communication with patrons to help them understand what types of notifications they are getting from the library and why they are important; instead of marking the email spam they may want like the suggestion of sending these notices to a less-used email box
  • Adding a message about these notifications in the notification is a great way to communicate the "why" behind these notifications
  • Koha is not built for email marketing but luckily there are a lot of other great tools out there that are! It's easy to run a report from Koha to gather your patron's emails and upload this into a dedicated marketing tool.
  • When it comes to spam, we're here to help! We know this can be a messy issue and we want what you want- to get useful notices into the hands of your patrons!

Read more by Jessie Zairo