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Why We Chose Koha: A Support Company's Perspective

So a question that I have been getting a lot recently is why ByWater chose to support Koha over any other open source ILS system. It is true that when Brendan and I first started this company we had just as much experience with Koha as we did with any other open source system currently available. So why Koha?

There were many factors which fed into our decision to support Koha and build our company around this open source project. The first was the fact that Koha has been around for over ten years and the community is made up of hundreds of very passionate individuals who protect the interests of the community with a great deal of gusto. Having a community such as this as our ally (assuming that we did our part in contributing to the greater good and kept our toes in line) was a huge draw. When it comes to an open source project, it is all about the community, and when it comes to community, size, passion and involvement are what really matter. Also, the Koha community has been faced with its drama and struggles in the past and has come out on top every time. This shows a resilience and stamina that we could not find with any other system. The diversity and involvement of the community did not stop at the users and developers, but also continued on to the companies that support Koha. There is plenty of healthy competition within the community and plenty of choices for customers to review prior to making a decision. Some companies would see this as a negative, but for Brendan and me it gave us a field in which we could compare our services to others, as well as act as a constant motivation to continually enhance our services. There will be another ByWater nipping at our heels one day and we will always be ready for it.

Another factor that was a huge reason for us choosing Koha was that it is web based. When talking about a library’s ILS this is huge. It adds flexibility regarding support and implementation as well as added response time for fixing issues that may arise. Plus libraries would not have to worry about or pay for software to be installed on each and every computer in their library. It offers the flexibility to be extremely scalable; Koha is not only adoptable by large systems, for which it gets better and better with each release, but it is also very adoptable by smaller institutions. Many ILSs that are created for huge state wide systems do not scale down as well as Koha, and for smaller, more remote libraries, (even if they are part of that larger system) having a staff client is too expensive to implement and too difficult to support, especially if they are not automated. So all in all Koha gave much more flexibility that other options that we saw out there.

The third big reason why we chose to support Koha was the fact that it is a sexy piece of software. The usability and intuitiveness of the system is unmatched; both in the open source and proprietary ILS realms. The look and feel of both the OPAC and the staff interface is very pleasing to the eye, and many ILS systems are just now starting to see the importance of how the system looks. Rounded buttons and properly implemented fonts, although you may not think they are the most important thing, really do carry lots of weight, just look at Apple for proof of that… A library’s OPAC is their sales tool, and we wanted to make sure that tool was good looking and customizable.

Of course there were many other factors that we took into account when deciding on which ILS to move forward with, but it is important to notice that the actual nitty gritty functionality of the software systems did not concern us as much as I thought that it would have. We did not need to put together a 300 page document listing every system administrative preference for each ILS to see who was the winner in our eyes. Lets face it, the general functionality of any ILS system in a certain class will more or less be very similar. When looking at an open source system, what REALLY matters is the usability of the system, the potential that exists to constantly improve upon it, and the number of people interested and involved in making that happen. If you don’t believe me, just ask the 2,000+ users what they think.

Read more by Nathan Curulla

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