Monday, May 2, 2011

Squeeze Me

Saturday night's upgrade of our Koha server from the 32-bit 'Lenny' version of the Debian Linux operating system to the new 64-bit 'Squeeze' version went perfectly. I started the 'mysqldump', a full back-up of our Koha database, at shortly after 6pm and we were finished with the upgrade by 8:30 pm, with the exception of the reindexing of the bibs and authorities to rebuild the Zebra databases which finally finished Sunday morning.

In preparation I had created several sets of 'tar' backups over the past week of folders that wouldn't be changing, as well as a separate full backup of the '/home/koha' folder, (just wanted to be on the safe side), and had already ftp'd - copied - all of these to my machine for storage so all I had to copy Saturday night was the final 'mysqldump'. I had also downloaded the new Debian 'Squeeze' software, as well as the new 'drivers' file for this version, and created a DVD so that the upgrade would be much faster than pulling all the essential files from the network.

After I had the upgraded server back online, Jared from ByWater Solutions logged in to do the install of the Koha software -- the same version as we were on before, load the mysqldump that I had restored to the server into MySQL 5.1- that was upgraded as well; to make sure that everything was configured properly for Perl, Apache, and mail services; and that the SIP and cronjobs were restarted properly. Jared is very knowledgeable and thorough. I was able to watch what he was doing to setup our Koha server. He was very patient and willing to offer instructions as he went along so I could learn our system and the software better, which I personally that was very helpful and generous.

Everything seems to be working as it should and it is QUICK!! We are now able to access all 4Gb RAM on the server and now have almost 8GB of swap memory in use, so without changing any hardware we just tripled our usable memory which translates to more horsepower for Koha. I am confident that when staff login on Monday and proceed through their normal activities of the day they will see an immediate improvement in performance.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Has Been Happening in Arcadia?

Sorry it's taken so long for the next blog. Arcadia Public Library has been up on Koha for 4 1/2 months now. Cathi and I have received serveral questions concerning our foray into open source but just the day to day operations of the Library has kept us away from this blog.

While we have had many issues with Koha, wishing that the system worked "just like the old ILS" we believe that the migration was the right answer for us. I am enclosing some of the questions that we have recently answered:

  • Is Koha answering our needs? For the most part, yes. We are able to do circulation, search the catalog, catalog new material. It has been very easy to use, in fact training is accomplished much faster than with our previous system.

  • Have you resolved most of your problems? We have, or at least we are learning how to do some tasks differently. Receipt printing, while it works, it still has some bugs, for us. (We were told that it isn't a Koha problem, rather a browser problem. At the moment we are using IE but want to experiment with browsers.) Holds, sometimes it gives the new title to the second person in line, not the first. ( We think this might have been a migration issue.) Collecting fines is rather clunky. Taking a partial payment for an item is not available, so workarounds were developed. The Authorities functions are very limited. (I know that this frustrates the catalogers more than anything but then again they are making do. ) The catalogers feel that everything takes longer with Koha. Reports - there are several reports available for staff to use, also we can use MySQL reports that others have set up (available on the Koha wiki.) It still takes us awhile to tweak the reports for what we want. Luckily, ByWater Solutions, will write any reports that we need as part of our contract. Notices- We sent our email reminders, items due, long overdue, and holds from the beginning. Finally in late March we started sending our printed notices. Acquisitions- This doesn't work the way we want it to... it would mean loading bibrecords twice, once for Acquisitions and then for the catalog. The system doesn't work with any of the materials vendors yet. (We use Baker and Taylor primarily.) And finally, we are the first Koha library that sends collection information to Unique Management Services. We "think" we have this finally ironed out. We started sending this information on April 1.

  • Would you do this again? Yes, knowing what we know now, we would still opt for open source. While Koha doesn't have every little feature that SirsiDynix had, we just couldn't afford them anymore. Every time we wanted to add a SIP device there was additional costs and maintenance costs were high. And, we are really pleased with the customer service that we now receive. Since December we have had three large patches to the system to resolve some of our initial problems.

I hope that I'm not painting too rosy a view of the system. We have had some performance issues. There are times when the staff complains about the slowness of the system. And we have had three times where the system froze on us for around 20-40 minutes. (The last time this happened was at least a month ago and ByWater went in and checked for issues. I believe that the problem had to do with MySQL... not Koha.) This Saturday evening, ByWater Solutions and Cathi will be upgrading some of our server and application software to give us better performance. I'll leave it up to Cathi to explain what happened.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Edgy Librarian

Today, Cathi and I will be interviewed on the day-long webinar conference called The Edgy Librarian. Along with staff from Los Gatos Public Library, another new Koha library, we will be interviewed by Lori Bowen Ayre from Open Source, Open Libraries . This program will be from 1:00 -1:50 or so, PST.

Here are the questions that Lori will be asking us:

1- Why did you decide to go with Open Source and why did you choose Koha instead of Evergreen?

2- Did you face any resistance at your Library about your decision and if so, what were the objections?

3- If you have participated in any other migrations from one ILS to another, how would you compare this experience to that (and identify any differences in the process that specifically are related to the new ILS being Open Source).

4- What did you anticipate would be the hardest part of moving to Koha? And what WAS the hardest part?

5- What did you anticipate would be the best part of moving to Koha? And, what IS the best part?

6- What would you say to other libraries thinking about migrating from their ILS? Would you recommend an Open Source ILS? Koha?

Cathi and I submitted our answers to Lori ahead of time so she could include them in her blog. At our latest Koha Task Force, we also asked the Committee the same questions. On the next blog, we will give their answers.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Koha Concerns

As we have reminded our staff, there have "always" been issues when we've migrated to a new integrated library system (ILS). But memories are often selective. Change continues to bother some of our staff. While we are making headway with many of our migration problems, there are still some bothersome issues to be resolved in the future.
  • The Slowness of the System: This happens sporadically throughout the day but at this point we can't pinpoint what the issue is. On January 12, around 5:45pm until 6:00pm, the Circulation workstations slowed down so much that the staff felt they should log out and log in again. The Children's staff noticed this too. However, most staff have had occasions where they wait for the system to catch up before going on to the next search. Cathi is thinking that it might have to do with indexing that happens throughout the day... but we aren't sure.

  • Diacritics - We are encountering issues with searching by title when there are diacritics in it-we can't find the record, however by keyword it pops right up. Also there are problems with linking authority records that contain diacritics.

  • Self-Check Machines - We have added separate SIPs for each of our machines so they do not timeout any longer, but another issue has appeared. We have noticed that there are certain bar codes that can crash the self-check stations, but they don't crash the regular check-out stations. We have discovered that these bar codes are part of the diacritics issue (see item above).

  • Downloadable Audio Books - We added another SIP for our MyILibrary . There seems to be an issue with authenticating through our external IP address from the Ingram site. We hope to work this out soon since we are paying for this service and not able to use it.

  • Bookdrop - We use the bookdrop check-in function in the morning so that we won't charge patrons for materials they have dropped off over night. We have noticed that this function doesn't always work properly. Sometimes it charges a fine, while at other times it doesn't. We're not sure if we trust it.

  • Authorities - Links within bib records that are selected by catalogers are "unlinking" over the weekend when the "linking bibs to authorities" script is run. The documentation hasn't been helpful in determining exactly how Koha uses authority records and how the linking works.

  • Holds - 1) Holds may remain on the patron's record, even though the item is checked out to the patron. 2) A hold notice may be sent to two patrons for the same item. The patron that is "first" on the list is usurped by the second person. Since this happens sporadically, we are not able to duplicate this... yet. 3) Sometimes the hold is not caught by the system... patrons really get upset when they find their book on the shelf. [Some of this "may" be staff error, we're just not sure.]

  • Receipt Printing - We are currently using IE for circulation functions since we couldn't get the printing to work at all from Firefox or Chrome. We would really like the receipts to print automatically but for now we must select the Print function for each individual receipt. Currently, Circulation makes date due slips to pass out since the procedure mentioned above slows them down.

  • Collections - We use Unique Management Services for credit reporting. So far we haven't been able to run a satisfactory report to track patrons currently on the list, add overdue patrons to the list nor to remove them from the list after paying their fines. Part of the issue is that the Patron Attribute fields, though intended to be searchable, are not and that makes finding these delinquent patrons difficult. Another part of the issue is that once the delinquent patrons begin paying down their balances we're not able to easily track and record that activity. There have been some suggestions from ByWater Solutions but no success yet. [Shhhh... don't tell our patrons!]

  • Reports - We are still fine tuning reports. ByWater Solutions has helped out by setting up some SQL Reports for us but in some cases we have found that the canned reports work just as well. I find Holds Queue, Holds to Pull, Hold Ratio specifically helpful.

  • Migration Issue - We had around 6,000 items that were migrated to the "Book Cart" location because their location in the old system didn't translate properly into the new one. David Dolim, one of our Reference Librarians, ran a report so we knew what was in the Book Cart location. Then, Cathi, using the "Batch Item Modification" utility moved these items to their correct shelving location. I really love this feature! It made a very time consuming task much more manageable. We have found all sorts of other uses for this utility.

  • Bookcover Images - We have paid for a subscription to Syndetics Solutions for bookcovers and reviews, etc. but I have been frustrated that it is so unsatisfactory. When I compared our old catalog with the new, many more images loaded onto the SirsiDynix OPAC than into the Koha OPAC. We have been unable resolve this problem.

Of course, none of these are deal breakers. We are still pleased with our decision to go with Koha. I'm hoping that these problems will be resolved quickly and that staff will continue to adapt to those procedures that are new.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cheerleading continues

Cathi and I really try to paint a positive view of our Koha experience, especially for the staff. I've been asked by some staff members how I can keep my cool with some of the problems that we have had with the migration. It's simple, it doesn't do anyone any good when the project leader loses focus. We want the staff to know that we have confidence in the system and that we will work out all the bugs.

We continue with our weekly Koha Task Force meetings. I have asked the members to not only let us know the new or on-going problems that they encounter but also any fixes or work-arounds that have resolved problems during the week. I think there are times that the problems resolved are forgotten.

I have also asked that the staff present a more positive view of the system to our patrons. Too often staff will blame the new system when it's really their own inexperience of how the system works. We certainly don't want the public to be skeptical about the new system.... they will question every time that they need to pay a fine. They will blame it on the new system too.

Today, we are at the one month mark of using Koha! We have had more publicity, ArcadiaPatch did a really nice interview with our Library Director, Carolyn Garner-Reagan. Next week we will be meeting with another local library concerning our migration. They are also thinking about migrating to Koha.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Holiday Present

We had our usual weekly Koha Task Force meeting today. And while we still have some outstanding issues, this week we were able to check some items off the list.
  1. New Patrons are now being limited to only five items for check-out. (At first, it was unlimited charges.)
  2. Patrons are now limited to only five movie DVD's. (At first it was unlimited)
  3. Receipts for check-outs are now available. (For the first couple of days, we were unable to get any.) We still need to tweak them but much better.
  4. We now have items/holdings attached to bibrecords for on-order material. This was a big problem for us. Now patrons/staff are able to place holds for these titles.
  5. Authorities are working!! This is a big one. Cathi assured me that new authorities were being added to the catalog when we first migrated to Koha however that hasn't been the case for the past two weeks. The catalogers have been tearing our their hair in frustration and the reference staff has wondered why new books haven't come out of Technical Services. Today, we finally have resolved this problem.
  6. It looks like discarding is working as it should though not as we want it to. If we delete the last item/holding attached to a bib record the bib is not deleted as well. We must delete that bib record manually. We don't understand why it takes awhile for this to show up in the catalog. Does it have to do with the zebra indexing?

So, this week's accomplishments were an outstanding holiday present to Cathi and me. Now we have three days off from work... no thinking about Koha!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Koha - 2nd week

Look! It's now official... we made the news services Arcadia Public Library Goes Live With Koha.

We still have some issues to iron out, but we are making progress. As with the last post, many of the problems we face are not knowing that what we put in the initial profile for the "test" system may not act as we really want it to in the "live" system. For instance, we "thought" we had set up "Circulation and Fine Rules" correctly only to realize that the system wasn't limiting DVD charges to 5 per patron for seven days. After trying a few combinations, we now have that working correctly. We are a single library so thought using the "default" settings that we'd created was correct, but we actually needed to create settings and select the configuration our specific library.

We have a problem with adding new bibliographic records from the Marc Import. It looks like Koha doesn't automatically attach a holding or item to the new records so our patrons (and staff) haven't been able to place holds on newly purchased material until they are cataloged. We have come up with a work around for this, at least until this issue is considered by development for an enhancement, by using MarcEdit to add the necessary 952 fields (a, b, c, y) to the Marc Import file before it is staged so that the temporary item record is created when the new bib record is imported into the catalog.

Authority records are not showing up in the catalog. Cathi has been downloading files from Technical Services but these records are showing as available authorities when the catalogers need them. We have a ticket in for this with our consultant team, ByWater Solutions.

The most troubling problem is that titles that were migrated aren't always searchable in the catalog and then in most cases reappear after the item is checked in even though it isn't actually checked out. This is puzzling to us. We know that a small percentage of our titles didn't migrate correctly from our old system, SirsiDynix Symphony, for one reason or another. For example the item barcodes that ended with a $ didn't migrate over correctly--the trailing $ was omitted. We are able to add the $ to the barcodes and this corrects the problem. This is an issue that we are fixing as the items turn up on a one-by-one basis.

I give kudos to the staff. Luckily the Christmas school vacation days are a slower time for the Library; it allows us to work out some of the kinks with the system. And while the staff continue to pass on problems/issues to Cathi and myself, they are still positive about the system.