Koha Library Catalog Alternative

I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, espouse an entirely open source world. People who avoid it have good reasons to do so, I’m sure and, frankly, there is a level of interest and time that has to be involved that even I’m not willing to invest in some areas. I was unsure whether Koha, a library catalog (or online public access catalog, OPAC), was going to fall into the latter category. I could not have been more wrong.

My interest in Koha (which means “gift” in Maori) began while teaching at the University of Illinois’s library school.  As with any topic area, it is necessary to stay current on new developments and since my area is technology, watching library technology trends is particularly important.

The Koha Project

The Koha project has been picking up steam over the last few years and it sounds like many more libraries are experimenting with it in the United States than were previously.  Developed in New Zealand by Katipo Communications, this Perl-based library system comes with circulation, acquisitions, and account management modules as well as a nice searchable interface for your patrons.  The administrative side shows its roots:  catalogues, and issues, and other nomenclature that sounds a bit unusual.  For the hard core technical services people, it supports machine readable cataloging (MARC), as well as both the import and export of records.

My tentative approach to the system wasn’t based on any feedback but rather that, like so many systems, it wasn’t built to run on Windows and it wasn’t recommended on the official Koha site.  But, underscoring the power of open source, it took very little time to find a source for a Windows installation file and directions.  Since I already run Apache for Windows and a mySQL database, I now had all the tools that I needed.

Installing Koha on Windows

The installation couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  I needed to install Perl and I used ActiveState‘s distribution, called ActivePerl.  Putting it in a particular folder (c:usr) is the only imperative from Koha’s standpoint.  Once installed, I ran the Koha installation file and it also went in like clockwork.

Upon restarting my Web server, I noticed that some things had changed that I had not anticipated.  First, the Koha install not only adds to the Apache configuration file (httpd.conf), it also replaces the current one.  This meant that, since I already had virtual hosts in addition to the ones added by Koha, I had to walk back through the configuration file to compare the differences between the files and conform the new file to the one Koha backed up.

This is not a complaint with the process – it’s an RTFM opportunity I’m sure – and in an environment where there’s a production instance of the Web site separate from the development site, these sorts of things could be sized up before it caused any anguish.  In my case, the anguish lasted about 15 minutes so it wasn’t a big deal!

Wrapping Up

The last step, since Koha says this isn’t for production servers and it isn’t configured to be that way, was to update my account with my dynamic IP DNS server to let them know I needed to add a third level domain for my new OPAC and my administrative console.  They now are accessible from opac.ofaolain.com and intranet.ofaolain.com.  The latter one required some coding to lock off the interface from general access but, again, the answers are all out on the Koha FAQ site or on Apache’s documentation site.

I’m still in early days with Koha but it appears to do just about anything a library could want to do and is limited only in the hardware that supports the installation and the skills and time available to the library that installs it.