Another Run at Koha

I’ve remained a huge fan of Koha and when we approached a migration off our integrated library system vendor, I’d hoped that it would be an option for our law library. Unfortunately, some of the modules a law library needs were either not available or too new for us to bet on, and being a county law library, we couldn’t afford the development costs that came along with the effort. Instead, we ended up choosing a commercial ILS that could be remotely hosted (like Koha) and was entirely Web based. I’m purposely not mentioning the other vendors because the spotlight should be on Koha.  It continues to improve and remains a great hope for any library who is seeking that middle way, between getting a proprietary system that costs a lot for little improvement, or building a custom, personalized system that may not have a long life.  I’m looking forward to its development and know that one of the emerging open source ILS will be a successful market competitor soon.

Back to Koha

I tried a Koha installation a few years ago to see how it worked, to get into the back of it.  With a bit of spare time, as well as some incentives related to the Ohio county law libraries, I decided to upgrade and see how it looked.  It looks great, and although Windows is clearly the less popular platform for serving it, it’s still a highly functional resource for Windows-only libraries that need an ILS.

The guidelines for installing on Windows are a bit dated, and should only be taken as a starting point.  All of the software used – Activestate’s Active Perl, MySQL AB’s MySQL, and Apache’s Apache Web server – appear to have gone through an upgrade.  My installation used ActivePerl 5.8.8.818, MySQL 5.0, and Apache 2 for Win32.  A lot of the support e-mails I found when battling one significant installation problem appeared to be somewhere between MySQL 4.1 and 5.0, and generally near ActivePerl 5.8, so I think this isn’t too far off what’s a reasonable foundation for Koha.  Winmysqladmin is no longer part of the MySQL package, so be sure to download both the new monitor (replaces the old traffic light) and GUI administrator if you need them, as I do.  I was also sad to see that MySQL Front is no longer (a) called the same thing and (b) free.

DBI on Windows

The issue with using a Z39.50 server on Windows remains a problem (there isn’t one!) but I also had an issue with the Perl scripts that generate the Web pages making a connection to the database.  I did a number of searches on the error message and finally realized that the Koha/koha database user was not authenticating to the server, even though I could use the same authentication information through the GUI MySQL administrator.  The error was:  “Client does not support authentication protocol”.  This was the definitive answer on how to fix it, boiling down to the fact that you need to add:

old_passwords

to your MySQL my.ini file in order to have MySQL handle the login properly.  So many thanks to mglatts who gave the answer in the MySQL forums (there were other, similar answers, but this was the clearest and easiest to understand for the unwashed, like me).

Live Koha

And that was it.   A few hours work, mostly spent on fixing the MySQL <> Koha connection.  Not that it was all easy sailing.  The Koha installer isn’t perfect (it’s clearly marked beta) but it puts everything in place.  The biggest problem I had was that my ActivePerl install hung at the “creating html documentation” step.  The best part about the Koha installer, whatever its flaws, is that you can run it again and have it update just the items you need – in my case, the MySQL information – without having to retrace your steps in configuring the files.  Some items to keep in mind, though:

  • Koha.conf is pointing a folders and database that do not exist.  You need to update them to reflect what is actually located in your /mysql/data folder, and your /usr/koha224/… folders (in my case).
  • You’re doing this already, right?  But be sure to backup your Apache httpd.conf file.  I’m not sure if this was what was intended, but I interpreted the guidelines to mean that the install was going to modify but not replace the httpd.conf file.  But it does completely overwrite your file.  Since I have other virtual hosts, and some other settings (like using mod_rewrite), it required a line-by-line walkthrough.  Big tears, right?  Just something to remember.

So, for someone who’s got reasonable technical skills (well below a developer though), this took about 5-6 hours all told.

Enhancements

One of the happiest improvements is that Joshua Ferraro has included the Nelsonville Public Library templates to the system.  The template is a significant improvement over the base template.  You can change the Intranet (staff interface) template in the standard setup for Koha, system preferences.  What I noticed, though, is that changing that item does not change the default OPAC template.  But you can add your own system preferences, and one that you can find discussed on the many Koha discussion list message is “opacthemes”.  If you make that NPL too, then you get a nice OPAC interface as well.  Templating is one thing I’m going to spend time on because, if I can ever give anything back to the Koha project, it will be more at this level than at the development end!

Adding Content

I started off with a blank database (blank224) so as not to have delete sample records.  I was immediately impressed by the import functions of Koha.  I downloaded 4 MARC records from the Library of Congress online catalog, a free resource, both to search and download records.  Libraries using OCLC records or getting records from a service probably wouldn’t need this but I wanted to see how well it worked.  I saved the records in the LOC’s Unicode file option, named it loc.txt and saved it to my desktop.  The import utility inside Koha brought them right in and sent them directly to the “reservoir” review file.  Obviously, it would still need a bit of work, but it was easy to set up an item tied to my “branch” and have the record appear in the OPAC.  One irritation I still have with the Koha staff side is how to browse the reservoir after the import to see what’s come in.

Ego Mania – Personal ILS!

No, it’s not because I think I can benefit from having my own personal online library (although I think I am going to give that a shot! Hahaha).  Ohio’s county law libraries remain under the gun from our legislators and county commissioners, and we are trying hard to cooperate more than in the past.  This will help to offset likely materials cuts, if not the outright closing of some county law libraries.  I see Koha as being a possible hub for sharing information and allowing the smaller county law libraries in Ohio having an opportunity to make their collections available, and getting access to their colleagues materials more quickly than in the past.  We’ll see if it works out that way!