Evergreen and Equinox with Karen G. Schneider

By Jason Griffey |

Most everyone reading this blog is familiar with Karen G. Schneider. As a recent member of the Techsource team, she has helped us all understand technology a little more clearly. Her new job as Community Librarian for Equinox Software, Inc. involves working to expand library and librarians knowledge about the Open Source ILS, Evergreen.

I was able to track her down, and ask her a few questions about Evergreen, libraries, and the ILS. As always, she never fails to inform.

What does Equinox and Evergreen bring to libraries that "traditional" ILS vendors and products might not?

First, Evergreen has robust, contemporary code—not that hodgepodge of old code typical of older, legacy products. It’s not even module-based; it’s built from the ground up around service-oriented architecture, which makes it uniquely compatible with the needs of libraries seeking to wed their ILS with other products. It’s great out of the box, but it’s inherently friendly to other products as well. Plus if you aren’t hiding your code, it’s much easier to interoperate with other products.

Second, the open source model is very different, and completely changes the conversation. In the old model, the proprietary code was the vendor’s prize product, to be hidden away (though sometimes they were hiding it for other reasons—like how bad it was). Librarians thought they were in the business of buying these products. But what happened? Buyer’s remorse quickly set in as soon as the librarians realized that this old model almost forces vendors to skimp on the real products—which are service and forward development.

The library environment is particularly well-suited for open source. We’re by nature a sharing profession, and we play well with others. Yet we’re never extravagantly funded and most of us are in the role of being careful stewards of the public’s money. The commercial open source model allows us to pay for support and this time, actually receive it, and it also means we are no longer subject to that most traumatic experience, vendor abandonment. I know librarians who were actually trained on Taos, the product DRA never delivered. I know librarians who signed contracts with companies that knew they were being bought out or going out of business and said nothing. Over and over again, old-style legacy companies made promises they couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver on, and we stood there waiting and waiting, and then had to turn to our stakeholders and say, “We wuz robbed!” With open source, we own our own code—and therefore, our own destiny.

Naturally, the closed-source vendors spread a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about open source, and administrators who came of age in the old paradigm can be susceptible to those stories. My favorite FUD of the moment is that open source isn’t “mature.” In our profession we are dragged down by software so “mature,” it cannot handle high transaction loads(Georgia PINES recently had a 100,000-circ day,and Evergreen didn’t bat an eye), cannot integrate with newer products, and looks and feels not a whole lot different than the DOS screen on my 1985 Commodore PC clone.

You know how you can tell open source works? First of all, people make money at it. (For another silly piece of FUD, I’ve been told “it took a lot of coding to turn Linux into Red Hat.” That’s all kinds of silly, not the least of which is that it’s not true… but this kind of nonsense underscores the desperation of a waning industry.) Second, every proprietary software company I can think of trusts open source software enough to use it in their own code.

How many libraries are currently using Evergreen, and what's the growth rate of adoption?

We’re updating stats this weekend. The growth rate has been nothing less than impressive, particularly in the consortial arena (though we know of one user who installed it for his home library!). Take a look at our news: http://esilibrary.com/esi/news.php

Is Evergreen better suited to a certain type or size of library, especially in regards to upkeep?

Remember that there’s Evergreen and Equinox. A library with developers can if they wish roll their own Evergreen migration. Equinox is there to support any size library. One PINES library is 300 square feet, while near the other end, another is 75,000. EG scales. I know square footage isn't the typical measurement used by data people, and it is important to look at *what* a library is doing, but coming from experience as a rural library director, I know what it's like to run a library smaller than 1,000 square feet, and you need software you can rely on. When you scale up, you need software comfortable with consortial capabilities, such as huge transaction loads and good deduping and the ability to manage different policies site to site.

But a particular strength of Evergreen is that it is designed to scale up very elegantly to large consortial settings, and is adeptly designed as a CLS—a Consortial Library System. (See this post  for more discussion.) This wide-area resource sharing is becoming hugely important to many libraries, and requires a system that is designed around large databases, high transactions, local policy preferences, deduping, and rapid real-time updates. It’s challenging but rewarding to move to massive resource-sharing, and it’s a Good Thing when the software not only doesn’t stand in the way but helps libraries connect.

You've said in the past that free software is sometimes free like kittens...how much like kittens is Evergreen?

All free software is free like kittens, in the sense that as soon as you install it you commit to its long-term care and feeding (unless it’s just some fly-by-night product you’re playing with on a whim, and we all have those). The question is how do you want to handle its care and feeding? When I go on a family trip, I call Aunt Judy (her professional name!) who takes care of our cats while we’re away. It’s not that I’m not capable of tending for a cat, but when I’m away that’s just not possible. Equinox is there to be Aunt Judy for systems that choose to purchase support, and it’s also there to help guide and lead development of new services. It’s not simply a question of what you can or can’t do; it’s a question of where you want and are able to spend your time. The great thing is, with open source software, you make that decision.

Incidentally, because Evergreen is open source, some libraries commit development time to participating in the design of Evergreen’s newer services. That way we can all work together to get the software we want and need, and we’re many steps closer to the real user experience. How often have we waited for an amazing new version of some ILS module only to feel underwhelmed, and to wonder if they had ever spoken to a real librarian? Open source puts us back in the driver’s seat.

For that matter, I would think many of our vendor partners will welcome library-driven development; think about the book vendors we work with and the backflips they have to go through to work with the typical less-than-ideal acquisitions module. It should be easier for them and for us to do acquisitions—it’s such a fundamental process. I like to think of the acquisitions services in development as a fresh take on a classic service.

What advice would you give libraries that are looking at a new ILS in the near (1-3 years) future?

Think very carefully not only about your requirements but what services you would like to deliver to your users if only your software would let you.

Think about the future and think about partnerships. Think big. Do you want to scale? Do you want to grow? Do you want to be able to do real consortial sharing? If so select very carefully. Set aside assumptions and look methodically at prevailing and emerging products. Be very careful about FUD and dogma… we’re susceptible to both in this profession, but you owe it to your users to take an evidence-driven approach to product selection and to avoid (and question) off-the-cuff pronouncements. Of course, I’m going to say talk to people running Evergreen, but talk to any librarian working with open source library software for perspectives that can illuminate why open source is the future for library software. Finally, don’t make your decision after you’ve seen the wowza demo. All of us can do wowza demos; but after you’ve cut the cake and the guests have left, you want a partnership with software that will be with you for the long haul. Talk to your peers, investigate the software, install it (if they let you install it—and if you can’t install a product in advance, that tells you something, too).