Running the Library, Technology

Tales of Migration, Part 4
In Which We Select a Vendor.

This is the fourth in a series covering the library system migration of the Bartlett Library at the Museum of International Folk Art. The story so far: The library needs a new library system, and has narrowed the choices down to hosted open source software.

So by now, though no absolute decisions had been made, we were pretty sure we were headed to open source software. There are two significant systems, Evergreen and Koha, and several companies offering support services for each. After reading a good deal about both, and playing with test systems available online, I had a definite preference for Koha.

By now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. My preference was based on the specific features the Bartlett Library needs. This is the point in the process where you need a good, strong list of features that are essential to you, and those are desirable. Get as many people as possible involved in making this list. Start it, put it aside, and look at it again with fresh eyes later. And again. And then look at as many library webpages as possible to see if others are offering their patrons things you’ve never even heard of. Ask patrons what they want that they have never had. Ask patrons who’ve moved to your community from elsewhere what they miss from their old libraries. The more time you spend on this list the happier you will be later.

In general (and this is really over-generalizing) Koha seems to me to be better for a small, stand-alone, special research library. Evergreen appears better for a public library consortium. You can do either with either, but one may be better for a particular library than the other.

It’s very important at this point to play with test systems, or at least to get a long, detailed tour of the system from the vendor. Check everything on your required and desired features list, both from the staff side (the part of the software called the “staff client”) and from the public catalog (OPAC or “online public access catalog”). Can you do everything you need and want to do? Is it easy? How hard will it be to retrain staff? Is one interface more intuitive than another? Is the screen too hard to read? Can you change font sizes, colors, and other visual settings on the staff side as well as the public side? You and your staff will be staring at these things most of the day. Do your eyes hurt after the demo?

I reviewed sample installations of both Koha and Evergreen, and went through demos. I liked Koha better for this library at this time. But there are three vendors in the United States who offer hosted Koha implementations to libraries like mine. Which to pick?

One vendor was eliminated based on controversies over whether they have “forked” the Koha software, making it no longer truly open source Koha. There is so much controversy about the vendor they seemed a bad choice for us right now.

I spent a great deal of time speaking with the other two vendors, Equinox and ByWater Solutions. Although I was pretty sure one would be the final choice, I was still mentally prepared to walk back from the Koha choice if I didn’t like either vendor. I made a long list of questions to ask related to features, services, and costs – but I was frankly also getting a feel for the style and approach of each vendor. This is hard to do when you are dealing with sales staff, whom you may never see again, but I believe it is possible. It is also possible I am believing what I want to believe – but I promise I was not swayed solely by the Tolkien reference in ByWater’s name.

Here are the key reasons behind the selection of ByWater over Equinox based on our research (please note much of this information is based on our interviews with the two vendors, which means it is only as good as the people to whom we spoke and it is also subject to change):

    • ByWater consistently scores near the top of all ILS vendors – proprietary and open-source – in customer satisfaction rankings and customer loyalty (expressed as likeliness to continue with the company or buy from them again), and always higher than Equinox.

Users give ByWater higher scores than Equinox for functionality and support.

ByWater is committed to Koha and only Koha while Equinox is primarily devoted to Evergreen. The 2013 Library Journal report on ILS’s showed ByWater with 554 Koha clients while Equinox had only 20 Koha clients and 417 on Evergreen.

The 2013 Library Journal report shows ByWater has 12 of its 22 fte’s in support while Equinox has only 6 of 20 in support (and Equinox staff must support 2 different systems).

ByWater’s average uptime is 99.9% as compared to only 99% for Equinox. [99% sounds good until you figure out how many days that leaves your system down over the course of a year].

ByWater provides triple-redundancy backups as opposed to simple redundancy at Equinox.

ByWater’s support runs 24/7/365 while Equinox provides support 24/7/365 for system-critical events only.

ByWater replies to most support requests within 20 minutes. Equinox did not provide information on support request response time.

ByWater performs system updates during hours when the library is closed. Equinox does not guarantee this.

ByWater provides in-person on-site training during implementation while Equinox provides only remote training (though implementation costs are comparable).

ByWater has successfully migrated clients off of InMagic DBTextworks and has demonstrated clear understanding of the challenges involved with moving a library from non-MARC to MARC records. Equinox has not demonstrated the same awareness of the issues, though they also report having “worked with DBTextworks.”

Bottom line: ByWater provides better service in every way for a comparable cost.

This list will, I hope, give some insight into what was important to us and what sorts of questions we were asking…

…And yes, by this point in the process we were an “us.” In the course of investigating systems and discussing systems with the Department of Cultural Affairs IT experts it came to light that both the Bartlett Library at the Museum of International Folk Art and the Library of the Laboratory of Anthropology just across Milner Plaza had, in separate selection processes, chosen ByWater Solutions and Koha for our next library system.

And so our next chapter will be all about forming a partnership between separate libraries. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about the specific questions I asked potential vendors, feel free to email me at

1 Comment

  1. David Hurley

    There’s a new site available – – that is designed to help libraries determine if open source is the right choice for them.
    I haven’t looked too closely, but it’s a useful idea.