I’m a library technology hack who has been on a search for software to catalog and automate our small (~1500 volumes) library at church. Here’s the situation, what I’ve learned, and my recommendation as of now.
We currently have a MS Access database which is accessible and editable on our website courtesy of some ColdFusion programming. While it does a good job of communicating what our holdings are, it has two main downfalls: first, every piece of data (title, author, etc.) must be typed in; second, there is no circulation feature — meaning there is no way to track which books are checked out and by whom.
What I’ve Learned
- Autopopulates fields like title and author [+]
- But does not consistently support Chinese titles or other media (like DVDs) [-]
- Also does not have a circulation feature (though it has been requested) [-]
- Autopopulates fields like title and author and supports Chinese titles [+]
- But does not consistently support other media (like DVDs) [-]
- aNobii allows one to track to whom a book has been lent, but does not publicly show if a book has been lent out. [-]
- Autopopulates fields like title and author and other media (like DVDs) and allows you to lend items out [+]
- Publicly shows if media has been lent out [+]
- But does not consistently support Chinese titles [-]
- Also is unreliable — was down for two weeks in January [-]
Drupal: I thought about creating a library system using Drupal and populating nodes using createfromweb and library module for circulation, but I don’t trust my Drupal skills enough to deploy and maintain that successfully.
OpenBiblio: This is a software which could definitely run a small library, but it looks like it would take a bit of work to make the Z39.50 tool to work, and we would have to maintain the install ourselves. Again, I’m not sure I want to shoulder the responsibility of all that.
Brief excursus on library science stuff I’ve cobbled together: I initially thought all library software worked like LibraryThing: input the ISBN and you’re done! However, that is not quite the case. From what I’ve gleaned, libraries use an integrated library system (ILS) to manage not only all the books and media, but acquisitions and patrons and more. The interface to these holdings is done through an online public access catalog (OPAC).
Inputting books and media into a library’s catalog is done in two stages: first, the bibliographic information (usually in the form of MARC records) is inserted into the database. Second, holdings are indicated. Because the bibliographic information is separate, one may add multiple quantities in the holdings step. In other words, this division makes it possible to show that a library has, say, 3 copies of the same book.
Our ideal ILS/OPAC would:
- Autopopulate bibliographic records
- Support books and other media (like DVDs)
- Track circulation
In other words, it is clear that we need to explore a full-fledged ILS/OPAC such a Koha or Evergreen. I’m definitely leaning toward Koha as they have a hosted version for $299/year and they are completely web-based (I think the Evergreen client is a Windows download?)
The main challenge, however, will be importing our Chinese-language books. Because the MARC records are not widely available (even from biblios.net), we probably need an OCLC subscription to CatExpress which runs $190/year for 250 records and $480/year for 500 records. Each additional record is $0.99.
An addition challenge will be finding enough volunteers to help with the initial set-up and import process.
Books and resources are important so I’m hopeful that we can get something more robust up and running over the next year or so.
[5/6/2010 update: Koha Express is now $899; evidently, they were losing money. For our context, this makes it much less attractive.]
[4/22/2016 update: TinyCat pretty much seems to be the answer.]