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The 7 Year Itch

Here we are, at the 7-year mark for Evergreen and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the numerous success stories we have in our community.  There is an Equinox customer who reports that they are seeing a savings of 70% per year over what they paid for their proprietary ILS, even with a complete support and hosting package.  There are early adopters like the BC Libraries Cooperative, Georgia PINES, and Evergreen Indiana who have moved on to doing 90% of their own hosting and support.  There are libraries like those in MassLNC, who are using their savings from moving to Evergreen to pay for development to make Evergreen even better.

The most interesting thing that I’ve observed lately is the growing amount of libraries that just install Evergreen and are perfectly content with it.  They don’t want to sponsor development or go to PLA and do a program on how open source software changed their library… they are simply (and quietly) happy with their software.  To me, that says a lot about the maturity of Evergreen and the strength of our community.  And while there is always room for improvement, I agree that Evergreen is a fantastic piece of software that can compete with any other ILS on the market.

In contrast to the above libraries, there are libraries like Merrimack Valley Library Consortium and King County Library System who are both taking advantage of open source, but in different ways.

MVLC took advantage of the access they had to the source code of Evergreen and updated their production installation with current development almost weekly.  And while MVLC still runs a version of master, their typical schedule these days is upgrading to master twice per year. (For those unfamiliar with the term, master is the constantly changing code set where all new development is being committed.)  Running master means that the MVLC libraries often get all the benefits of new features first, but they also run the risk of being the first to encounter bugs.  Larry Rungren, the Executive Director at MVLC told me, “While MVLC’s update schedule is still fairly aggressive (and a far cry from what experienced with a proprietary system where we updated only once a year or every two years), we’ve pulled back some from the bleeding edge.  With Evergreen’s continuing evolution, there’s not as much need to be there.”   It’s also good to note that running master isn’t much of a concern for MVLC as they are well positioned with two staff developers involved in Evergreen development and very capable technical support staff.  MVLC takes an immense amount of responsibility for running a non-standard installation, but I am grateful for their daring.  I am even more grateful for their numerous contributions back to the community.

Jed Moffitt, the IT services director from King County Library System, said in his Evergreen 2013 presentation1, “We are never again going to stick to a version.”  As reported in the Library Journal article Developing Partnerships2, KCLS is not only making good on that statement, they are going even further and effectively forking the Evergreen code.  Since April 2012, KCLS has been working with Catalyst IT to write custom code for their Evergreen installation.  A few of these projects have been submitted to the community for inclusion in the Evergreen code base, however, much of the Catalyst work was developed for a version 2.2 and was not developed (per convention) to the master code set.  Those projects are not likely to ever be included in Evergreen due to the fact that that there was more current code in master that rendered their development obsolete.  This custom development also makes it nearly impossible for KCLS to upgrade to a current version as the custom 2.2 code will be incompatible.  In a cruel twist of fate, this means that KCLS cannot generally take advantages of any of the current Evergreen enhancements.  Evergreen is currently releasing version 2.5 which contains a year and a half of new features that are incompatible with the forked KCLS installation.  In this case, KCLS took advantage of open source code without, I would argue, realizing the implications of their actions.  Open source development is best done in the open and inside the community of users and developers who share the knowledge and responsibility of that project.

Just like KCLS and MVLC, many libraries come to Evergreen because they feel a sense of disempowerment or disconnect with their traditional ILS and/or their traditional vendor.  Open source is a fantastic choice for libraries and can make a huge difference in your overall ILS cost, your empowerment, and your work.  Evergreen gives you the opportunity to have power over nearly every aspect of your software and its implementation.  But, as we learned from Voltaire and Stan Lee, with great power comes great responsibility.  And in the end, all Evergreen users are responsible for being honest with themselves about their ability to self-support, maintain custom development, train their staff, create documentation, and – most importantly – manage change. Make the choices that are right for your organization and we’ll all be happy Evergreen users for a long time to come.

 Happy Birthday, Evergreen!

1 Jed Moffitt, Robert Stahly. “In Search of Search.” Session Descriptions. 11 April 2013. Evergreen International Conference. <http://eg2013.sitka.bclibraries.ca/schedule/session-descriptions/>

2Enis, Matt. “Developing Partnerships.” Library Journal 15 Sept. 2013: 26-28. Print.