This was largely posted on the Georgia Library TechTalk list-serve. Based on off-list comments several people indicated they would love to comment but, feel they may face some form of retribution. Due to that concern I am posting an edited version where anonymous comments will be allowed. I sanitized my library, region, and boss's name from this version.
After getting several emails concerning the rumor that the we will be migrating to the free open source Koha Library System I felt it best to respond to the Georgia library community as a whole to address the rumor. As many of you are aware, we have submitted a letter of intent to leave the Regional Library System and form a single-county library system as of July 1, 2008. My boss has very succinctly covered the reasons why via the Directors Discussion List, and, in person, at the recent RPLAC meeting. While joining PINES is an option, we have legitimate concerns, that I will list in greater detail below. We feel it is in the best interest of our patrons to investigate other options. We have not made a final decision on whether to leave our current circulation system, switch to Koha, or to join PINES. We have decided to explore all options including evaluating whether Koha is suitable for our patron's needs. With that said up front, I'll go into the reasons why we are considering Koha.
Currently, the Regional Library System runs a Sirsi Unicorn circulation system. This system has been in place for 10 years and has served the needs of the library system extremely well. As with any software there have been problems, but day in and day out, it quickly checks the books in and out. We currently pay less than $9,000 in annual maintenance to continue running a Unicorn server. Unfortunately, in leaving the regional library we have to look at every expense. The Library will be facing a reduction in staff. The amount of money we currently pay for a circulation system could be a part-time staff member. Those of you who attended the recent training hosted on behalf of the Georgia Council of Public Libraries can attest that we have sufficient skilled staff to tackle a technology challenge. In fact, I'll say it because I believe it true, I have the best technology staff of any library of which I am aware. With that said I have little doubt in our ability to make a free alternative such as Koha perform.
Now I know you are saying to yourself "isn't PINES free?" Yes, that is true, but I have one very large problem with the library blindly joining PINES. Our current regional system has been in existence for 60 years where it has progressed from manual circulation system, to CLSI LIBS Plus, and, presently, Sirsi Unicorn. In those years, we have developed a large set of cumbersome policies and procedures in the spirit of getting along as a region. Yes, we revise policies frequently, but that doesn't change the fact that we do lots of hoop jumping to the inconvenience of our patrons to satisfy the individual branch's staff and boards of trustees. In looking at our current policies and comparing it to the service we want to provide our patrons, we see a wonderful opportunity to enhance service by writing procedure and policy to maximize our ability to provide outstanding service. This is our opportunity to radically simplify our procedures to meet that goal.
If we join PINES, we get a brand new set of policy and procedure that is the end result of compromise amongst 48 library systems. All libraries are not the same, and, in looking at PINES, you see that busy libraries and less busy libraries operate by the same rules. It's the "one size fits all" mentality that we question. Yes there is a mechanism for change involving list-serve discussions, subcommittees and a governing board of directors but where my library now has a seat at the table to directly be involved in making the compromise, we would no longer have that guaranteed opportunity to have our voice heard. Unless we had a permeant seat on each subcommittee and the governing board of directors to make sure we had input throughout the process, we would be a newly independent single-county library with little say in our destiny. In the current region, we can't turn on a dime, but we can turn on a hubcap because we have direct input in driving the library. If we join PINES, we loose that direct input and loose the ability to effect the direction our library is traveling.
The loss of independence is why we are considering running our own Koha system rather than simply joining PINES. It's going to be politically difficult to justify staying on our current system when PINES is free. Since Koha is free, that argument is moot. I'll switch to bullet form for the rest of my concerns, but, before they are listed, I need to state we are not anti-PINES. The ideal of a union listing of patrons and materials is what PINES is about. Allowing any Georgian to borrow any item in a Georgia Library is the ultimate goal. We simply don't believe that it's necessary for that goal to hand over our independence. Surely there has to be a way to allow the Not In PINES Yet (NIPY) libraries the benefits of PINES without compromising those libraries ability to serve their patrons. Right now, half of Georgia's library materials are unavailable to half of Georgia except via ILL. This is as true for a NIPY library as it is for a PINES library. Until libraries that value their independence are given the ability to access PINES directly from a NIPY library, this will remain true.
Other concerns about joining PINES
*Re-registration of our patrons. Having to re-register all 50,000 patrons does not seem very reasonable. While we understand wanting the "clean database", we don't see the benefit of not allowing a library to simply migrate their patrons and swap library cards for the new PINES card. One year you tell the county commission we have 50,000 patrons. The next year you tell them you have 15,000. That seems to shoot a great many statistical arguments in the foot as a library wrangles for local dollars. This also inconveniences the patron by forcing registration when simply confirming their information is much quicker for them and just as accurate.
*Deleting patrons after 3 years of inactivity. This exasperates the problem of re-registering patrons. Can't we simply block the patrons from checking out material until they confirm their contact information? This has the same effect as patron re-registration in arguing for extra funding.
*The manner Holds are processed. We think a hold immediately going out to the first available copy wherever the library is inefficient and frankly is an anti-patron philosophy. The stories we hear about patrons finding the item they placed on hold three days earlier on their local libraries shelf seem to occur with too much frequency. I know there is development work on a 24 hour wait to allow your holds to be serviced locally but it has been demonstrated that 24 hours is much too short a time frame to allow local items to service local patrons.
*The PINES delivery service. The horror stories that we have heard concerning the weeks it takes to move a book on toe fungus from Augusta, GA to a patron in La Fayette makes us wonder if we couldn't get the same book via ILL faster from Augusta, ME. Having to devote a staff member or multiple staff members to process the random delivery of a couple hundred holds is a real problem. With a reduction in force looming, where do I get my staff for holds processing?
*Receipt printing. The problem where patrons need to spend significant extra time after completing all circulation transactions just to get a receipt which prevents other patrons from library service is a real problem. One thing I like about our current system is the receipt is complete when the transaction is finished, so there is no need to buy a expensive printer to fix a software problem.
*Patron card requirements. Requiring patrons to always have a card to checkout items is, to me, inflexible. If you can verify a patron's identity and find them in the system, do I really want to tell them they can't checkout items because they forgot their card? This is a policy where you need to put yourself in the patrons shoes and ask if this how you want to be treated.
*System speed. The time spent waiting while the system thinks about processing a circulation transaction is ridiculous. The only fix we can effect is adding staff checkout stations or adding expensive self checkout stations. How can we do that when we may very well face a reduction in force? The slowness will prevent me from serving my patrons. I'm looking to increase service--not impede it.
*Help desk response. I hear it all the time from PINES libraries. Submit a ticket and we will fix it. Unfortunately, unless you scream about the problem, you will only receive a email stating the ticket is closed due to lack of communication after two weeks. Unfortunately, a satisfactory resolution to the problem isn't required to close a ticket.
*Apparent censorship of dissenting voices. I think most in PINES are aware of the most recent example where someone voicing actual concerns was told to be quiet by PINES staff. This is not the first time I've heard of PINES silencing a dissenting voice, just the first time someone had the courage to not take it lying down. It was said best in a meeting I attended last week. "PINES doesn't handle criticism well". Spirited debate should not be quashed in the profession. Let's see--I'm going to fight to keep Harry Potter on the shelf despite the controversy over Dumbledore, but I'll keep my mouth shut rather than discuss issues effecting my library with peers in other libraries? That is a counter intuitive argument that is undefendable.
We are not anti-PINES. We simply are stating a list of our concerns about joining PINES. Most of my concerns could be remedied by the local library not losing it's voice.