Hack-A-Way 2013 Day 2

day 2

I should have said this on the outset of yesterday’s post – Hack-A-Way 2013 hosted by Calvin College and sponsored by Equinox Software.  I have no obligation to mention those in this forum but they both deserve the recognition (and far more). 

Priority one for day two was finding out how to hack hangouts so that my typing didn’t mute the microphone (which they couldn’t hear anyway since I was using an external microphone).  Some quick googling uncovered that this is a common complaint by people who use hangouts for collaboration and that there was a an undocumented tweak that only required minimal terminal comfort.  I’m still tempted to get a second laptop to make it easier to position the camera though and I’m definitely bringing the full tripod next time.  But, AV geekery behind me …

We started with reports on the work the day before.  

Ben Shum reported work on mobile catalog.  That group was the largest of the working groups and had laid the ground work of saying that it should have full functionality of the TPAC and that was the goal.  The team worked on separate pieces and working on moving files into a collaborative branch on working repository.  A lot of the work is CSS copied from work done by Indiana as well as de-tabling interfaces and using DIVs.  

Our table worked on a proof of concept for a web based staff client.  Bill Erikson had previously done a dojo based patron search interface and checking out uncataloged items as a proof of concept.  We worked on fleshing that out, discussing platforms for responsive design, what would be needed for baseline functionality (patron search, checkout, see items out, renewals) and then later bills.  This is less a demo at this point than a proof of concept but one goal is to have something that might in a very limited way, with some caveats, also help those suffering from staff client memory leaks by having something that could handle checkouts without the staff client.  It is also bringing up a lot of conceptual questions about architecture of such a project.  Working directory and dev server are up.  Most of the work on this is being done by Bill and Jeff Godin with input from the rest of us.  

Lebbeous Fogle-Weekly reported for the the serials group.  They targeted some specific issues including how to handle special one off issues of an ongoing series and discussed the future direction of serials work.  In fact they already pushed some of their work to master.  However, because of their narrower focus they are going to break up 

Jason Stephenson worked on the new MARC export and has a working directory up.  New script is more configurable.  At this point I missed some of the conversation unfortunately due to some issues back home I had to deal with but apparently in a nod to Dan Scott MARC will now be MARQUE.  

In evaluating the 2.5 release process we spent a lot of time discussing the mostly good process and the big challenge the release manager had in it.  The community goal has been in making more stable releases.  During this release Dan Wells added more structure was good, the milestones, pointing out bugs was good but he also wanted feedback which was really hard for the developers who were very happy with his work.  But there are challenges and finding solutions is right now elusive.  Kathy Lussier addressed dig concerns about documentation and that ESI does a lot of the documentation work for new features but work not done by them is often left undone.  We had 380 commits since 2.4 with the biggest committers being Dan Wells, Ben Shum and Mike Rylander. Is that sustainable?  A rough guess i that those are half bugs and half features which is an improvement over the past.  Do we need to loosen review requirements?  Do we do leader boards as psychological incentive?  Concern that some would lower standards to increase numbers.  The decision about selecting a 2.6 release manager was put off as well deciding to let folks think about these issues more after we had a lot of discussion that lasted longer than we had planned.

Discussion also wandered into QA and automated testing.  A lot of progress has been made here since the conference.  In regards to unit testing there was a consensus that while it’s a great idea it won’t have a significant impact for a while.  Right now the tests are so minimal that they don’t reflect the reality of what real data does in complex real world environments and it will take time of finding those issues and writing more tests to reflect that before the work has it’s payoff.

Art.  Kinda looks like a grey alien to me.

Art.  Kinda looks like a grey alien to me.

I won’t try to re-capture all of the conversation but maintaining quality and moving releases forward were discussed in great depth.  There was less interest in discussing 2.6 than really trying to clean up and make sure 2.5 is solid.  The decision about who would be the 2.6 release manager was put off and the idea proposed for a leader board to encourage bunch squashing.  A “whackin” day to targeting bugs like Koha does was also floated about.

I spent a lot of the day looking at some great instruction Yamil Saurez put together for installing OpenSRF and Evergreen on Debian for potential new users and chatting with Jeff and Lebbeous about the need for beefing up the concerto data set with new serials and UPC records.  Other projects included looking at the web site, starting a conversation about users, merchandising, IRC quotes, and so on.  

By the evening we had a nice dinner and a group of us headed out to Founders for a drink and to walk about downtown Grand Rapids in order to look at Art Prize installations which were quite nice.


Evergreen Hack-A-Way 2013 Day 1

Note: this is not a comprehensive report, just my notes from my memory.

I’m writing this as I eat a waffle at breakfast on day 2.  Day 0 was Monday and folks gathered up at the conference center for dinner but it was Tuesday that things really started.  Starting at breakfast everyone was immediately in work mode.  Talk was heavily on the future of the staff client and the other big issues that we’ve all been waiting to see others in person to hash out.  We wrapped up grub and headed as a group to the Calvin College library who is kindly hosting us in their conference facilities.  Power was at every table and coffee soon appeared.  The wifi wasn’t perfect but we may have been pushing it’s limit.  And those are really the three critical needs of this crowd – power, wifi and caffeine.  And I found myself in a bit of an AV geek role hosting the Google Hangout and coordinating things with IRC a little (and I certainly wasn’t the only one multitasking back and forth so remote folks were involved).  

As we gathered (after laptops were setup) discussion immediately centered on the future of the staff client.  We discussed the issues with xulrunner.  Dan Scott noted that he had talked to Mozilla folks at a Google event and they were surprised at our use of xulrunner, noting that wasn’t it’s purpose.  Certainly newer versions cut off critical functionality and memory leaks are an ongoing concern.  With all of this in mind everyone was firmly in favor of moving forward somewhere.  

Ben, Kathy, Bill in the lobby Tuesday night.

Ben, Kathy, Bill in the lobby Tuesday night.

As we discussed where to go from xulrunner and what to go to, the discussion was web based client yeah or nay.  Although there were participants with a preference for a local staff client (specifically java based) the web based arguments took the day and those who had a preference for a local client were willing to support a web based client.  Discussion centered around using advanced Dojo and Chris Sharp worked on seeing how it would work with Evergreen 2.4 in the afternoon.  Everyone was concerned about the practical issues of how we could implement in stages a web based staff client, get testing and engagement as well with the community’s limited resources.  The consensus was we needed to live with the staff client for a while but move away from xul within It, come up with standards for the new staff client as a draft and if we can move to modern dojo and then in staff client interfaces might be largely portable to a web based one.  Concerns about how to handle issues that can’t be done in client and should they be done with a small local app versus plugin and best practices were discussed in regards to offline, staff client registration and printing along with various Windows OS concerns and authentication being maybe the trickest.  Offline with modern HTML5 was one of the lesser concerns.  Many words were also committed to how many and which browsers should be supported and although not absolute final answer was given most folks seem to agree upon supporting Chrome and Firefox by the community and that individual Evergreen members may support others.  

Collaborative notes were done by several parties and remote participation was good, both of which I was happy about.

After discussion we broke into groups looking at MARC export, web based staff client proof of concept, serials and mobile OPAC.  In between talking about the staff client I worked on some merchandising and web site issues for Evergreen (as well as handling some SCLENDS and York issues as they popped up).  

We worked until we were getting fairly punchy and broken to freshen up and head to dinner.  I ended up a great Thai place with good spicy food.  After that we ended up doing what I called the Hack-A-Way Lobby version with eight of us until I ran out of steam at 11:30.  Today is a new day.

Sound and Fury

Well, I got home from a road trip to find my comp copies of the July/August Computers in Libraries waiting for me and some emails!  I sat down to re-read it because frankly I wrote it long enough that I don’t remember much of what I wrote.  


The article is about open source, including Evergreen, and selecting an ILS.  A few bit things:

1) They gave it a nice attractive spread.  That’s vanity on my part but I like it. 

Front spread of the article.  

Front spread of the article.  

2) I’m still happy with my opening paragraph.  “Few decisions cause a library director to fret more than choosing a new integrated library system (ILS).  No matter what you acquire, a new ILS is expensive in terms of money, staff, time and stress.  Additionally, the wrong choice can damage morale and having lasting consequences.  Sometimes it is easy to identify which ILS is wrong for you – the contract costs are too high or maybe the features that you need aren’t present.  But, too often, selecting the right one is like going to a car dealership where everyone speaks in tongues and the price lists are encrypted.”

3) They re-used an old bio bit for me from my days working at the State Library which is wrong.  I’m at the York County Library System now.

Now, for the email I got and my response:  

From Greg, full name withheld to protect the guilty 🙂  :

I just received my copy of the publication “Computers In Libraries”, July/August 2013. I thought your article “Sound and Fury” was an excellent guide for libraries considering a migration of their library systems, but I was a bit surprised that you cited “LibLime Koha and Evergreen” as examples of open source ILSs. I rather suspect that many open source people would regard LibLime Koha as open source only by the letter of the law, and not by spirit or community. Evergreen is indeed an excellent example of open source software, but I wonder if it suffers by its apparent close association in this context with LibLime Koha.

Koha (!= LibLime Koha) is a much more openly developed and community supported example of an open source application than the LibLime fork. Your article deals very well with the subject of selecting vendors; the paid-support page for Koha (


) lists 37 vendors world-wide (if my quick count is correct and deducting two entries for PTFS). I’m under the impression that only PTFS supports LibLime Koha, but perhaps there are others. Many of the listed Koha service providers provide hosted application (ASP) solutions as you mentioned in your article. 

A quick count of my Koha mailing list messages for July 24-31 shows 86 entries (sorry, I got tired of counting after going backwards for one week), that probably extrapolates to about 350 messages per month. I don’t follow the free support for LibLime, but I’ve been told that it’s more questions than meaningful answers. Link of possible interest: https://listserv.nd.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind1308&L=web4lib&D=0&P=15401

Code contributions to the Koha development process are encouraged, with contributions and downloads available on a git code management system, and packages are available for Debian-based operating systems. Koha also has an IRC channel where developers discuss issues, and where users can <mostly> ask questions and get answers to problems they are experiencing. I’m not aware that LibLime Koha is as openly developed or freely supported. 

Again, I thought your article was excellent, but have misgivings about your citation of LibLime Koha instead of Koha as an example of open source software.”

My ill thought out but honest response:

“Hi Greg,

I appreciate the feedback.  Looking back at the article I’m a chagrined about that.  I admit I’m an outsider in the Koha community though I have a fondness for any open source library project.

Just last week got a chance to chat at length with a gentleman [name and association redacted to protect those who didn’t give permission to be used].  He actually reached out to me because of an upcoming talk I’m doing. I was aware of some community conflict with LibLime but he gave me a lot of context of the Koha VS KOHA issues.  Suffice it to say that if I had known I would have mentioned Koha differently.  Technically what I said is correct but obviously doesn’t address the serious community concerns there and looking at community is central to the issue I wanted to discuss.  

Maybe on some level it’s best to not have written about that there.  It really is an issue that deserves discussion in more depth.  I’ve thrown out the idea to the editors of CiL of doing an all open source issue (it’s been about four years since they’ve done one).  If that happens I would love to work with someone to write about the Koha community issues in more depth. Still, whether it was the place for it or not I think I would have written that bit a wee bit differently.  I’m always glad to get opportunities to trigger discussion (even if the price I pay is putting my foot in my mouth occasionally).   “


Looking back and getting to read my article again it doesn’t really detract from it.  It’s just a quick reference at the beginning but I do regret it and feel that I should write something about communities in open source projects as a follow up which makes me start thinking about projects beyond Koha and Evergreen, failed and successful to look at.