Conifer lives: Ontario launches a consortial academic library system built on Evergreen

Posted on Mon 11 May 2009 in Libraries

I awoke around 4:48 am today. At the time, I thought it was just our

baby kicking away excitedly. However, later this afternoon, I realized

that it had been almost exactly a week ago, around 4:30 am on Monday, May 4th

that I sent a broadcast email message to librarians and staff at 24

different libraries. The Conifer consortial library system, built on

the solid foundations of the Evergreen

open-source library system, had gone live - and I was exhausted after

a long weekend of migrating all of that data. I was proud to see

the Laurentian catalogue sporting

a completely different look and new functionality - reviews! book covers!

sharable book bags! format & edition grouping! - and excited by the

promise of more to come.

Conifer represents the first flowering of an effort that began back

in July 2007 with a hand-shake agreement between

Laurentian University,

McMaster University, and the

University of Windsor to build a provincial,

primarily academic, library system on Evergreen. The system is centrally hosted

by the top-notch IT team at the University of Guelph.

Things change, and along the way Algoma University and the

Northern Ontario School of Medicine joined us

as full partners, and McMaster University opted to continue contributing to

the common development effort but withdrew from the centrally hosted system.

As noted, we went live on Monday, May 4th and we survived the first day. On Tuesday,

May 5th we corrected a problem in our configuration that had caused some instability

(thanks to Mike Rylander for providing the patch that set things straight). Since then,

we have been slowly refining aspects of the system - setting up circulation rules,

migrating records and items that had been missed over the weekend, polishing the Z39.50

server, fine-tuning the permissions scheme - but the core of the system is solid. We

have a consortial system that stretches from the southern-most tip of Ontario to the

north-west corner of the province (hello, Thunder Bay!), and so far connectivity seems

good and the reliability of the system - which, upon launch, has probably become the

second largest Evergreen implementation by number of bibliographic records - has been


A few interesting statistics about Conifer... (have I mentioned how much

I love that Evergreen is built on PostgreSQL because it becomes so simple to

generate basic reports in plain SQL?):

Number of staff and user accounts per library in Conifer

conifer=# SELECT, count(    FROM actor.org_unit aou    INNER JOIN actor.usr au    ON = au.home_ou    GROUP BY    ORDER BY 2 DESC;                    name                    | count --------------------------------------------+------- Leddy Library                              | 19468 J.N. Desmarais Library                     | 11921 Algoma University, Wishart Library         |  2431 University of Sudbury                      |  1100 Hearst, Bibliothèque Maurice-Saulnier      |  1043 Huntington College Library                 |   834 Paul Martin Law Library                    |   592 Northern Ontario School of Medicine (West) |   284 HRSRH Health Sciences Library              |   261 Northern Ontario School of Medicine (East) |   224 Xstrata Process Support Centre Library     |   122 NOHIN                                      |   121 Instructional Media Centre                 |     9 Laboratoire de didactiques, E.S.E.         |     7 Vale Inco                                  |     4 Mines Library, Willet Green Miller Centre  |     2 Art Gallery of Sudbury                     |     1 Curriculum Resource Centre                 |     1 Sault Area Hospital                        |     1 Centre Franco-Ontarien de Folklore         |     1 Conifer                                    |     1(21 rows)

Number of copies held per library in Conifer

conifer=# SELECT, count(ac.barcode)    FROM actor.org_unit aou    INNER JOIN asset.copy ac    ON = ac.circ_lib    GROUP BY    ORDER BY 2 DESC;                    name                    |  count--------------------------------------------+--------- Leddy Library                              | 1373197 J.N. Desmarais Library                     |  614380 Paul Martin Law Library                    |  229391 Algoma University, Wishart Library         |  115156 University of Sudbury                      |   42154 Hearst, Bibliothèque Maurice-Saulnier      |   34276 Huntington College Library                 |   12517 Laboratoire de didactiques, E.S.E.         |   10284 Mining and the Environment Database        |    9940 HRSRH Health Sciences Library              |    7512 Music Resource Centre                      |    7511 Xstrata Process Support Centre Library     |    5477 Centre Franco-Ontarien de Folklore         |    4365 Northern Ontario School of Medicine (East) |    3779 Northern Ontario School of Medicine (West) |    3301 NOHIN                                      |    2647 Mines Library, Willet Green Miller Centre  |    2617 Curriculum Resource Centre                 |    2583 Sault Area Hospital                        |    2515 Art Gallery of Sudbury                     |    2237 Hearst Timmins, Centre de Ressources       |    2202 Hearst Kapuskasing, Centre de Ressources   |    2007 Vale Inco                                  |    1106 Instructional Media Centre                 |    1095(24 rows)

What about acquisitions, serials, and reserves?

One of the reasons we had a hard migration date of early May was because

it matches nicely with the fiscal year-end for those institutions who were

running a traditional acquisitions system on their legacy ILS. We normally

shut down all purchases for a period of weeks while we roll over the encumbrances

into the next fiscal year and set up our budgets. This year, we're migrating all

of the old financial data twice: first, and foremost, into the most sophisticated

set of spreadsheets you'll ever see attached to a library system (as pulled together

by the inestimable Art Rhyno); and second, into the Evergreen acquisitions system

that will launch with Evergreen 1.6. The first migration of a given set of data

is always the hardest part, so once we have the fund / order / provider data in

spreadsheets, the migration into Evergreen proper will be trivial. This will give

us the summer to use both systems side-by-side and refine what we need from Evergreen.

We have migrated all of our serials data from the legacy system, I just haven't

enabled the display of that data in our live system. A prototype was running on

my laptop for a few days until I accidentally blew it away - ah well, anything

worthwhile doing is better the second time around anyway. This, too, will be

part of the Evergreen 1.6 release, and will feature full MFHD compliance built on

the code that David Fiander has been writing on behalf of Equinox. I should note

that this first cut at serials is in some ways relatively basic; while the system in

Evergreen 1.6 will be fully MFHD compliant, down to the point of letting you to

edit an MFHD record to "check in" a new issue by adding a new 863 field, it won't

associate barcodes with individual issues. Most of the database schema exists to

support that, but there's still a large amount of code to be written on top of the

schema and we need Something That Works Right Now :-) I'm confident that that's coming

not too far down the road, though.

Finally, what would an academic library be without reserves? Art Rhyno (again!) has

been working with Graham Fawcett for the past six months on

Syrup -

a really impressive melding of the world of electronic reserves and traditional

physical library system reserves that uses SIP and Z39.50 to talk to Evergreen.

Syrup is just about at a full boil now, so in a few more weeks we should have it

deployed so that we can savour its sweetness through the relatively slow summer

months before ensuring that the taste is just right for all of our incoming students

and faculty in the fall.