Review and how to install Koha Integrated Library System

My needs

A 400 person school wants a small and simple library system. We aren’t a real library and don’t need any advanced features. Check in and out books via barcode. Let students search online for books.

Installing Koha

Koha is easy to install in Ubuntu. They provide a PPA. Just follow the guide here. Upgrading versions seemed to have even worked for me with a simple apt-get dist-upgrade.

I’ll need ldap authentication but it’s broken for Active Directory right now. They seem responsive to the bug report so hopefully that get’s fixed. I’ll update this post once it’s working without hacks.

Koha features CAS authentication but I can’t make it work. Also even if it did work it requires clicking on a special CAS link and doesn’t seem to be an option for the administrative backend. Since 99.99% of the world doesn’t know what CAS means – they won’t click on it.

Using Koha

Koha is vastly over complicated for my use case. I don’t care what a marc record is and I sure don’t need 10 pages of information on each cataloged book. I’m sure a real library might like this but for me the default causes considerable pain. Let’s look at importing a book.

  1. Log into the “intra” section of the website. 
  2. Click More, Cataloging, then  Z39.50 search.
  3. I can now search for my book using resources like the Library of Congress. This is nice but I wish I could search by say Amazon as I’ve seen some other systems allow.
  4. Click import after selecting result
  5. Edit field if needed and import. This is a serious trouble spot. Read more below about confusing marc fields.
  6. Add each item (physical book)

10 pages of fields for a book? I really just want the title, author, year, subject and that’s it. To make it worse there are two required fields that by default don’t get imported from the search. This presents a major usability issue. Even the title is scary. A high school volunteer isn’t going to know what a MARC record is.

Screenshot from 2013-06-03 14:00:08

If I was a nicer person I’d remove every field except maybe 5. Since I’m lazy let’s just get rid of the scary required but not imported fields. Go to
Here you can edit these field. Go ahead and delete Control Number Identifier. Make Koha [default] item type default to whatever you want, maybe Books? The fields are still scary in volume but now the import process should be just hitting save and ignoring this mess.

Next we need to add items which are physical books you have. I don’t care about these fields and just want barcodes. Luckily you can enable auto barcodes in Administration. Just search for “barcode” under Global system preferences and turn it on. Now I can just count the number of physical copies I have and enter it in!

Print Barcodes

To print barcodes just go to Tools, Labels. You can follow the documentation which is a little too confusing. You can add a batch of books which you can search by date added. What’s important to me is that I don’t ever need to give a damn about barcode numbers.

Thoughts on Koha

Koha is too complicated for my use case and is going to scare away some less technical administrators. However after the initial setup – it’s very easy to create barcodes, check in and out books, and search for books. The check in and out system really deserves praise. To check out just enter someone’s name in the checkout search box (which is highlighted by default). It does a ajax search to quick selection. You could also use a library card with a barcode. Next scan the a book’s barcode that you printed earlier. The book is now check out. Notice I didn’t say click here, check this, etc. It just works and the defaults are probably what you want. Nice!

Checking in is yet easier. Click Check out, then scan a book. Done.

I’m making a internal users guide to Koha for librarians at my school. Stay tuned I’ll publish it here too.

Koha also has paid hosting however it’s vastly over my budget for a school. This is probably fine if you are running a full library and need Koha’s many features. If you want cheaper hosting for your school, contact Burke Software for options – I’d be happy to host it for you.

By David

I am a supporter of free software and run Burke Software and Consulting LLC. I am always looking for contract work especially for non-profits and open source projects. Open Source Contributions I maintain a number of Django related projects including GlitchTip, Passit, and django-report-builder. You can view my work on gitlab. Academic papers Incorporating Gaming in Software Engineering Projects: Case of RMU Monopoly in the Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (2008)

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