Koha conquers Finland

Finland successfully migrates university libraries to free software backend

Published on: 23/01/2019
Last update: 05/04/2019

On January 11th, the National Library of Finland has announced the successful migration of the University of Jyväskylä to Koha library system. It's so far the second and biggest migration to the free and open source software, which by next summer will be used by nearly all academic libraries of Finland, holding several millions of records and hundreds of thousands of patrons.

Finnish library users already interact with a free software front-end for the online catalog (OPAC) and user area: Finna, developed and managed in-house by the National Library. The National Library also runs and develops the union catalogue software Melinda. Most municipal libraries also rely on Koha Suomi for their backend, with functions such as the management of cataloging, patrons and loans.

Academic libraries, however, for almost 20 years now have used the venerable Voyager with Oracle database. The ancient and unmaintained technology could no longer satisfy the library requirements and adds a significant cost with no benefits in sight. The National Library has added around 4 employees to its IT staff to complete the year-long migration plan, which includes regular outreach to librarians, Koha feature development and bug fixing in the open as well as custom-made migration procedures to deal with the proprietary schemas where the data is currently locked in.

In a public event in October 2018, when Koha was launched at HAMK, the minister of education in her greetings praised the advancement of open science and open source as well as the savings for the public finances, which are expected to be in the order of the millions of euro for the next decade.

Indeed, the project is promising for its ability to improve service, expand impact, create local jobs and reduce costs, by investing on free and open source software managed by a local workforce.  Open source at the Finnish National Library proved able to quickly change the national landscape as it increases the capacity to serve direct users with tailor-made solutions and benefit the software users worldwide, all while increasing efficiency with a consortium-like structure.

Libraries worldwide should pay attention, especially the hundreds which use the same legacy software and the thousands which spend billions on licenses for proprietary solutions.