Koha community members give tips, respond to survey questions

Getting started with Koha, an open source library system

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When I think back, I can't remember my first involvement in the Koha community. I remember talking to Chris Cormack on Instant Messenger nearly everyday before ever really communicating with the community has a whole. I remember trying to find a job working with Koha when it was time for me to move on from my first job, but I still don't remember really being involved in the community. I read a great post by Siobhan Mckeown about participating in the WordPress community and I highly recommend reading it, but I thought maybe I should do a Koha variation for those who want to get involved.

My own personal story started with a mentor, Chris, and lead to becoming Documentation Manager and a Koha trainer. But we all have different paths and different stories, so I asked the community to answer a few questions to help me produce a well rounded post for you (following Siobhan's model).

First tips

A couple of first tips from those who responded. Arslan from Pakistan points out:

First, I may make sure he/she knows the difference between the real Koha, and the other Koha :) the history part is important. Then the obvious thing to do is to get them familiarize with the wiki and read stuff. This newbie guide is still golden.

There is a group library on Zotero where articles about Koha and a bit of history can be found if you want to do your homework. Next, one community member makes this great suggestion:

Dive in! The community is open and friendly, and any level of involvement (or lack thereof) is always up to you.

Get involved with the community

Like I said, I don't remember when I started as an active community member, but I know that I started on the mailing list and can still remember my first time on IRC with the community and it was so much fun to get to talk to people from all over the world who were using Koha. Tomás Cohen Arazi of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba suggests that new community members start with these same tasks:

Subscribe to the users list. Join the IRC chat so people know you and your work. The most important, be polite and keep in mind that everyone that answers your questions is spending his time to help you, so be patient.

There is a great quote from Wikinomics about participating in open source that echoes Tomás's statement about being polite:

Critiquing the community is a right reserved for those who have proved themselves by making valuable contributions.

My first foray into the Koha mailing list was as a 'lurker.' I hung around and read what everyone was saying. I got a feel for the tone, the software, and the community dynamic this way. The people on the mailing lists and in the IRC channel have been around for varying lengths of time and have different areas of expertise, and communicating with these people is the key to learning both how to use the software and how to participate.


There's more to learn than just the software when it comes to Koha. You need to learn the culture. That comes with being involved and following the tips above. When it comes to learning the software though, the community has plenty of tips to share. Before you can really dive in and start working on Koha and contributing to the codebase, you need to learn a few things.

Bruce A. Metcalf at the The Augustan Society Library encourages new community members that:

The best way to learn about Koha, or any other program, is to install it (preferably in a sandbox) and play until you break it.

I agree and always tell people in training to go ahead and try to break Koha because that's how they learn and how they come up with ways to improve the final product. Elaine Bradtke at Vaughan Williams Memorial Library adds:

Go to the Koha wiki, look for libraries near you, look at their OPAC, talk to someone who is using it, even better, if they can show you the inner workings and how they use the system.

I also recommend taking a look at the manual and the Other Docs sections on the Koha site and my Education tab on ByWaterSolutions.com (I put a lot of info in there for learning how to use the product). As one anonymous respondent so nicely put it:

RTFM--it's a well-written, helpful manual!

Nancy Keener from the Washoe County Library System had some additional pointers to share:

There are lots of links on the wiki that will direct someone with an interest. Look at Bugzilla, and get a sense of what kind of work is being done. Attend the IRC meetings. Don't assume you know everything you need to know. Observe a while and ease into the action.

Another great tip that Siobhan shares that I couldn't agree more with is to write what you learn. The best way to absorb what you're learning is to share what you're learning. So start up a blog about your explorations into Koha. Write about what you've learned about the culture, what you've learned about using Koha, and what you've learned about contributing to Koha. This not only helps you remember things and see things in a new light, but also helps others like you who are trying to break in to the community.

Find a mentor

I wouldn't be where I am today without my Koha community mentor, Chris Cormack. He pointed me in the right direction, helped me install Koha, and then encouraged me to do things that I didn't think I could (like submit my first patch). But don't limit yourself either. I see several community members as mentors in different ways. For example, Owen Leonard helps me with design issues all the time and when he's not actively teaching me, his helpfulness and awesome work make me want to learn more and try new things in the area of design. In fact, I recently wrote my first snippet of JQuery to change a small display issue in Koha.

BWS Johnson commented about her mentors

I guess Chris Cormack was sort of my mentor, or even Stephen Hedges. There was nothing formal, but I really feel like Stephen got me through the door when I had a long phone conversation with him about the software before I started using it at Hinsdale.

Manny Tamayao from the Philippines points out that a mentor was a great help in him getting Koha up and running:

Yes, it helps a lot because you can understand the technical aspect on how to do Koha installation.

And most other respondents pointed out that just being in IRC was like having a bunch of mentors to turn to at any time. Others, like Elaine, had specific people to thank:

I spent a little time talking to Jared Camins-Esakov in person, when he worked at the Numismatic library. This was just as we were starting to test the system with a small batch of our own data, and in many ways our two library collections had similar challenges in the conversion process. He was and continues to be very helpful.

And Arslan who had many many helpers:

Almost everyone is my mentor in #koha. When I joined I asked a lot of stupid questions (without reading the wiki) and somehow everyone had the patience to help me. Katrin taught me how to sign off bugs. She literally walked me through each small step. When I had to do some project for my MLIS degree, I asked Brooke how about I deploy Koha in one of the local library. She said go for it. I said but it will be my first time. She said don't worry go for it we'll all help you. And I was told multiple times 'you will be fine' :) Brooke helped me and wrote detailed answers on how I can 'manage' my workflow, she taught me how when cataloging books, there is a quick way to do it, and then there is a proper way to do it. Explained both in detail. Katrin and Jared helped me whenever I needed help somewhere. I remember they helped with the custom MARC framework creation.... hiding vs. removing fields... etc. So Brooke and Katrin are my mentors. Brooke is awesome. All the awesome people of Koha are keeping this community alive.

And others still, like Nancy, are happy to have a support vendor:

My support vendor was a great help and gave me and my library the confidence to plunge ahead. I felt very positive about the community and the work they do. A great group of people.

Final tips

In closing, Koha is like a family. I love going to the annual conference and seeing everyone and getting to catch up and hang out in person. Getting involved with this group is something that you'll never regret. Elaine seems to agree with me when she comments on how the community has welcomed her:

Patience and generosity, our fellow Koha users seem to have an abundance of them. It makes all the difference in the world.

And Nancy wants to remind us all:

Be willing to participate. No matter if it is funding a development, being a developer, testing patches, it is very important to help move things along.

I want to thank all those who participated in this little survey of mine. As promised I would share the results publicly, so here's the spreadsheet with the answers (emails removed). The answers were enhanced with links and capitalization, but no other changes were made.

About the author

Nicole C. Engard - Nicole C. Engard is a Content Strategist at Red Hat. She received her MLIS from Drexel University and her BA from Juniata College. Nicole volunteers as the Director of ChickTech Austin. Nicole is known for many different publications including her books “Library Mashups", "More Library Mashups", and "Practical Open Source Software for Libraries". Nicole can be reached at nengard@gmail.com.