Four years ago, I interviewed Nathan Currulla, co-founder of ByWater Solutions, a major services and solutions provider for Koha, a popular open source integrated library system (ILS). Since then, I’ve benefitted directly from his company’s work, as my local Chautauqua–Cattaraugus Library System in western New York migrated from a proprietary software system to a ByWater Systems’ Koha implementation.
When I learned that ByWater is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019, I decided to reach out to Nathan to learn how the company has grown over the last decade. (Our remarks have been edited slightly for grammar and clarity.)
Don Watkins: How has ByWater grown in the last 10 years?
Nathan Currulla: Over the last 10 years, ByWater has grown by leaps and bounds. By the end of 2009, we supported five libraries with five contracts. That number shot up to 117 libraries made up of 46 contracts by the end of 2010. We now support over 1,500 libraries and 450+ contracts. We also went from having two team members to 25 in the past 10 years. The service-focused processes we have developed for migrating new libraries have been adopted by other library companies, and we have become a real market disruptor, putting pressure on other companies to provide better support and lower software subscription fees for libraries using their products. This was our goal from the outset, to change the way libraries work with the technology companies who support them, whomever they may be.
Since the beginning, we have been rooted in the future, while legacy systems are still rooted in the past. Ten years ago, it was a real struggle for us to overcome the barriers presented by the fear of change in libraries and the outdated perceptions of open source in general. Now, although we still have to deal with change aversion, there are enough users to disprove any misinformation that exists regarding Koha and open source. The conversation is easier now than it ever was. That said, despite the fact that the ideals and morals held by open source are directly aligned with those of libraries, we still have a long way to go until open source technologies are the norm in this marketplace.
DW: What kinds of libraries do you support?
NC: Our partners are made up of a diverse set of library types. About 35% of our partners are public libraries, 35% are academic, and the remaining 30% are made up of museum, corporate, law, school, and other special library types. Because of Koha’s flexibility and diverse feature set, we can successfully provide services to a variety of library types despite the current trend of consolidation in the library technology marketplace.
DW: How does ByWater work with and help the Koha community?
NC: We are working with the rest of the Koha community to streamline workflows and further improve the process of submitting and accepting new features into Koha. The vast majority of the community is made up of volunteers; by providing paid positions within the community, we can dedicate more time to the quality assurance and sign-off processes needed to stay competitive with other systems, both open source and proprietary. The number of new features submitted to the Koha community for each release is staggering. The more resources we have to get those features out to our users, the faster Koha can evolve and further shape the library-technology marketplace.
DW: When we talked in 2015, ByWater had recently partnered with library solutions provider EBSCO. What initiatives are you working on now with EBSCO?
NC: Originally, Catalyst IT of New Zealand worked with EBSCO to create the EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS) plugin that is used by many of our customers. Unlike most discovery systems that sit on top of a library’s online public access catalog (OPAC), Koha’s integration with EDS uses the Koha OPAC as the frontend, with EDS feeding data into the Koha interface. This allows libraries to choose which interface they prefer (EDS or Koha as the frontend) and provides a unified library service platform (LSP). EBSCO has always been a great partner and has always shown a strong willingness to contribute to the open source initiative. They understand the importance of having fewer barriers between the ILS and the libraries’ other content to provide a seamless interface to the end user.
Outside of Koha, ByWater is working closely with EBSCO to provide implementation, training, and support services for its Folio LSP. Folio is an open source LSP for academic libraries with the intent to provide even more seamless integration with other content providers using an extensible, open app marketplace. ByWater is developing a separate department for the implementation and ongoing support of Folio, with EBSCO providing hosting services to our mutual customers. The fact that EBSCO is investing millions in the creation of an open source platform lends further credence to the importance and validity of open source technologies in the library market.
DW: What other projects are you supporting? How do they complement Koha?
NC: ByWater also supports Libki, an open source, web-based kiosk and print management solution; Coral, an open source electronic resource management (ERM) solution; and Folio. Libki and Coral seamlessly integrate with Koha to provide a unified LSP. Folio may work in cooperation with Koha on some functionality, but it is too early to tell what that will specifically look like.
ByWater also offers Koha Klassmates, a program that provides free installations of Koha to over 40 library schools in the US to familiarize the next generation of librarians with open source and the tools they will use daily in the workforce. We are also rolling out a program called Koha University, which will mentor computer science students in writing and submitting code to Koha, one of the largest open source projects in the world. This will give them experience in working in such an environment and provide the opportunity for their names to be listed as official Koha contributors.
DW: What is ByWater’s strategic focus over the next five years?
NC: ByWater will continue offering top-rated support to our ever-growing customer base while leveraging new open source opportunities to disprove misinformation surrounding the use of open source solutions in libraries. We will focus on making open source the norm and educating libraries that could be taking advantage of these technologies but do not because of outdated information and perceptions.
Additionally, our research and development efforts will be focused on analyzing machine learning for advanced education and support services. We also want to work closely with our partners on advancing the marketing efforts (through software) for small and large libraries to help cement their roles as community centers by marketing inventory, programs, and library events. We want to be community builders on different levels, both for our partner libraries and with the open source communities that we are involved in.