ByWater Solutions, one of the most prominent companies offering ILS and technology support to libraries that are using open source technology, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2019. To mark this momentous occasion, I spoke to ByWater Solutions’ co-founder Nate Curulla via email about the company’s past, present, and future. Over the past 10 years, it has empowered libraries all around the world by “giving them the technological flexibility and freedom they deserve through the use of open source software with comprehensive and honest support.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
First and foremost, congrats on your 10-year anniversary. That’s a huge accomplishment, and I think getting to the 10-year mark speaks volumes about not only the great services you provide to your customers, but also to the kind and caring approach you take to helping out libraries. Besides getting ByWater Solutions up and running and successful, what do you think is your company’s biggest accomplishment so far?
Thank you! We have been a service- and support-oriented company from the start, and I am glad (and relieved) to see that our model works and has been extremely well-received by the library world in general. There are many who said that this service model was not sustainable for a small company like ours, and I am glad they were wrong.
Besides the growth of our company, I would say that the biggest accomplishment so far has been the fact that our little company has caused significant disruption in the ILS marketplace, to the point where companies who did not previously focus on the importance of high-quality support are starting to focus on this key feature for their customers. We have started changing the paradigm within the library technology space from being a product-based industry to more of a service-based industry. This was our goal from the outset, to change the way libraries work with the technology companies that support them, regardless of who they might be.
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years ago, it was a real struggle for us to overcome the barriers presented by the fear of change in libraries and the outdated perceptions of open source in general.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although we still have to deal with change aversion, there are enough current users to disprove the misinformation and outdated perceptions that exist regarding Koha and open source.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 an open source approach are directly in line with those of libraries, we still have a long way to go until open source technologies are the norm in this marketplace.
The translation of the Maori word “Koha” is “gift.” One of the biggest parts of Koha is the community—it came from the community and has been grown by a network of developers and users throughout the world. What do you think are some of the “gifts” that ByWater Solutions has given to the Koha community in the past 10 years?
To be honest, we have received more gifts from the community than we have contributed. The community is the reason for the success of Koha, as it is made up of users and developers who are mostly volunteer-based and take part in the quality assurance and testing of all of the features that are submitted for inclusion in the stable releases of Koha, as well as the governance and protection of the project as a whole. That said, we try to contribute back as much as we can.
Over the past 10 years, ByWater Solutions, along with our partners, has submitted hundreds of new features back to the community to share with the rest of the world, including a new cataloging interface, Elasticsearch integration into the system, the text messaging of overdues within Koha, and the development of REST APIs for easier integration with third-party systems.
In addition to feature contributions, ByWater team members have held various positions over the past 10 years, including multiple release managers, a documentation manager, quality assurance testers, and many more. We have also hosted KohaCon, the annual global Koha conference, and currently fund two positions within the community so that more time can be dedicated to the quality assurance and sign-off processes needed to quickly get new features in the system and stay competitive with other products, both open source and proprietary.
Privacy is a big topic these days—we’re hearing so much in the news about companies getting hacked and credit card information being revealed, as well as personal information leaking out through social media. What are some of the things ByWater Solutions is doing to address the privacy of library users?
Privacy is a very important topic for us here at ByWater. Open source products are inherently more secure than their proprietary counterparts because of the open nature of the software projects. This is why most of our government agencies require the use of open source products over proprietary ones. The amount of time it takes to identify and fix security issues is drastically less when working in an open source environment because of the lack of barriers to addressing issues. In addition to that, ByWater’s hosted customers enjoy a free encryption via SSL (HTTPS) for all public catalog and staff interface URLs. We also have many additional security measures in place within our cloud computing network to ensure all data is safe and secure.
Circulation systems are still at the center of all libraries, but as libraries change to meet the needs of their communities by offering educational classes, training, and events for all ages, how do you think Koha can grow to better suit their evolving needs?
A big focus of our development efforts for 2019 will be on expanding the capabilities within Koha for marketing and community outreach. We plan on developing more features within the system to make it easier for libraries to proactively anticipate their user’s wants and needs, manage outreach initiatives, and build patron relationships, all while remaining a reliable resource for users. By using linked metadata to eliminate silos of information and bring all program content into one easy-to-use interface, all types of libraries using Koha will be able to strengthen their role as community centers for their users.
We also feel that marketing will play a greater role in the ILS market over the next few years. Being able to digitally market all of your materials (physical and digital), while also effectively presenting workshops, community meetings, and all types of community programming will be a key indicator of a library’s success within its community in the coming years. Libraries are all doing an excellent job of being the community centers they’ve always been, and we feel that Koha will be the leader in assisting with software and technology methods for improving on this important role in the near future.
What types of libraries do you see using Koha these days? What kinds of libraries do you think would benefit from Koha in the future?
ByWater currently supports more than 1,500 libraries worldwide. Our partners are made up of a diverse set of library types, from public to academic to special. 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 are able to successfully provide services to a variety of library types despite the current trend of consolidation in the library technology marketplace.
We are starting to see larger institutions adopt Koha as well. In 2018, Virginia Tech implemented Koha in its University Libraries, making it the first academic research library and the largest academic library in the U.S. to adopt Koha. It has been live for almost a full year, and the library staffers are very happy with the result of their decision to move to ByWater.
Larger public libraries have also been showing a significant interest in Koha and signing with ByWater because of the impressive feature set we can now offer and the very affordable prices that go along with it. Going forward, we plan on seeing larger and larger libraries adopt Koha as the negative perceptions relating to open source products like Koha continue to be disproved by other libraries successfully using the system.
It’s 2029, and we’re back here talking about your 20-year anniversary. What do you think we’ll be talking about when it comes to Koha in 2029? What does ByWater Solutions look like in 10 years, and what is the biggest accomplishment that you think you’re celebrating at the 20-year mark?
Over the next 5–10 years, ByWater’s focus will be to continue offering top-rated support to our ever-growing customer base while leveraging new open source opportunities to further 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 they may have.
Additionally, our research-and-development efforts will be focused on analyzing machine learning for advanced proactive 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 with marketing of inventory, programs, and library events.
We want to be community builders on different levels, both for our partner libraries and with open source communities that we are involved in. We plan on having a system with advanced linked data functionality to better connect libraries with the greater online environment, making it even easier for current and potential patrons to see what their local libraries have to offer them.