ILS on a Shoe-String Budget: Open-Source Software in a Non-Profit Organization

By | Uncategorized | January 1, 2013 | One comment


The Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG) is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to connect people, plants and the natural world through education, inspiration and leadership. The TBG is also home of the Weston Family Library, Canada’s largest private horticultural library. With over 10,000 titles, the library serves TBG members, the public, and Toronto’s horticultural associations through its diverse collections that include books, magazines, audiovisual materials, and historical resources.

With a small core staff, the TBG self-generates over 95% of its operating income and is run chiefly by volunteers, as is the Weston Family Library. For more than 15 years Inmagic (later called Inmagic® DB/Textworks®) was used as the Library’s integrated library system (ILS), which provided a records database and automation for circulation, cataloguing, and an online public access catalogue (OPAC). Because of funding cutbacks, the Inmagic software had not been up graded in more than eight years, and the system was in need of an overhaul.

Without the funds to purchase proprietary software or hire consultants, the Weston Family Library’s sole librarian embarked upon an ambitious project to transfer the catalogue from Inmagic® DB/Textworks® to Koha, a Web-based, open-source ILS platform.

As open-source software, Koha is free, and is supported by its world-wide user/development community. Now 14 years old, it offers full library automation and functionality (including cataloguing, circulation, acquisitions, patron management, OPAC, and a customizable interface).

Project Objectives

  1. To establish Web-based, open-source Koha as the Library’s ILS without the use of paid consultants.
  2. To transfer the Library’s 10,000 catalogue records from Inmagic® DB/Textworks® to Koha, a MARC-based ILS platform.


  1. Established a team: The Head Librarian (Zachary Osborne) hired two volunteer Library System Support Assistants: Jolene Bennett, a recent grad of Seneca’s Library & Information Technician program, and Lee Benson, a librarian seeking part-time work.
  2. Found that Inmagic records required manipulation to achieve Koha’s MARC-based record format: In parallel and in consultation, the team researched and learned:
    - Ways of manipulating Inmagic files to achieve the desired MARC record format, and
    - How to use MarcEdit to map MARC records to Koha.
  3. Massaged the Data:
    - Analyzed the data within our records to find: a) inconsistencies (cleaned using the “find and replace” functions), and b) the number of unique entries in some fields.
    - Created statistics about our data (i.e. number of records with 1 subject, 2 subjects, etc.)
    - Used Excel and its built-in string and text functions to parse, change, and concatenate fields to conform to MARC format.
    - Created a new file after each data manipulation, so that any inadvertent changes to data could be recovered. For example, Excel truncated some long text fields and altered some numeric values (e.g. dates, ISSN, ISBN, barcodes) when cell-formatting was not specified.
    - Used Excel functions to speed up the editing of records, but where using functions would take longer than editing records manually, the latter method was employed.
    - Excel field names were changed to reflect MARC tags and subfield delimiters, e.g., Title: became 245$a; Subtitle became 245$b.
    - Used MarcEdit to code data: Excel field headings were mapped to MARC fields and subfields.
  4. Koha
    - Installed Koha via Linux-based Debian operating system.
    - Resources used: Koha Manual, Koha Community website, and Koha listserv.
    Set up the bibliographic MARC frameworks and system preferences within Koha.


Major Findings & Significance

  • It is rare for a small library to migrate or update an ILS on their own without the paid professional assistance of consultants or contracted vendor IT services. This project could only be accomplished with the help of volunteers, which saved the TBG more than $3,000.
  • The Library gained an ILS with increased interoperability that is easier to use for both staff and library users. An overall improvement to circulation, OPAC, and collection access.
  • The team gained invaluable, marketable skills, and significant professional development. The project is a win-win success story in which all involved feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments.


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Zack Osborne about the author: Zack Osborne

Zack Osborne is the Head Librarian at the Toronto Botanical Garden’s Weston Family Library. He has a Master of Information Studies in Library and Information Science from the University of Toronto, and has worked in many types of special libraries from the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives to De Beers Canada Inc. He is passionate about special collections, social media in libraries, and is developing a healthy obsession with collecting houseplants.

TORONTO BOTANICAL GARDEN, 777 Lawrence Avenue East, Toronto, ON CANADA | 416-397-1341 |