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Evergreen Open-Source Integrated Library System

King County Library System
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Problem Statement

In order to survive and remain relevant, public libraries must have greater control over their library system software to optimize the work environment for staff and provide state-of-the-art services for patrons. However, the proprietary integrated library system (ILS) software used by most libraries today ensures vendors have control instead of the libraries themselves. Libraries are paying high costs to license software that they have very little influence over. Even minor changes and bug fixes can be unreasonably expensive, if the changes are allowed at all.


In a major multi-year software development effort, KCLS significantly upgraded the Evergreen open-source ILS, originally developed and implemented by the state of Georgia in 2006. KCLS enhanced the ILS effectively to serve a large multi-agency metropolitan or large suburban system. Concurrently, KCLS received a $1M grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (ILMS) to work with seven other public library partners, also committed to going forward with Evergreen. The goals of the grant project are to:

  1. Promote open-source adoption by articulating the benefits to libraries.
  2. Increase participation in open-source projects.
  3. Make open-source conversions a viable option for public libraries by providing infrastructure elements related to planning, implementation, training, development and support.
  4. Develop a new model of peer-to-peer support for open-source libraries.

In a nutshell, the purpose of both the development and the grant projects are to build a really great ILS that all public libraries can use and change, based upon their own service needs, without being at the mercy of a commercial vendor, and without having to pay expensive ongoing software licensing costs.


KCLS went live with the upgraded Evergreen system, on schedule, on September 24, 2010. On the challenging side—catalog performance was erratic, and a number of system features were still immature or unavailable. Missing features and slow searching have been challenging to staff and patrons. On the positive side—the system is performing very well in all major technical aspects, and is sufficiently robust to handle the production volume of one of the largest and busiest library systems in the country. As of March 2011, we’ve made substantial progress on system performance and we continue to make many changes and add new features with a freedom and flexibility that we’ve never experienced on a vended commercial system. We expect that before 2011 is through, any lost features and services will be restored, many will be improved, and the catalog will be blazingly fast and accurate. The future on this platform looks very promising. Our library grant partners share this perspective. Any public library considering a change in ILS should take a hard look at Evergreen as a serious, competitive, economically sensible, and empowering system alternative.