Evergreen at two

On June 4, 2004, Lamar Veatch, State Librarian of Georgia committed the Georgia Public Library Service (GPLS) to a one year test of an open source initiative to develop a new kind of software: a consortial library system.

Georgia had for many years (at least since the 1940’s) pursued a fairly consistent policy—subject to the vagaries of politics and history—to join its smaller public libraries into resource-sharing regional library systems. As a part of an innovative Y2K project, it automated 26 of the regional library systems and smaller county systems into PINES, creating a union database of materials and patrons for a level of resource sharing that was unprecedented.

PINES was a success and was significantly expanded in 2001 but by 2004, for various reasons, the software running PINES was not able to deal with a large, geographically dispersed, system. As is well-known, the automated system reached previously unknown limits and had to be rebooted in the middle of the day to keep operating. Meanwhile, more libraries wanted to join. After an examination of the available software on the market, it was realized that there was nothing to meet the system requirements of the PINES libraries, let alone handle a growing network with evolving requirements. Would Georgia continue its visionary, resource-sharing network? Would it stop adding new libraries and allow the software to limit PINES’ capabilities? Or would it do something else?

On June 4, Georgia embarked on a new course in the library world: it would write the software itself, using the tools and practices of open source and thereby hoping to organize a community around the Evergreen project. There was much skepticism in the library world, of course.

The development process began with the results of feedback from hundreds of people who attended PINES focus groups in 2004. At these focus groups, the phrase “pretend it’s magic” helped break through many of the preconceptions that staff had about what technology could do. These focus groups helped define what Evergreen would do and how it would do it.

After two years of development and testing, Evergreen went live on September 5, 2006 as 44 public library systems in PINES migrated over the Labor Day weekend. There were 252 outlets (central libraries, branches, and bookmobiles) at the time.

It was a success.

Today, there are 50 public library systems in Georgia running Evergreen with 275 outlets. In addition, public libraries in five other states and one Canadian province are using Evergreen now. The Evergreen community currently has 61 public library systems and 292 outlets, with a combined annual circulation of over 20 million items.

In 2008, Evergreen added its first academic library, the University of Prince Edward Island.

This growth has been accompanied by hard work, dedication, and the contributions of many people, particularly the librarians and other library staff in Georgia and at the Georgia Public Library Service. Development continues as more functionality is added and more libraries and more large consortia have seen the value of resource sharing on a grand scale. Other vendors are also paying attention as they seek to add capabilities that Evergreen has had for two years. However, it took librarians and an open source initiative to blaze this trail.

Bob Molyneux