Koha Library System

At work I'm responsible for two online systems - the Shop's website and Koha, the library software we use to manage our DVD rentals service.

Over the past week I've been tweaking bits here and there, hacking away (rather crudely in some cases, but hey - it works!), and adding some functions to the systems that have until now been lacking.

The main developments were based in Koha and getting it publicly accessible to allow our customers to find out which DVDs we had available.

What's Koha?!

In terms of the software, it's a free, open source library management system (the first such system in the world) that is used by libraries of all sizes worldwide. Based on library standards, it includes modules for circulation, cataloguing, purchases, periodicals, reservations, borrower management, and much more.

The name Koha comes from the Maori word for gift or donation. In Maori culture "you would bring a koha (Contribution) to an event like a funeral or wedding or big meeting, often food or the specialty of your region. When it's your turn to host an event all your guests will bring a Koha, to ease the burden of catering for a lot of people." [extract from http://www.koha.org/community/resources/about-the-logo.html]

Being as our installation is on our own computer and not a main webserver we've up until now restricted access to the system to just staff use via the 'librarian' screen but our customer satisfaction survey revealed that our customers would also like access to our holdings data.

We'd previously believed that providing this information might stop people visiting the shop if the DVD they wanted wasn't available. That may be true in a few cases but being able to offer the service as a point of information outweighed this.

Getting the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue - the publicly visible part of the system) running was pretty simple. A quick change to Apache's setup allowed access to the software but that was just stage one.

  • Lock down
    Ensuring the rest of the computer, and the staff interface, was not put at risk. Koha's built-in password protection and another change of the Apache config prevents access from anything other than authorised machines.
    What also helps in the lockdown is that the computer serving the pages is sat behind the university firewall so that stops external access. Staff and students can get through to Koha by using a university computer or by connecting by VPN.
  • OPAC passwords
    When a borrower is registered they aren't given an OPAC password as standard so this needed changing.
    By working with the 'change password' script I managed to combine the necessary functions with another script that sends a welcome e-mail out to new members. When it automatically runs overnight, the script will set the OPAC password and include details of how to log in by e-mail to the borrower.
    For existing borrowers I merged the same code in to the module that issues items. When issuing it checks to see if the borrower has a password set, if not it then checks to see when they joined. If it's not today (so as not to include new members) the system sets the password and sends an e-mail about the updated system.
    Over time this second function will become all but redundant as the majority of members will have their password set by the welcome script. This extra code, though, will then catch those that fall through the net if the script fails to run for any reason.
  • Reservations
    I don't want people to be able to make reservations on a DVD that's sitting on the shelf. A quick change to the templates allowed me to only show the Reserve link if the item in question's already on loan.

I'm hoping that all my little patches and tweaks will provide the service I'm hoping for. Looking forward to the feedback now!

Yesterday I wrote about the discovery of a tobacco coupon dating from 1909 that could be collected and redeemed for cash as a reward for smoking Gallaher tobacco products.

The innocent looking book from which the coupon fell turned out not to be as innocent as it first seemed.

Last night's Most Haunted gave me the fright of my life, and probably not for the reasons intended.

[[popup:hex.jpg:(thumbnail):Hex:right:1]] Back in June 2006, after my visit to Alton Towers, I sent Antix an e-mail suggesting the Towers as a location for a Most Haunted investigation - especially to investigate the alleged curse of the Chained Oak and the mystery surrounding the Hex ride. I was absolutely thrilled to discover last year that they had chosen Alton Towers as a location and an investigation had taken place. Obviously I'd like to think that they only investigated there because of my e-mail! ;-)

from team <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
to Chris Hearn
date 15 Jun 2006 09:39
subject RE: MH location suggestion - Alton Towers

Hi Chris,

Many thanks for your email suggesting Alton Towers as a location for Most Haunted. We will pass your suggestion on to our research team who will look into the possibility of filming there in the future.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your interest in Most Haunted and Antix Productions.

Many thanks for your enquiry,


From: Chris Hearn
Sent: 07 June 2006 19:58
To: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject: MH location suggestion - Alton Towers

Please is there any chance of Most Haunted investigating the Alton Towers building and the legend of the Chained Oak?

I'm sure you've already had requests for Alton Towers investigations - it'd be brilliant if you could make this a reality.



Now, being as I don't have Living I have to wait until their shown on digital terrestrial or are released on DVD (which obviously is a long time to wait!) and last night was the moment the investigation was aired on Virgin 1.

Things were going well. David Wells was coming up with correct information and there were many paranormal sounds and stone throwing.

Then, right at the end of the programme Karl did a lone walkabout. He was hearing noises and thought he saw someone stood in a doorway. All of a sudden he swears, he's on the ground, camera still recording, apparently unconscious.

Stuart, who was conducting a vigil elsewhere, returned to the staffroom and noticed Karl hadn't returned. This is when the alarm was raised that Karl may be in danger.

All the crew form a search party where eventually they find Karl laying on the ground.

Was it a paranormal attack on Karl? Did he simply trip and knock himself out? Who knows. The recording on his camera is inconclusive, but the floor is apparently flat and there was no physical being apparently recorded so it's all very strange.

For a moment, though, I thought I'd killed Karl!

Earlier today my parents were given a box of old books to have a look through. You probably know the score - keep the ones that interest you and pass on, sell or dispose of what's left.

There were some good books amongst the pile - some kids books, a couple of Bill Bryson's and a load of very random stuff that probably would interest Joe Bloggs in a million years.

Yesterday I was told that a film crew would be in today following Marion Colisbee-Smith, a cheesemaker looking to establish her own cheesemaking business.

"Great!" I thought, until I suddenly realised that I was in the Reading Room today.