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Implementing Koha ILS at the National Library of Puerto Rico

By Hilda Teresa Ayala-González, Interim Library Director, Biblioteca Nacional de Puerto Rico


The General Library of Puerto Rico was created by Law Number 44 from June 6, 1967 and was assigned to the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP) by Dr. Ricardo Alegría. In 2003, it became the National Library by Law Number 188 from August 17 with the aim to preserve and provide access to the rich, unique, and significant bibliographic productions about and related to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans.

The services of the National Library are aimed towards the advancements and dissemination of the cultural values of Puerto Rico. Through the encouragement of leisure reading, specialized research works, educational activities and group visits to the facilities, the National Library fosters a deeper engagement with the Puerto Rican academic, scientific, and creative production and its users. As a National Library, it safeguards the published treasures of Puerto Rico and makes them available for the wider public.

In 2019 the National Library decided to move from the outdated ILS system (Mandarin M3) to an open source system looking for alternatives to attain staff and users’ needs in times of economic limitations. Thanks to the Equinox Open Library Initiative in January 2020 the possibility of a renovated Integrated Library System became a reality.

Adapting Koha to our needs

One of the most important aspects of the initial discussions related to the design was the need to develop a bilingual user interface (OPAC), the default being Spanish and optional English. This was taken into consideration as the main language in Puerto Rico is Spanish, but also, as an option to expand access to our resources to English-speaking populations too; many second or third generations of Puerto Ricans living outside the Archipelago’s main language is English. This design was successfully achieved by providing tailored translations in Spanish to those texts that were not already part of what the community of Koha offers, with an emphasis on automated text messages that users receive when using the OPAC services.

In terms of the database design, the team had to take into consideration that the datasets were stored in 19 different “libraries”, as called on the previous ILS, and this needed to be combined into one whole data set to make sense in the new design. The distinction was preserved under the “location” as each data set had specific use restrictions.

The migration process and design of the database and services coincide with the government closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in early March 2020, shaping also decision making to optimize access to our valuable resources and expand the possibilities for our users, according to new challenges the virus represents for the health of the population served.

Some of the add on services that are new to attend to our users’ needs are: self-registration, article requests, lists & carts, and placing holds for in-person visits. Through self-registration everyone interested in researching the collection can do it. This allows for little intervention from staff and focuses on changing permissions to residents only, which will take advantage of in-house use of materials. But, the researchers that wish to request copies of particular articles of chapters can do it (for a fee), as a new digitization service is currently being implemented to expand our services not only to residents that live far, but also those not living on the main Island. The idea of implementing lists and carts is to allow researchers to facilitate compilations that address their research topics and to store or share the bibliographic data for future use.

As a National Library policy, the collections are for in-house use only. With the new challenges related to keeping staff and users safe from COVID-19, we decided to implement hold services for those users that will require in-person visits. Through holds we can facilitate scheduling visits and creating workstations for users without a lot of contact from personnel and researcher. Also, it will help with timing quarantine. Although we considered this feature as a measurement to respond to the current times, we have decided that the benefit of allowing researchers to let us know ahead of time which resources they will be consulting could result in an efficient use of time and we will maintain it for the future as well.

Planning for future projects

One extraordinary opportunity we had with the Koha team was to develop a specific cataloguing framework to provide a link and access to the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP) journals collection. The resources were digitized and are maintained in a digital archive, in a separate online platform. Previously, the journals were indexed to facilitate researchers access to articles (ca. 1,309). In 2005 the project was not carried on. Through Koha, we decided to link each digital journal and upload a new access version to the 27 new journals that were published since 2005. This framework provides users with the table of content of the journals and the link to the digital version.

This framework will also be put into place to increase access to other digitized material by the ICP and special digitization projects the library is currently planning.

Final remarks

The new catalogue was launched ( in June 2020 and even though we are still not providing in-person services to users, 30 have already register through the system. We are very excited with the possibilities of the Koha ILS and the projects that lay ahead to continue to increases access and enhance services for our users, more importantly to the Equinox services and support for the next three years.

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