Friday, March 6, 2009

Thinking about Item Types in Koha

I am writing this post to record the process I have been through to review our existing use of Item Types in Koha 2.x, in preparation for a move to Koha 3.x.

OPAC centric
I focussed this exercise from the library users point of view. What would our patrons like to ‘see’ as a search result in OPAC interface?

Search Result:

  • Title, author etc
  • What format is it?
  • Is it on loan or available ?
  • If on loan when is it due back?
  • If available, which library is it currently at?
  • Which area of the library or which collection do I go to get it? Which collection or ‘Living Room’?
  • What is its shelving position ie dewey or filing letters?

Advanced Search:

  • Only items not on loan OR all
  • Only items at a specific library Or all * Particular formats ie Book only or DVD OR all
  • Particular audiences ie children’s, teen or adult OR all
  • Particular genre: romance or mystery etc
  • Particular collections: easy reader fiction, picturebooks, local history etc

Item Types OR CCodes

There are two very different ways to organize a collection in Koha 3.0. Either heavy use of the Item Types OR heavy use of CCodes. My understanding is that you have to choose 1 or the other for advanced search, but not both.

Item types – These are used to set circulation policies. These are not format descriptors (GMDs). They can be set as advanced search options, and display as icons on the search results screen. The codes are never seen by the public, but informative descriptions add real value as a finding tool for patrons.

CCodes – Collection Codes can be set as advanced search options too, and can be set to display as text on search results.

Having minimal Item Types can greatly simplify the creation of circulation rules. So you could have just 3 or 4 Item types, and then use collection codes to shape your collection into ‘clusters’.

eg. Item Types:

  • G General collection 3 week loan period, no rental
  • GR General rental collection 3 week loan, $3 rental
  • S Short term loan 1 week loan, no rental
  • SR Short term rental collection 1 week loan, $1 rental

with a bunch of CCodes:

  • ANF Adult nonfiction
  • CNF Children’s nonfiction
  • TNF Teens nonfiction
  • AF Adult Fiction
  • JF Junior fiction

Or even by genre or Living Room:

  • FM Fiction mystery
  • FW Fiction Western
  • FR Fiction Romance
  • BNP People and Places

Alternatively, we could create as many Item Types as we like to reflect a finely granulated collection at Item Type level, with or without the use of Collection Codes.

If we go with many item types then I will need to craft the circulation rules carefully, loading the default position first and only creating rules for the exceptions. My old way of creating a rule for every single combination of patron and item types will be a nightmare!

If we go with Item Types I will assign icons which reflects the format or GMD (ie all book item types have a book icon). The full text description of the item type will display in the OPAC search result enabling the patron to see what format the item is at a glance.

Test Scenarios.
I created a bunch of test scenarios in order to see how applying each of the various options and combinations could best meet my objective of delivering the most useful information for the patron.

In placing a heavy emphasis on Item Types I could end up with about 100 different item types, if I fully utilized this method to reflect genres within fiction, rental fiction and large print, and also ‘living rooms’ or subject based sub-collections within the non-fiction.

I also wanted to test an option where heavy emphasis is placed on Collection Codes. This would streamline setting up circulation rules drastically as only 8 Item Types would be required, but I would still have to create a whole heap of Collection Codes. I could group a bunch of Item Types into 1 collection, or a bunch of collections into 1 Item Type.

Several scenarios were tested:

  • Total granulation as far as possible, for all genres and living rooms, within all collections (about 100 item types).
  • Granulate for all major collections, but not for genres. Rely on the subject headings – which are hotlinks to find related material. (about 60 item types).
  • As above, but enter the Genre in the Call Number field as well.
  • Minimum number of Item Types created, 1 for each class of circulation eg 3 weeks & no rental, 1 week & $2 etc.

I have a document showing the detail of the tests but I'm not clever enough to create tables in this blog... so contact me directly if you want the whole document!


All 4 test scenarios struggled with displaying the Fiction genres in a useful way for the Patron. This is because we do not shelf them by Genre.

Our Fiction Collection Manager suggested we just stop adding them in to the catalogue, and use the subject headings instead, which would actually be more useful because different aspects of the book could be catalogued. We would not be forcing a book into 1 genre. We can still add Genre stickers to the spines if we wish, which is where they really come into their own for shelf browsers, but the catalogue will not reflect that.

This made live easier.

The reason against making loads of Item Types is the pain of creating the circulation rules table – and its not a bad enough reason to out weigh the benefits of many, finely tuned and well descibed, Item Types which would add real value to the OPAC search results.

We will create Item Types for each collection and Living Room, but not by Genre for each of the 3 Fiction collections: free, rental and large print.

Thanks to Owen, Brooke, Nicole, Caitlin, Larissa and Rosalie for helping me work through the issues.


Unknown said...

J, I sympathize with your struggles. We went through a similar process of evaluation when we set up our Koha catalog. There were a few heuristics that helped us make decisions. 1. Item types should be kept to a minimum, for all the reasons you elaborated. Since circulation and fines rules are dependent on Item Types, we wanted to avoid proliferation of Item Types. 2. Collection Codes should be patron friendly, descriptive, and entirely OPTIONAL. We didn't really care if these proliferated, since they are not connected to circulation rules, and we didn't insist that they be applied to an item in a consistent way. Some libraries don't do genre breakouts (like you) so they just use FICTION for a Collection Code; others do genre breakouts, and so they can choose from MYSTERY, ROMANCE, SF-FANTASY etc. We chose the preference that displays CCodes in the OPAC Advanced Search over Item Types. This allows a patron to filter by DVD or VHS, or BOOK ON CASSETTE vs. BOOK ON CD vs BOOK ON DIGITAL. 3. Items in the catalog should be reportable in meaningful ways. In other words, we should be able to use Item Types, Collection Codes, and Shelving Locations (we chose to use this additional classification for ADULT, YOUNG ADULT and CHILDREN materials to allow audience breakdowns) to generate meaningful reports. We're still fine-tuning, to be sure, but we have 21 libraries with very diverse collections in our shared catalog, and this approach seems to be working out well.

Joann Ransom said...

Hi Mickey, Thanks so much for responding. I was hoping I would get some discussion on my post before we made the changes; kind of a peer review to check that we are heading the right direction! Can I access your OPAC in order to see how the catalogue search results display? I would love to see a few examples of how libraries have solved this issue. I havn't looked at shelving locations either yet so still room to wiggle there!

Cheers Jo.

Unknown said...

Sure, take a look at our shared catalog at


Dianna said...

I found your thoughts on Koha item types extremely interesting as we are also contemplating the move to version 3.

At present we have an extraordinarily long list of item types (40 in total!) but in our current Koha they are required to identify how and where they are shelved i.e. as collection codes and genre types rather than for issuing rules.

If you read you rightly this no longer applies in Koha 3? But if we use item types AND collection codes this can affect searching?

I'm looking forward to reading more on this topic!

BTW, I have also enjoyed your posts on other topics too.

Joann Ransom said...

Hi Dianna,

Please don't take it that I have all the answers because I don't! Hence my making public my thought processes in the hope that through discussion with others I will come close to what I want to achieve.

I don't see any problem in having many item types, other than having to load in many circulation rules... but that only happens once and is just a chore to be done. We have settled on 60. This includes a separate item type for each subject area within dewey (we call them living room collections). I was toying with the idea of also creating 1 for each genre of fiction, and large print too. No reason not too (other than the circulation rules table ..)

If you shelve your genres separately then I think you will have an easier time than us. We identify them by genre on the catalogue but shelve them all mixed up... the spine logos are more a browsing aid than anything else.

Other libraries are using CCodes very succesfully and I am trying to figure out which emphasis will work best for us. Its looking like item types at this point.

I know other libraries are using 'shelved at' to good effect too; I havn't investigated that yet... but will!

patora said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts about itemtypes and ccodes in Koha. We always used itemtypes, but using ccodes too could help us to separate some very diferent materials that are actually all treated equal because they share the same circulation policy.

Joann Ransom said...

Hi all,

I have loads of incredibly useful feedback about this post regarding item types and collection codes, both on my blog and via email .. so glad because it wasn't getting much open discussion on the list for some reason ...

So, on further thinking, I have come up with another option and wonder if this solution could be usefully accommodated in Koha 3.x, and made to display nicely in an OPAC search result:

9 'Item types' (based on loan length + rental charge)
13 'CCodes' (collections : a defined area of shelving housing a particular clutch of material eg Adult Fiction)
60 'Shelved at' options (subcollections ie Rental Fiction, Free Fiction etc)
'Call Number' field used to display dewey number and filing letters.

I do want to assign icons to item types which indicate Format ie DVD, Book, and will want those to display on the OPAC search results too, and will set the 'Advanced Search' to display CCodes.

Any problems that anyone can see? Improvements?

Cheers Jo.