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Deciding to automate your library system is a big decision, but an even bigger question is “which integrated library system should i choose?”. To help you, we picked two common library systems Koha Integrated Library System and Athenaeum and did a comparison of the two. We looked at some of the factors that will be at the forefront of any librarians mind when making such a decision, including cost (prices are in USD), features, support and more. We also made a list of pros and cons for both Koha and Athenaeum library systems.

Koha ILS versus Athenaeum



The first thing any budget conscious librarian will be thinking of when considering a new library system is “How much does it cost?”. Athenaeum comes in two versions – Athenaeum Lite and Athenaeum Pro. The Lite version costs $50/year excluding FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server. This means you will have to purchase FileMaker Pro separately – pricing is based on the number of users and it costs between $888  (5 users) to $8748 (100 users) per year (custom packages are available if you want more users).

Athenaeum Pro includes FileMaker Pro and “ranges between roughly $650 – $2500”. Based on the cost of the FileMaker Pro suite, we assume that the price is dependant on the number of users who will be connecting to your database. Therefore, if you chose Athenaeum Lite, you will be paying a minimum of $938 ($50 for Athenaeum Lite and $888 for FileMaker Pro) per year for 5 users, while Athenaeum Pro will presumably cost you a minimum of $650 per year for the same number of users. These costs exclude training and support, which must be paid for separately (minimum $495). Future updates and upgrades must also be paid for at a cost of $450.


Koha on the other hand is a free and open source library management system. This means you can download, install and customize it for free and you don’t pay yearly licensing fees or pricing tiers. You can choose to set it up by on your own if you have the in-house expertise (it runs on Linux server or desktop) or you can partner with support companies like BiblioTech Libraries  who offer premium hosted services at low prices. If you install it yourself, Koha has a worldwide community of developers, librarians and users who are ready to help.



As we’ve already mentioned – Athenaeum comes in two versions – Lite and Pro.  The documentation on the Athenaeum website is not clear on what the main differences are, but you can expect to either have limited or no access to certain modules such as circulation, borrowers, QuickMarcTM , authorities, MARC imports, FlexiSpellTM, reports, data migration/integration, emailing and network access when using the Lite package.


Koha ILS does not have tiered access but gives you full administrative access to all the available modules in the system without having to pay any money for future updates and upgrades. Some of the modules that come with Koha include circulation, cataloguing, z39.50 search, patron management, budget management, reports, label and patron card design and printing, automatic notices, stocktaking and inventory management, MARC data manipulation and more.



Atheneum limits the number of users (both administrative and patron) depending on the FileMaker Pro package you choose. The cheapest FileMaker Pro package costs $888.00 per year for 5 users, and $8748 for up to 100 users. Custom packages are available if you need additional users.


Koha, a free and open source system, allows you to add an unlimited number of patron and staff users. This makes it the ideal system for libraries that have huge numbers of patrons (such as you would typically have at a school or university). Patrons can access the database and their account via the Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) while librarians have administrative access via the staff web page.



Access to Athenaeum depends on whether you have a standalone or client-server setup. A standalone set up allows you use Athenaeum on a single machine but does not allow for remote connection by other users. In a client-server configuration, other Athenaeum users can connect to your database from their installation via a network link, or using FileMaker Go (for iPads and iPhones) or via a web browser. The limitations on the number of users defined in your FileMaker Pro licensing package still applies.


Koha has web-based interfaces (for staff and patrons) which are accessible via the web (local network or internet) without any need for additional configuration or software. This makes it platform independent, meaning an unlimited number of users can connect to Koha using any device that has web browser installed regardless of the operating system (OS).



Athenaeum training and support costs are as follows:

  • Support (12 months) – starts from $495, excluding travel costs and taxes. There are various limitations on the number of hours you can claim.
  • Software updates – starts from $450, excluding GST. The Athenaeum website states that this charge excludes third-party software. It is not clear if FileMaker Pro is counted as such – if so, then the cost of updates will be much higher.
  • Getting the latest web templates – about $299
  • Ad-hoc support – charged at $30 per 15 mins for educational institutions and $45 per 15 mins for commercial organisations.


In comparison, you can get free support from any one of the Koha mailing lists or community groups. Alternatively, you can pay for dedicated support and training  from Koha ILS vendors such as BiblioTech Libraries from as low as $19.99 per month for hosting and $299 for once-off web-based training.

Vendor Lock-in

A crucial aspect to consider when getting a new library system (or any software for that matter) is the availability of software vendors for that particular system. What we mean by this is how easily you are able switch support services from one vendor to another. If you are limited to a single vendor for your support and services, this situation is known as vendor lock-in. This means that you become completely dependant on the software maker or provider with no alternative. This situation is undesirable because you are basically at the mercy of the whims of that vendor (for example, they can increase prices at any time or shut down, leaving you with no alternatives).


In our research, we were unable to find alternative vendors for Athenaeum other than the makers of the software themselves, which is a classic case of vendor lock-in.


Koha ILS is not only developed and maintained by a strong community of thousands of developers and librarians globally, but there are also hundreds of companies worldwide – including BiblioTech Libraries – that offer premium support services. You are free to export your data switch from one vendor to the other at any time, or even go it alone if you have the expertise. And because Koha is not a proprietary system owned by any one individual or company, but is developed by an ever-growing community of volunteers, companies and organisations, it will always be a free software with guaranteed longevity.



Our experience with Athenaeum’s interface (our tests were done on the Athenaeum Lite package) was that it came across as a bit clunky and difficult to navigate. What passes for the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue) has three tabs (issue, return, and check) and a search bar. In the Lite package, only the “check” tab works – we assumed that the issue and return tabs are either only available on the Pro version or are dead. There is no account management section for resetting passwords, viewing historical and current checkouts, placing holds, etc. in the Lite package.


Koha has two separate interfaces that are accessible via separate web or ip addresses via a web browser – the staff page for the librarians and an OPAC for the patrons. On the Staff page, all the modules and settings are neatly and readily accessible from the Home page. Navigation is quite simple and easy as well. On the OPAC, patrons can do searches by keyword, title, author, call number, subject, ISBN or series title. Patrons can also view their historical and current circulation data, fines and charges (and pay for them online too!), tags, change passwords, update their account details, make purchase suggestions, and create reading lists. As with the staff page, navigation is quite easy and straightforward. Both web interfaces are also customizable to include things like logo, custom links, notices, branding etc.

Summary of Pros and Cons: Koha vs. Athenaeum


Pros Cons
Windows based, installation is relatively simple. Requires multiple modules (Athenaeum software, FileMaker modules etc) hence cumbersome and clunky.
Customisation is fairly simple. Templates cost a minimum $299. Costly – Athenaeum Lite will cost about $1600 for 5 users per year while the Pro version starts from about $1200 (including support). This does not include updaters ($450) and web templates ($299)
Limited users – FileMaker Pro costs $8748 for up to 100 users per year. Most libraries will typically have hundreds of users, making it very costly.
Yearly licensing – licenses have to be paid yearly.
Limited paid support – customer support must be paid for separately (minimum $450 per year). Even then, there are limits to the number of hours that can be claimed.
 Vendor Lock-in – apart from Athenaeum itself, we could not find any other companies that offer support and services for their software. This means that clients have no alternatives if they want a different support services, prices change, standards of service drop or if the company goes defunct.
Access – access across various devices requires additional software and configurations.
Isolation- there is no user community through which librarians can interact, exchange ideas and experiences, or receive free support.
WYSIWYG – What You See, Is What You Get. There is no incentive for the software makers to develop new features requested by customers.
Non-customizable – because it is not open-source, clients cannot modify or custom

Koha Integrated Library System

Pros Cons
Free – if you have the in-house expertise, you do not have to spend a single dollar to use Koha. You can install it and run it yourself. Requires a knowledge of Linux OS if you are installing it by yourself.
No licensing – updates and upgrades are delivered to you for free. Customization requires some knowledge of web-design.
Open-source – you can customize the software to suit your particular needs or add on custom modules.
No tiers – you have full access to every module and all the settings.
Web-based – once installed on a server, both patron and staff users can access the system using a web-browser via a local network or the internet.
Cloud capable – Koha can be hosted on remote servers by companies such as BiblioTech Libraries, which saves you money because you won’t need to purchase any hardware. Simply connect to your library system using your existing devices over the internet.
OS independent – you can access the staff page and OPAC via any web capable device (computer, tablet, phone etc) without additional software.
Unlimited users – there is no limit to the number of users, either staff or patron.
Unlimited database storage – there is no limit to the number of items or records you can add into your database.
Accessible – you library system can be accessed remotely via the internet from anyplace at anytime.
Strong community – Koha has a global active and extremely helpful community of librarians, developers, tech experts and ordinary users that offers free support and advice.
Regularly updated – Koha has two major upgrades per year (which include new features) and frequent updates which keeps reliable and bug-free.
Multiple support companies – if you want premium support services, there are dozens of companies and individuals such as BiblioTech Libraries who are ready to partner with you.
Supports electronic payments – patrons can pay library charges and fines using PayPal.
Customizable – both the staff page and OPAC web interfaces are highly customizable.
Widely available help – there are several websites and manuals online that give you how-tos, tips and tricks for using Koha.
Developed and maintained by librarians – Koha was made for librarians, by librarians.
Modules and Features Users can make suggestions/requests or even pay for new modules and features.
Interface – Koha has a clean, simple and easily navigable interface.
Compliant – Koha adheres to global library and web standards making it compatible with other systems and technologies. One such feature is the z39.50 module, which allows for sharing data with other libraries from all over the world.
WorldWide- koha is used by thousands of libraries all over the world.
Enterprise Class- Koha is used by major institutions and organizations worldwide, including leading universities, government institutions and massive library consortia.
Community owned – Koha is not developed and maintained by a group of volunteer librarians, developers and companies. It is not dependant on any one organization and therefore has guaranteed longevity and will always be free.

The Verdict

The verdict is clearly in Koha’s favour. While Athenaeum has the slight advantage of being a Windows- and Mac-based product, which are the most popular OSs, it’s disadvantages far outweigh that isolated benefit. Koha has better development, a cleaner design and superior features compared to Athenaeum, as well as more support options. It is also far more widely used and thus provides the opportunity for librarians, who are often isolated, to become part of a vibrant and helpful community.

However, the real knockout punch is the pricing. Libraries typically tend to have small budgets, which makes Athenaeum a deal breaker due to its high cost. Koha on the other end, is a free and open source library system, and for those who need it, has numerous options for low cost premium support. Contact us today at BiblioTech Libraries for more information on how you can partner with us to deliver the best library experience to your staff, patrons and institution.

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