All entries for June 2008

June 16, 2008

IslandPines: the Evergreen Open Source Library Management System at UPEI Robertson Library

Writing about web page

The University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Robertson Library has adopted Evergreen as their Library Management System (LMS). It took a small team of enthusiastic developers one month to move from Unicorn, a commercial product by Sirsi, to Evergreen, an Open Source LMS.

UPEI obviously have the capacity to benefit from Open Source, since they have been using DSpace for the library’s digital repository and they now in intend to use Fedora for a Repository and Virtual Research Environment. They are also hosting a Fedora summer school this August, the Red Island Repository Institute 1st Fedora Summer Institute.

Other current Open Source LMS developments I am aware of are Koha, PMB, BiblioteQ, OpenBiblio, and there are a few more listed on the web. There are also archives management systems, which are Open Source, like Archon.

Clearly there is quite a range of Open Source systems being installed at present in universities worldwide. Among other things, this wide-ranging experimentation is serving to develop the Open Source systems development and procurement model for universities.

On the long term, however, one might expect progressive consolidation of the Open Source market around fewer applications within each fuctional niche. Will Evergreen gradually become the system of choice for large LMS instalations?

(By the way, I would venture to suggest this is what is going to happen with Sakai for the large VLE/VRE niche. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see whether the repository niche will eventually consolidate around any of EPrints, D-Space, or Fedora.)

Nevertheless, a trend recognised (Adamson 2008) in the LMS sector seems to point at the increasing decoupling of the different components of the LMS. This could facilitate Open Source penetration of the LMS market, but it would also make consolidation around any particular Open Source LMS a more distant prospect.

Thus, it may well be that the market of Open Source large LMS will ultimately go through a natural process of consolidation, but such consolidation might then happen at module level. In such a context the leading Open Source system for say, the acquisitions module, may be a different one from the leading system for, say, the OPAC.

In fact a number of Open Source LMS layer components are already being developed, which correspond to the tiered or layered LMS model, the top layer of which is similar to an instutional portal. VuFind seems to fit in this category.

Although Fac-Back-OPAC was intended as a back-up, stand-alone OPAC system, it is nonetheless an interesting development. Quite enlightening is the story of its development based on a demonstration of how a programmer can write in not so many lines of code a lean programme to do the same a commercial product does.


Adamson, V., et al. (2008). JISC & SCONUL Library Management Systems Study. Sero Consulting Ltd with Glenaffric Ltd and Ken Chad Consulting Ltd <>

June 14, 2008

The Citations Helper in Sakai towards an integrated Reading List management system

Writing about web page

Citations Helper (CH) is a resources tool in Sakai. With CH you can create a list of references that are directly linked to their respective articles, and do this without leaving your Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), i.e. Sakai.

CH removes much of the labour in the manual hyperlinking of reading list items that consist of persistent, deep links based on OpenURL syntax, or on Digital Object Identifiers. It also has the potential of providing one half of the functionality of a Reading-list Management System (RMS) when CH can be integrated with the Library Management System (LMS).

Managing reading lists is a core process in any academic library. At the scale of a large university, this process is by no means an insignificant operation, and even a small improvement can bring considerable benefits.

The Citations Helper in Sakai 2.5.0, coupled with the promising developments in Open Source LMS, gives hope of local implementations that will actually be able to do what no commercial RMS can completely do. My ideal (RMS) would satisfy the following specification:

Spec 1.- Can the RMS be fully integrated into a VLE by means of an API or otherwise, so that any lecturer can build a reading list conveniently without leaving their same VLE site?

The RMS would include a facility to look up library items and import their bibliographic data at the click of a button. With CH what it takes for a lecturer to add a reference is only two or three clicks, a search, and then one last click to add the reference to the list.

CH allows lecturers to build lists of references and manage them within one same application. These lists can be associated to user groups without the need to upload them to the course site of each group.

It is important that the tool is convenient, because the number of modules with its reading list being managed by the RMS will depend on the rate of RMS adoption by lecturers. Ease of use and proximity should contribute to widespread adoption and therefore coverage and usefulness of the RMS.

Spec 2.- Can the RMS import bibliographic records from Abstract & Index databases, as well as from the LMS, besides providing a form for manual input in case bibliographic details can not be automatically captured?

Citations Helper allows cross-search and import from up to eight subscribed databases at the same time, or search and import from Google Scholar, or from the LMS. Scopes can be set on a drop-down menu to narrow the choice to subsets of databases relevant to specific subject areas.

Spec 3.- Can the RMS format the reading lists in different referencing styles?

Ideally the RMS should be able to display references in a referencing style of choice. The preferred styles of each academic department should be available from a drop-down menu.

I don’t think CH does this (yet) but it does allow you to toggle between displaying only a “Title View” of the styled reference you have added and displaying also the “Citation View” of the bibliographic fields. In addition, each reference is automatically hyperlinked to the local link-resolver.

Spec 4.- Given a title record, can the RMS tell you in which reading lists that title is included?

One of the commercial RMS can do this when properly integrated with the LMS of the same vendor, and I would expect such two-way integration is also feasible with Sakai if the LMS is Open Source, or if the vendor sees the benefit of cooperating to enable such integration. Obviously, this functionality is particularly useful for the book ordering by the library and in general for the management of its collections.

Spec 5.- Can the RMS be set so that library staff are alerted every time a new reference is added to a reading list?

This would allow library staff to order the books well in time, or to suggest feasible alternatives. Ideally the RMS would include a text field for unstructured comments, which library staff may use to annotate the results of their investigations of the different sourcing options for each article, and of course this field could also be annotated collaboratively by the lecturer, as in the wiki approach.

Spec 6.- Can the RMS hide the references from view while the library makes sure stocks are at an appropriate level?

The RMS should also allow single references to be hidden from view until they have been resourced to an appropriate level of stock. This would involve a two stage process with suggestion and validation before publishing the list to students on the VLE. On the admin interface of the above mentioned commercial product, a red asterisk appears next to a reference to indicate it has not yet been disclosed to students.

Spec 7.- Can the RMS produce reports of what is on reading lists and match it against library stock according to copies/student ratios, in order to highlight what needs to be purchased?

A prestigious UK HEI had the idea of developing an RMS associating their LMS with a CH-like facility that is integrated within their Moodle VLE. This implies the RMS must be able to feed back bibliographic data to the LMS, which can then generate reports highlighting any mismatch between reading list items on the VLE and their stock levels in the library holdings.

June 11, 2008

Enterprise adoption of Open Source software

Writing about web page

Adoption of Open Source (OS) software in the private sector would now be roughly on a par with commercial software according to this survey among 328 IT and business executives and managers, though not necessarily as many corporations, which was conducted in late April 2008 by

It would be interesting to have a comparative survey of the Higher Education (HE) sector. I suspect in HE the policy making, and indeed strategy formulation, about OS procurement might also be lagging behind actual implementation.

“About a quarter of corporations (27 percent) have a formal policy in place regarding open-source applications, though 18 percent expect to adopt such a policy in the next 12 months.”

Interestingly also, enterprise use of OS software seems to range widely in terms of the level of in-house customisation work that is applied to the software. Yet a significant proportion of use would be simple and straightforward instances of OS software being used as a finished product that you can plug and play.

“While more than half of enterprises use open source today, the degree of intimacy with the philosophy varies quite a bit. Companies may often (43 percent) or sometimes (24 percent) treat such applications as, well, just free software; they run the application but don’t even look at the source code.”

This suggests at least two things.

Firstly, there is quite a lot of OS software around which is good enough, i.e. mature enough and with enough support, to be used out-of-the-box and without much ado. This is OS software that turns out to be virtually cost free in comparison with commercial licences that would also take staff time to implement, administrate, and work around to suit if at all possible.

A few examples of OS or free software that come to my non-technical mind could fall in this category and seem appropriate for HE: LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP), OpenOffice, Sakai, Moodle, Firefox, Zotero, Liquid XML, etc.

Secondly, managers responsible for procurement decisions need to have the technical knowledge to be able to identify OS solutions and evaluate them, estimating the different costs involved in each particular case. Costs will depend on maturity of software, staff time and range of technical skills that will be required for implementation, solidness of support community, outsourcing fees, and importantly the forthcoming features chartered on the roadmap of developments for that software.

This second point directly impinges on one of the strategic challenges currently faced by University Libraries and especially by those not yet converged with their IT departments. How to shift the skills balance of their staff at all grades so as to keep up with the fast pace of an information environment that is increasingly technology driven?

In this context one should think the role of procurement support agencies like the JISC OS Watch is becoming indispensable. Maintaining a current awareness of the OS market and providing expert advice, such role can cover the lag time in skills adjustment to new technological developments.

June 2008

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