Open source research tools
In addition to digital collections, libraries have many other resources to share online. Many library websites offer lists of links on specific topics, subject guides and even online workshops to help educate their patrons. As with every other area of the library, there are open source technologies to help us deliver these guides and classes in an efficient manner.
In my first job in a library I was in charge of managing the librarys research links collection. This area of our site was very similar to the pages that academic libraries call subject guides. Whatever you might call them, these pages can be tedious to keep up to date if you are not using the right tool. In my library we were just using a series of static HTML pages that had to be updated regularly,1 a practice not uncommon in libraries around the world.
SubjectsPlus was developed by the Ithaca College Library as a way to allow librarians to organize and present their data to patrons easily (see Figure 10.1). It allows for the storage of subject guides, A-Z lists and lists of staff members with their specialties. All of this is then published to the web, making it easier to research a specific topic, such as computer science (http://www.ithacalibrary.com/sp/subjects/cs).
One problem with managing static HTML pages is that you often want links to appear on more than one page, but that means you have multiple places to look when making updates. SubjectsPlus enables you to add a resource to the system just once and then have it appear on multiple guides. SubjectsPlus also has you associate anexpert with each subject guide, so patrons know whom to contact at the library or on campus should they have additional questions about the topic they are researching.
Library à la Carte™™, from the Oregon State University Library, is another alternative to using static HTML pages for your subject guides. Like SubjectsPlus, it allows for the easy creation of dynamic subject guides. Unlike SubjectsPlus, Library à la Carte™ does not handle your A-Z lists and staff directories, but it does allow you to create course pages and tutorials.
Library à la Carte™ offers your staff an easy way to manage guides for their areas of expertise without having any knowledge of web design or development (see Figure 10.2). From the Library à la Carte™ administration area you can easily create your guide by clicking the linkCreate a New Subject Guide. Your guide can then be made up of various tabs with information on each. As in SubjectsPlus, you need to choose an expert and include their information so that researchers can easily find the right person to direct their questions to. Once your page is created you click thePublish button and your page is available on the librarys site (see Figure 10.3).
So, how do you choose between the two (and the many other alternatives available)? Try them out; both offer you the option to try a demo. See which one best meets your librarys needs. As with many of the open source products mentioned in this book, SubjectsPlus (http://groups.google.com/group/subjectsplus) and Library à la Carte™ (http://alacarte.library.oregonstate.edu/forum) also offer online communities where users and developers can communicate with each other about problems, suggested uses and future developments; use them to assist in your decision making process. As stated before, the process of choosing an open source application is no different from that of choosing a proprietary option; you must research and try the products before making a final decision.
Having a dynamic way to manage subject guides is just the first step in providing better services to our patrons; we also have many other research tools in our library that we would like to make accessible to our patrons via our websites. reSearcher (http://researcher.sfu.ca) is a suite of tools to do just that.
reSearcher was developed by the Simon Fraser University Library to help lower the barrier of entry into the electronic resource management arena for small and poor libraries. The tools provided in the reSearcher suite enable libraries to provide their patrons with streamlined access to electronic resources without the usual license fees associated with such services.
Included in reSearcher is CUFTS (http://researcher.sfu.ca/cufts) for serials management; GODOT (http://researcher.sfu.ca/godot), a link resolver; dbWiz (http://researcher.sfu.ca/dbwiz) for federated searching; and Open Knowledgebase (http://researcher.sfu.ca/openkb) to manage an open database of journal titles and publishers to be used within CUFTS (see Figure 10.4).
Figure.10.4 The CUFTS page for technology and operations management2 at the Simon Fraser University Library
Each of the tools included in the reSearcher suite is meant to work in conjunction with the others to provide a better service to all involved. Kevin Stranack writes in his amazing overview of the reSearcher suite:
From its earliest days, reSearcher and its predecessors relied upon the cooperative spirit of libraries, their innovation and leadership, and their willingness to pool their limited resources, both in terms of staff and money, to create better technologies and services for their clients. The collaborative spirit of reSearcher continues today, with the ongoing support provided by the two major library consortia, COPPUL and BCELN, and the willingness of individual libraries to provide startup funding for new initiatives that will enhance the project and ultimately benefit the wider library community. reSearcher is an important example of the value of both open source and library collaboration.3
To learn more about the suite and how each module interacts with the others, I highly recommend you to read Kevins article and some of the others listed on the official reSearcher site (http://researcher.sfu.ca/documents).
As more and more educational materials become available online, libraries need to start thinking of new models for educating patrons about library use, new technologies, research practices and many other topics. In tough times we see that people are more likely to turn to their libraries for free access to the internet, free access to job search materials and free access to workshops.4 At the same time, libraries are suffering from the same economic woes, so providing additional free services can be difficult.
One way to offer our patrons an added benefit without too much of an investment, and without the need for providing more space in the library, is to start to offer online workshops. Moodle (http://www.moodle.org) is an open source course management system, which can be used to help manage your course materials, online lectures, research references and plenty more.
Using Moodle, librarians can create classes on topics related to their community and provide online access to the information (see Figure 10.5), for example they could give a series of workshops on real estate in hard times. A librarian could offer the workshops in person at the library and online simultaneously, or completely online (so there was no need for the library to provide a large public meeting space).
Moodle offers the ability for instructors to upload materials, links and course schedules so that students can work in their own time. It also makes it easy for students to communicate with each other and the instructor using chat rooms and message boards. All of these services are found in popular proprietary offerings, but without the added license fees or use restrictions. This means that libraries can offer additional services to their patrons without having to go outside their allotted budget.
Using any one (or combination) of the tools listed in this chapter, your library can offer patrons easier access to information, and these tools not only benefit our patrons, but also make our jobs more efficient simply by putting the right tool for the job in our hands. Next time you are updating your library’s subject guide with your HTML editor, think about using a tool meant just for that purpose, and instead of printing out handouts for your newest workshop, why not store the information online for easy access and printing by the attendees themselves?
In libraries we often get stuck in a rut. We continue to do things the way we always have because we dont know of any better option. Well now you know about four open source tools that will assist in providing information to and teaching our patrons.
1.To learn more about the research links project at Jenkins Law Library you can read my article ‘Following the Yellow Brick Road to Simplified Link Management’ at http://www.web2learning.net/publications-presentations/following-the-yellow-brick-road-to-simplified-link-management.
3.Stranack, Kevin. ‘The reSearcher Software Suite: a case study of library collaboration and open source software development.’ Serials Librarian 55, no. 1/2 (2008): 117–139.
4.Rettig, Jim. ‘Libraries Stand Ready to Help in Tough Economic Times’. The Huffington Post, December 11, 2008.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-rettig/libraries-stand-ready-to_b_150268.html.