Chapter 8: Open source on the web – Practical Open Source Software for Libraries

8

Open source on the web

More and more librarians are being asked to join the ranks of the information technology staff. When I started in libraries I was in charge of the library websites. It was unthinkable that a librarian would have the skills, the desire, or the time for such a task. Now, with the prevalence of technology and the ever-shrinking library budgets, more and more librarians are stepping into the role of webmaster and, to do the job right, you need the right tools.

On the plus side, with the advent of the read/write web there are plenty of tools available for non developers to use to help create their websites, and many of them are open source.

Getting files onto the web

Before you start your website, you need at least one tool to help you transfer files from your computer to the web server. This process is called FTP or file transfer protocol. For this process you will need an FTP program; FileZilla (http://filezilla-project.org) is one of the popular choices among libraries. It is a favorite because it installs on nearly every operating system, making it easy to find the right version for you environment.

8.1   Open source in the real world: FileZilla

Rick Mason

Acquisitions Assistant, Blackmore Library, Capital University, Columbus OH, USA

Why did you decide to use FileZilla in your library?

I have used it for years for maintaining websites; when I need to FTP it is the first program I go to.

How are you using FileZilla in your library?

The selection process for library materials from our prime vendor gives the acquisitions department files of MARC records on the vendor’s server. We download the files, use other software (MarcEdit) to combine and prepare the files to be uploaded into our ILS.

How long have you been using FileZilla in your library?

I have been using FileZilla for this task for about a year; I have used it for a variety of other purposes for nearly eight years.

Did you have any trouble implementing FileZilla in your library?

There is a certain resistance to open source for some people; there is a feeling that ‘you get what you pay for.’ Once it becomes clear that it does the job effectively, that attitude generally softens.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

For me, liberating. When I first tried FileZilla, I had been using a proprietary program that was several versions out of date, and couldn’t be installed on additional machines. Having a program that was frequently updated and could be set up on all the computers I needed it on was a great change.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up FileZilla?

Nope… not necessary with our environment. I have installed the program and trained quite a few people in its use, though. The PortableApps (http://portableapps.com) version makes this very easy, because the program can be configured for the remote server access in advance.

What do you think of FileZilla now?

It is still the primary tool for my FTP needs; if I find another program that does it better (and that includes the benefits of open source) I would switch. That is just the nature of the ‘toolbox’ concept of software – keep the best tool for the job at hand. That I have used it as my primary FTP software for this long is a great compliment to those who maintain it.

What do others in your library say about FileZilla?

FTP is not a high-profile or conversation-dominating thing for most people; those who use it recognize the benefits.

Anything else you want us to know about FileZilla or your process of switching to FileZilla?

Just this: the best approach to software is the toolbox analogy I referred to earlier. Just as most people have more than one screwdriver, using the one that will best serve the job at hand, we should seek out software and try it out enough to find out how well it performs. When a new situation presents itself, hopefully the software is already in our ‘toolbox,’ waiting to be used.

FileZilla displays the content of your local machine and the web server side by side, making it easy for you to drag files from your computer onto the web server. Files on the server can be modified simply by clicking with your right mouse button on the title and choosing an option from the menu that appears. Often a web application will require that a folder has specific permissions, a process once reserved for the IT staff. Using the right click menu in FileZilla you can choose ‘change permissions’ and choose the options required by the software you are installing. You can also move files around and rename them using right click and drag and drop functionality within FileZilla; see Figure 8.1.

Figure 8.1 FileZilla

Like most of the applications mentioned so far, FileZilla has an active developer community, so there are lots of ways to find support, tips and documentation, many updates and improved functionality.

Content management

Now that you can upload files to the web, you need something to upload. Many libraries have been choosing to use a content management system to design their library sites. A content management system is almost like a website in a box; it has everything you need to build and maintain your website without having any formal training or web development skills. There are currently two popular open source content management systems in the library world: Joomla (http://www.joomla.org) and Drupal (http://www.drupal.org). Your basic content management system provides you with the necessary tools for creating pages for your site without having to know HTML or any other programming language.

8.2   Open source in the real world: Joomla

Jason Griffey

Head of Library Information Technology, Lupton Library, University of TN at Chattanooga Chattanooga, TN, USA

Why did you decide to use Joomla in your library?

We were in the midst of a website redesign, and the decision for a content management system came down to either Joomla or Drupal. The decision to use Joomla was driven by the fact that it was easier for a single, parttime developer (me) to create a theme and move the content into. Drupal is great, but was out of my reach given the time constraints. Joomla was much faster to develop for.

How are you using Joomla in your library?

We are using Joomla to drive our library’s website, with the exception of our database page and catalog.

How long have you been using Joomla in your library?

We’ve been fully on Joomla since early 2007.

Did you have any trouble implementing Joomla in your library?

Other than time constraints, no. Being an academic library, there was of course a committee involved, but I was able to discuss the benefits of open source and convince anyone who doubted.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

Very easy. Detail oriented, but overall the process was a smooth one.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up Joomla?

Nope, the development, installation and so on was all done by me. The rest of the librarians helped with the migration, but we had no outside help.

What do you think of Joomla now?

I still prefer it to our old, flat-file solution, but it has its issues. The way it deals with content and menus can be non-intuitive for those not used to developing on Joomla. But it’s still a robust platform.

What do others in your library say about Joomla?

Mostly they are happy with it. There are some problems with the creation of entirely new sections of the site… updating existing information is easy, but the creation of new sections can be non-intuitive.

With Drupal, the different areas of the site are broken into ‘tasks’ and ‘modules’ (see Figure 8.2). A task is essentially the function of the page, what the page does. A module is more a section of the site, for example ‘Events,’ ‘Blog,’ or ‘User.’ In Joomla content is sorted into ‘Menus,’ ‘Content,’ and ‘Components’ (see Figure 8.3). Each of these areas houses sections of the site that you are able to alter and customize. Of the two, I find the Joomla administration area a bit easier to navigate, but both could use a librarian’s touch. In the end, both have their strong points and their weak points; my recommendation is to try out both using the demos on the opensourceCMS website (http://opensourcecms.com) to find the one that works the best for your needs.

Figure 8.2 Administration area on GPLLA.org, which is powered by Drupal

Figure 8.3 The Joomla administration area

To see what these tools can do, both Joomla and Drupal maintain showcases of sites using their product (http://community.joomla.org/showcase/andhttp://drupal.org/cases).

8.3   Open source in the real world: Drupal

Paula Gray-Overtoom

Information Systems Librarian, Monroe County Public Library, Bloomington IN, USA

Why did you decide to use Drupal in your library?

We wanted to have a content management system for our intranet. We were using Macromedia/Adobe Contribute with templates to guide staff in creating content, but it just wasn’t dynamic enough. We wanted to be able to have staff blogs for different departments and allow all staff to contribute to the intranet. With Drupal we didn’t have to worry about being able to afford licenses for all of our staff.

How are you using Drupal in your library?

We are using Drupal for our intranet. We have departmental blogs, post documents and staff meeting information. It is the way we communicate within and between service areas.

How long have you been using Drupal in your library?

We have had Drupal installed for about a year, but have only moved all staff to it as our new intranet face for about a month.

Did you have any trouble implementing Drupal in your library?

It took a while for me to learn how to install modules and other technical aspects of Drupal, but the online documentation is good and very accessible. Staff picked up on using Drupal very quickly. We had one-hour training sessions for most staff to go over the basics of updating their account information and posting blog entries. Staff have transitioned to Drupal with very few issues. Most of them are really happy that they can now edit pages without having to use Contribute.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

We use open source for our web server anyway, so the transition for Drupal was pretty easy. We were behind in our version of Contribute anyway because of the licensing fees, so it was much better to be able to move to an up-to-date piece of software. From using Red Hat, I was already used to going online to find answers to my problems and actually find that I like that better than having to go to a proprietary company with the hope that they will be responsive to my needs.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up Drupal?

I set up Drupal on my own.

What do you think of Drupal now?

I really like it. It works well for our needs and usually when I have a software need, I go search through the contributed modules for Drupal and find a module that does what I want. I think that one of the most interesting parts of open source is that someone is always developing something to fill a need.

What do others in your library say about Drupal?

Everybody seems to like it. Some staff weren’t sure about it at first, but I’ve gotten really positive feedback. Staff are glad that they are able to easily search the site and find what they need.

Anything else you want us to know about Drupal or your process of switching to Drupal?

Drupal really does work great for an intranet. We have been able to create books for various manuals that keep documents organized, use forms for sending work requests to IT or facilities, and communicate easily with blogs. It is much easier to update information using Drupal than any other system I’ve used, excluding emacs.

A recent popular addition to the Drupal showcase is the official White House website (http://www.whitehouse .gov).11 A more obvious pairing is the use of Joomla by Linux.com (http://www.linux.com) because of its open source focus.

New on the library content management front is MaiaCMS (http://maiacms.org), designed by the Howard County Library system in Maryland, USA. MaiaCMS was designed by and for librarians making it a very promising option for library websites. I have worked with both Joomla and Drupal and my top complaint is that the administrative user interface seems more complicated than it needs to be. This is why MaiaCMS is so exciting to me; it is a tool designed by librarians for librarians, so the menu system is nicely organized and easy to navigate (see Figure 8.4), and modules that librarians need are part of the standard install instead of available solely as plugins.

Figure 8.4 The librarian created administration area of MaiaCMS

8.4   Open source in the real world: MaiaCMS

Danny Bouman

Web Developer, Howard County Library Columbia MD, USA

Why did you decide to develop MaiaCMS for your library?

I decided to develop MaiaCMS because the library was interested in designing a new website and a content management system was necessary to allow nontechnical staff to contribute and maintain the content on the site. I had explored several existing CMS options such as Joomla and Drupal, but I was just not happy at the time with how complex they were and how much tweaking would be needed to simplify them for our users. Creating MaiaCMS from scratch gave me the platform to create a truly customized system that would be well suited to meet the exact needs of Howard County Library.

How are you using MaiaCMS in your library?

MaiaCMS is currently our public website (http://hclibrary.org) and is entirely maintained by our Marketing Department.

How long have you been using MaiaCMS in your library?

We have been using MaiaCMS for a little over a year now.

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

We did not have a proprietary system before. Although it was developed by an outside web design company, we always had access to modify the website as we needed.

What do you think of MaiaCMS now?

MaiaCMS continues to work extremely well for Howard County Library due in large part to the fact that it was developed for Howard County Library. If I were to go back and do it over again, however, I would choose to start with Joomla or Drupal as a foundation rather than developing a new system from scratch. I found that as I was releasing MaiaCMS to the public, I was being forced to replicate many of the features already existing in Joomla and Drupal.

What do others in your library say about MaiaCMS?

The Marketing Department has mentioned that they find it extremely easy to use. Many staff members have commented that the simplistic design makes it easy to navigate.

From a developer perspective, I would say that it is difficult to install and configure due to the current lack of documentation.

Are there any screenshots, documentation or features about your use of MaiaCMS online or in library journals that we should look at?

Documentation (when it is written) and screenshots can be found at http://maiacms.org.

Features of MaiaCMS include:

 simple and intuitive design

 ability to easily create and administer forms

 innovative system for managing site contacts

 components for sending out newsletters, adding promotional items, making announcements, and adding job openings.

Anything else you want us to know about MaiaCMS or your process of switching to MaiaCMS?

All of the code is freely available at http://maiacms.org to anyone who wishes to use it. Due to the project still being in its infancy, site administrators will need to be familiar with PHP in order to install and configure the product.

The one drawback to MaiaCMS is that it is currently only being used at one library, so there is no active community to go to for support and no documentation available online. I would recommend that librarians keep MaiaCMS on their radar, but not make the leap to implementing it in their library until there is a bit more activity around it.

Often overlooked as a content management system is WordPress (http://wordpress.org). Originally used as a blogging platform, recent upgrades to WordPress have made it a viable alternative to the systems usually thought of as the top open source content management systems (see Table 8.1 for a basic CMS comparison). WordPress comes with all of the trademarks of an amazing open source application: active community, strong user base, extensive documentation and the ability to extend functionality with user-developed plugins. In fact, WordPress is found on nearly three times as many big sites22 as Drupal (which is used three times more than Joomla).33

Table 8.1

Comparison of content management systems

One of the biggest selling points for WordPress to those who are unfamiliar with installing web applications is its five-second install. You are asked a few short questions, click submit and you have a WordPress site up and running. You can then walk through the easy-to-understand ‘Settings’ section and customize some of the ways people will interact with your new site. The thing that takes the most time is finding the theme you like best. When teaching WordPress to fellow librarians, this is the part of the class that always takes the longest, a true testament to how easy it is to learn (see Figure 8.5) and use WordPress to manage your entire library website.

Figure 8.5 The administration panel on the official book site (http://opensource.web2learning.net), powered by WordPress

Consulting with colleagues

When choosing to use a new or unfamiliar tool, it is always handy to have access to colleagues who have gone before you and been successful. This is why there are three communities you should be aware of before choosing a content management system.

8.5   Open source in the real world: WordPress

Susan Bryant

Outreach Librarian, Morrill Public Library, Hiawatha KS, USA

Why did you decide to use WordPress in your library?

WordPress gives us control over the content and look of our website without having to do a lot of complex HTML coding or waiting until a remote webmaster handles it for us. In other words, we don’t have to be tech wizards to have a professional looking site.

How are you using WordPress in your library?

We use it for our library website (http://www.hiawathalibrary.org).

How long have you been using WordPress in your library?

Since 2006.

Did you have any trouble implementing WordPress in your library? What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like? Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up WordPress?

Our WordPress website is part of the My Kansas Library on the Web (KLOW) project (http://www.mykansaslibrary .org), so our site is provided by the State Library of Kansas and hosted by the Northeast Kansas Library System (NeKLS) (http://www.nekls.org) at no cost to our library. The NeKLS technical staff very capably handled the details of setting up our site, domain name, and so on. They also provided training on using WordPress, and this support continues today. On the last Friday of each month they host ‘Website Workdays’ in their computer lab so librarians can get advice and help on changing themes, adding plugins, editing theme features, and so on. And NeKLS makes great coffee!

What do you think of WordPress now?

I like it a lot. My pet peeve is websites that are not kept up to date, and with WordPress the user interface is so simple that I log in to the dashboard almost every day and tweak something. Also, it’s easy to have more than one staff member contributing to the site.

We also like the idea that we can ‘redecorate’ our website anytime by changing themes, adding different text or picture widgets to the sidebars, and so on. We currently use the ‘Garland Theme’ and like the custom colors feature to make seasonal changes.

What do others in your library say about WordPress?

Our staff think of our website as a resource for answering reference questions, so we have loaded it with links useful to our patrons and us. Our staff sometimes suggest adding new links and deleting unused links to make the website more useful, and I think they like it that their suggestions can be implemented immediately.

Anything else you want us to know about WordPress or your process of switching to WordPress?

The assistance and ongoing support of the KLOW team was of great consequence to our decision to use WordPress.

If you are interested in Joomla, you might want to check out the Joomla in Libraries (http://www.joomlainlibrary.com) community. This site focuses on libraries that have or want to use Joomla to manage their library site or intranet. The amount of helpful content on this site is amazing. You can find tutorials, examples from other libraries, a discussion board and more.

For those wanting to learn more about Drupal, there is the Drupalib (http://drupalib.interoperating.info) community. This site is also a wealth of information for those using or wanting to use Drupal to manage sites within their library. From here you can access other Drupal libraries by participating in the mailing list or the forums, you can see other libraries that are using Drupal in the showcase and you can access tips and tricks by subscribing to the blog.

Finally, if you are interested in WordPress, the community for you is wp4lib (http://www.webjunction.org/706). This community consists of message boards, a wiki and a discussion list. With access to other libraries that have already implemented WordPress your migration will be that much easier.

Wikis

Some libraries will forego a content management system in favor of a wiki. A wiki is simply a website that multiple people can edit. One of the most well known open source wiki applications is MediaWiki (http://www.mediawiki.org), the software that powers Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org). MediaWiki has a long established record for handling heavily trafficked websites with ease, which is why it is commonly used by librarians to power their intranets, subject guides and sometimes entire websites.

8.6   Open source in the real world: MediaWiki

Garry Collum

Systems Coordinator, Kenton County Public Library, Covington KY, USA

Why did you decide to use MediaWiki in your library?

Kenton County Public Library (KCPL) at one time had ‘ready reference’ questions and frequently asked reference questions, Qs & As, stored in an ILS vendor’s electronic version of Community Resources.

This product was difficult to update and used MARC records as its data format. The IT department wanted to find a product that was easy to update and that all staff could access.

MediaWiki was chosen and at first only contained these two information sources. However, after using MediaWiki for a few weeks, it seemed to be a natural progression just to move the entire intranet to a wiki format.

Before installing MediaWiki, the staff of KCPL would send all of their documents to the IT department to be placed on the intranet. The IT department wanted to find a way to eliminate the ‘middle man.’

How are you using MediaWiki in your library?

We use MediaWiki for our intranet.

How long have you been using MediaWiki in your library?

We installed MediaWiki on October 11, 2006.

Did you have any trouble implementing MediaWiki in your library?

The installation was simple, but you do need to have someone who has some familiarity with Apache, MySQL and Linux file permissions. The hardest part of the installation was configuring the wiki options. Not the process of configuration itself, but how and what to configure (namespaces, users and so on.)

What was the process of switching from proprietary to open source like?

The most time-consuming process of switching to MediaWiki was moving documents into the wiki. We actually didn’t move from proprietary to open source; we moved from web pages, or MS Office documents, to wiki format.

Did you have any help installing, migrating to, or setting up MediaWiki?

We used the online documentation to set up and configure the wiki.

What do you think of MediaWiki now?

It fits our needs perfectly.

What do others in your library say about MediaWiki?

The staff who use MediaWiki to update their pages, or who have created their own departmental pages, like the product. MediaWiki is easy to use, but it is not intuitive. Staff who infrequently update pages seem to need a refresher on how to create or update pages and the tags that are used for formatting.

MediaWiki offers a series of settings to allow you to decide how you want people to interact with your website. It is a common misconception that all wikis are open for anyone to edit; as the site administrator you can decide if a password is required for editing. Since wikis keep a complete history of edits, a common practice is to give each staff member their own login so all their edits are recorded. This makes it easy to find the right person to contact if you have a question about a particular edit. Also, since a complete history is kept, it is always an option to revert to an older version of the page, making it less daunting to allow anyone on the staff access to edit pages; see Figure 8.6.

Figure 8.6 Editing the open source page on the Library Success Wiki44 powered by MediaWiki

One drawback of MediaWiki, and many other wikis as well, is that the interface can sometimes be less than intuitive. While a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor is available to make editing the pages simpler, the wiki syntax can sometimes still confuse people. It can also be difficult to know where to go to edit a page or to revert to a previous edit. That said, the documentation for MediaWiki is extensive and can easily be searched for the solution to your particular problem.

Conclusion

These web applications are simply a small sampling of the open source alternatives available to help with managing your library website. The key is to try out a few options before making a choice and always remember to contact your colleagues around the world to see how they are using the applications, why they chose them and if they are happy with their choice. Also remember that the opensourceCMS website (http://opensourcecms.com) and others like it allow you to test drive open source web applications before actually pitching them to your library staff or installing them yourself.


1.Buytaert, Dries. ‘Whitehouse.gov Using Drupal.’ Dries Buytaert, October 25, 2009. http://buytaert.net/whitehouse-gov-using-drupal.

2.‘Big sites’ is defined by Alexa’s top 10,000 most popular websites. See http://www.alexa.com.

3.Geller, Tom. ‘Drupal Runs Three Times as Many Top Sites as the Next CMS.’ Tom Geller’s Latest Thing, January 18, 2010. http://tomgeller.com/content/drupal-runs-three-times-many-top-sites-next-cms.

4.See http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Open_Source_Software.