Chapter 9: Open sourcing collections – Practical Open Source Software for Libraries


Open sourcing collections

When asked what they think of when they think of libraries, most people will offer ‘books’ as their first answer. As librarians, we know that our buildings house all types of collections, which are certainly not limited to books. We also know that if they cannot be found with an easy search via the web, then our patrons will never know about the amazing collections housed in our libraries. The following open source tools will help you make your digital collections visible to your patrons via the web.

Digital collections

Digital collections can come in many shapes and forms. Some are used to keep an archive of publications produced by your institution, some are provided as a way to keep a history of the community, and some provide files on a specific topic. Whatever your digital collection might be used for or made up of, there is an open source application that will help index and provide the necessary data.

Greenstone ( is a digital library application that allows for the distribution of data via the internet and/or digital media such as a CD ROM or DVD. This flexibility has made it extremely popular worldwide. I was able to install the application and create a website for my collection in less than an hour (see Figure 9.1).

Figure 9.1 Editing Dublin Core using the Greenstone Librarian interface.

Using the Greenstone Librarian Interface you can easily browse for files on your local machine, network or the web and import them into your collection. Greenstone allows for many collections, each of which can be made up of documents, images, videos, audio files and more. Greenstone has also been developed with worldwide accessibility in mind.

9.1   Open source in the real world: Greenstone

Peter Stone

Technology Support Services Team Leader

David Friggens

Systems Librarian University of Waikato Library, Hamilton, New Zealand

Why did you decide to use Greenstone in your library?

We needed a digital collection manager that was robust and relatively easy to implement in a Linux system, and the Computer Science Department at University of Waikato develops and maintains Greenstone.

How are you using Greenstone in your library?

We are using Greenstone for two collections. The first collection is the New Zealand Gazette, which is provided commercially; we use Greenstone to manage the PDF documents locally. This was the original impetus for using Greenstone, as the provided proprietary software was not really fit for purpose.

The other collection is the parts of the London Illustrated News 1842–1902 that relate to New Zealand. This collection is publicly available and contains scanned images of the pages along with OCR text for searching.

We have some other local collections that we hope to make available using Greenstone in the near future.

How long have you been using Greenstone in your library?

Some five years (possibly six years). We are about to upgrade to the latest version.

Did you have any trouble implementing Greenstone in your library?


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

It was a major improvement, as we gained control of how the collection(s) presented to the user and how services that the user might want were presented.

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

No, we worked it out ourselves; however I do think the documentation for the upgrade version we are about to migrate to is far better that what we dealt with originally.

What do you think of Greenstone now?

It’s a solid, reliable product.

What do others in your library say about Greenstone?

Where we have chosen to use Greenstone, they are happy. However, we have not progressed with customizations due to other work commitments.

The international Unicode character set is used throughout, so that documents in any language and character encoding can be imported (in fact, Greenstone can automatically detect the language and encoding of most documents). Collections of documents in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, English, French, Spanish, German, Hindi and Maori are publicly available. The New Zealand Digital Library website ( hosts many of these, and the Greenstone website links to sites that contain further examples.

It makes little sense to have a collection whose content is in Chinese or Russian, but whose supporting text – instructions, navigation buttons, labels, images, help text, and so on – are in English. Consequently, the entire Greenstone interface has been translated into a range of languages, and the interface language can be changed by the user as they browse from the Preferences page.1

In addition to the freedom of organizing multimedia collections, Greenstone also offers customization of the interface and metadata formats. By default, Greenstone’s user interface has a very clean look and feel, but many libraries want to make their digital library site look more like their traditional library site for branding purposes (see Figure 9.2). To get ideas of what kinds of customizations have been done, you can view the list of example collections on the Greenstone official site ( Waikato University manages its digital archive of the Illustrated London News ( on Greenstone; see Figure 9.2.

Figure 9.2 The Illustrated London News2 on the University of Waikato website.

Institutional repositories

Although Greenstone can be used for any type of digital collection, when it comes to storing data published by those within your institution, DSpace ( seems to be the popular option.

The Illustrated London News2 on the University of Waikato website

The most common use of the DSpace software is by academic and research libraries as an open access repository for managing their faculty and student output. There are also many organizations using the software to host and manage subject based, dataset or media-based repositories.3

9.2   Open source in the real world: DSpace

Beth Tillinghast

Web Support Librarian and ScholarSpace Project Manager, University of Hawaii at Manoa Library, Honolulu HI, USA

Why did you decide to use DSpace in your library?

Our Information Technology Division Head had seen the DSpace system, Deep Blue, working at the University of Michigan. We contacted them and discussed their repository and reviewed Deep Blue via a conference call. After looking at two other open source repository platforms, we decided that DSpace would best suit our needs. Part of that decision was based on the strong DSpace community support that was available.

How are you using DSpace in your library?

We are using the DSpace platform for our institutional repository, ScholarSpace ( This repository houses the intellectual output from our faculty and students.

In addition we have just created another DSpace instance that we have named eVols. It will be used to house content that may not actually be the intellectual output from our university, but is content over which the UHM Library has guardianship. An example of this is our University of Hawaii Catalogs.

How long have you been using DSpace in your library?

We began working with the system in the late fall of 2006 and started adding small pilot projects to ScholarSpace in the spring of 2007.

Did you have any trouble implementing DSpace in your library?

No, but we are fortunate to have staff with the skills needed to tackle this kind of project.

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

We didn’t make a switch from proprietary. We began our repository using open source. Our department, the Desktop Network Services, has had quite a bit of experience using open source software.

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

Our system administrator installed DSpace on one of our library servers, and we had one of our librarians with a good deal of technical skills configure it. They used the existing documentation from the DSpace website and didn’t run into trouble during the implementation. The DSpace listservs provided answers to questions they had during that time.

What do you think of DSpace now?

We are quite happy with the system. Part of this is because of the DSpace user community and the upgrades and add-ons that are being created. They address the needs of repository managers and the system users.

What do others in your library say about DSpace?

Most people are very supportive. They understand the need for an institutional repository. Some of our librarians are very active in promoting this service.

In addition to the ability to store various different data types (documents, images, videos, audio recordings, and so on) DSpace also offers a series of add-ons or plugins ( to extend the functionality of the application. In true open source fashion, DSpace also allows for customization of look and feel and metadata formatting (see Figure 9.3).

Figure 9.3 The ScholarSpace web page at University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.

Like Greenstone, DSpace also allows for the creation of several different collections, which users can then browse or search through. This flexibility, a trademark of an open source application, is part of what makes this application the choice of so many institutions.

Community built collections

The ScholarSpace web page at University of Hawaii at Manoa Library

Greenstone and DSpace are well established tools for sharing digital collections with the outside world, but what about allowing the outside world to share its collections with us? Kete ( turns the traditional digital library inside out by allowing the library to host and moderate the content added by community members.

9.3   Open source in the real world: Kete

Joann Ransom

Acting Head of Libraries, Horowhenua Library Trust Levin, New Zealand

Why did you decide to use Kete in your library?

In 2005 we carried out an audit of arts, cultural and heritage resources in our district. We found that there is a large amount of material in private hands; ‘shoeboxes under the bed’ was how we viewed them. While some of it was destined to be given to historical societies most of it would not. However, almost all of it was available for display, copying and sharing so long as we gave the originals back.

We needed a digital repository that would be easy for the general public to add material to. The library’s role would be to provide a forum, promote it and support the community to encourage the growth of the digital collection.

How are you using Kete in your library?

1. Kete has provided a way for our local heritage sector to digitise and make available their collections, without compromising the originals.

2. Kete has enabled us to digitise and make available 24/7 our vertical file collection of local material.

3. It has also allowed previously hidden or private local content to become available.

4. Kete has been a splendid marketing tool for the library. We do loads of public speaking, explaining how local groups and organisations can use Kete, both in terms of searching and contributing.

5. Kete has given us the excuse to draw people into the library and teach them IT skills. We ran regular working bees for volunteers to use staff machines after hours to digitise the photograph collection of the local historical societies. In the process we have formed great relationships and taught many people IT skills.

How long have you been using Kete in your library?

We developed Kete during the latter half of 2006 and did a soft launch in March 2007, which allowed us to get ‘seed content’ in before the official launch in June 2007.

Did you have any trouble implementing Kete in your library?

None at all. We advertised in the paper for volunteers and were overwhelmed with help. Our community love helping build such a cool resource, and our heritage sector are delighted we have given them a way to make their collections available.

The large increase of volunteers popping into the library took a wee bit of getting used to for staff not directly involved in the project and who hadn’t been exposed to the enthusiasm.

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

This was a new venture for us in terms of collecting informal content.

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

Walter McGinnis from Katipo Communications in Wellington was the primary developer and does a splendid job making our vision a reality.

What do you think of Kete now?

Love it – and I fall in love with it all over again everytime I get to share it with people and see their reaction.

What do others in your library say about Kete?

Those who embrace the project and commit resources to market it in the community and actively encourage and support the creation of content get a lot more from Kete than those who expect it to populate itself. It takes time and effort to build an online community. I make sure I respond to new contributors and acknowledge their additions to Kete through comments, making gentle suggestions or editing out obvious mistakes. I also like to celebrate submissions by making them feature topics on the home page. Kete is not a silver bullet, but it is an amazing excuse to get out there and talk to every organisation, club and community group in your town – and build a great local resource while you are at it.

Joann Ransom writes about the process of choosing the name Kete for this community-built digital library:

Echoing the Maori proverb of the three baskets, or kete, of knowledge, we called our concept Kete. We really like what the kete represents. We like that they are ‘honest’, practical items, woven from found materials, and that anyone can learn to weave one. We like that they are made from flax, which springs forth from Papatuanuku, the earth mother. We like the link between the flax and the weaver – the person who caressed and shaped the flax into a beautiful or useful object. We like that kete are usually given from 1 person to another, so linking people together, and that they are usually given to mark an occasion so there are stories that surround a kete. When a kete is used and taken from one occasion to another, the stories are being told and the history preserved. The kete is an appropriate metaphor for our digital library, and the various types of material it contains.4

With Kete, a library can set up the software on its servers and then open up the content-adding tools to its community members. The library hosting the Kete instance gets to define who the ‘community members’ are. If you work in a public library your community might be anyone with a library card or anyone in the world. If you are in an academic or school library, your community may only consist of students and professors.

The community then decides what kinds of content are added to the digital library (see Figure 9.4). This is a great way to collect all of the treasures hiding in your patrons’ attics. Pieces of family histories are lost daily; with a tool like this available, community members can share their treasures without giving them up to the library. Kete Horowhenua ( is the perfect example of how a community can get together to share their history with each other. Kete Horowhenua is a collection of digital resources managed by members of the community; see Figure 9.4.

Figure 9.4 Kete Horowhenua web page at Horowhenua Library Trust

Baskets of knowledge

Between the library and the community there are many amazing collections worth sharing with others. One or all of these tools can be used to make collections accessible through the library website to the wider world.

1.Witten, Ian H., Matt Jones, David Bainbridge, Polly Cantlon, and Sally Jo Cunningham. ‘Digital Libraries for Creative Communities.’ Digital Creativity 15, no. 2 (June 2004): 110–125.


3.‘DSpace Use Case Examples.’ DSpace.

4.Ransom, Joann. ‘Kete Horowhenua: the story of the district as told by its people.’, February 2008.