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Code4Lib 2008: VuFind

Feb - 29 - 2008
Nicole C. Engard

In Andrew Nagy’s presentation From Idea to Open Source, he took us through the process of creating VuFind, an open-source OPAC replacement/Library portal.

At Villanova, they wanted to develop a portal for library patrons that would let people search the catalog, the article databases and digital library all in one – and keep it separate from the ILS. The goal was one single interface for all library resources in order to minimize the learning curve associated with having many different interfaces.

After doing some asking around, they quickly found that many other academic libraries were having the same problem – so the question became – why don’t we do it together? Why not make this an open-source project so that others can participate and benefit from the work of others?

The Goal

At Villanova, they wanted to build a system that would work with any ILS (including Koha & Evergreen – which Andrew called “our open source cousins”) and needs to work on a variety of platforms (Linux, Windows, etc).

The goal was not to replace the ILS, keep the ILS to do what it does best – but change the web app our patrons use so that it better meets their needs and expectations. VuFind uses the ILS to pull live holdings data from and either harvest bib data (if the ILS doesn’t provide direct database access) or query existing index (mostly used on the open-source ILSes which provide a way to let you in to search directly).

By having this top layer in addition to your ILS, you can easily change ILSes in the future without disrupting your patrons or changing the way they’re used to working. All this, just by separating the OPAC from the ILS.

Making it Open Source

The next step is to take this open source and share it – Villanova is not the marketplace to sell/support software. Andrew made a call to the audience to help build a collaborative community around VuFind so that this project can take off and be successful. Since other institutions are interested in it it would be a shame for Villanova to keep it to themselves – this is why open source is the next logical stop for the project.

In order to do this decisions have to be made, the right tools need to chosen. Some options were Sourceforge and Google Code. Right now, the VuFind team chose Sourceforge – they don’t find that it has all of the tools they need, but it was a good first step in making the project shareable.

The future vision includes having a local SVN or CVS and using a tool like JIRA, TRAC, Bugzilla, etc. These options lead to true freedom, but require a hosting institution.

Positives of Open-sourcing

  • collaborative code sharing
  • idea sharing
  • university gets national attention (good for the university – and shows the directors that it’s worth spending time on)

Negatives of Open-sourcing

  • mailing list support – requires time that you may not have
  • facilitate communication – also takes time
  • possibility of people not have things unanswered due to time constraints
  • time involved with marketing – getting the word out (the true success of an open-source project is word of mouth) – requires traveling and schmoozing
  • project switching is expensive (we all have other jobs – jumping from our primary roles to assist in VuFind is time-consuming & thus expensive)

Where VuFind is now

Most importantly, we need easy ways to install the software. Everyone knows about the famous WordPress 1 minute install – this should be the goal. The product requires easy install and integration, strong user interface and strong functionality before it will be widely adopted (I’d argue that the interface is pretty strong already – just a few more tweaks and it’s there).

When open-sourcing a project you need a roadmap for organization, to keep the process agile and to communicate with the community so they know what you’re doing from time to time. The start to this is the VuFind site and Sourceforge, but as Andrew said, not everything needed can be found in Sourceforge.

Conclusions

I’ve seen Andrew talk a few times about VuFind and I think this was the best of all of the talks I saw. It showed me how I can help, it showed me that there is a plan and a pretty mapped out one for VuFind. I see this as a viable option for librarians looking for a way to to integrate searching of all of their collections in one easy to use, clean, interface.

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