18 Mar 2015

New Professionals Day Ireland 2015: The Open Source Library

Picture courtesy of Marie-Therese Carmody 
Guest post by Damien Wyse, Librarian & Information Officer at An Bord Pleanála

On Saturday 7th March 2015, New Professionals Day (NPD) Ireland held their annual Spring event in the impressive surroundings of Maynooth University Library. The title of the event was New Professionals Day Ireland 2015: The Open Source Library, and throughout the day attendees were treated to a range of workshops and demonstrations of open source technologies for the library.

NPD Ireland were fortunate to have the ever engaging Jane Burns as MC for the day and Jane kicked off events by introducing one of NPD Ireland’s very own and newer members, Shona Thoma, to give a live demonstration of the library’s Ultimaker 3D printer. As the printer whirred into action so too did Shona, demonstrating how to use Cura, the open source software needed to process 3D designs and prepare models for printing. As this software is open source and freely available, attendees were encouraged to download it themselves at a later date if they wanted to investigate the 3D printing process more closely. Shona gave an interesting example of the application of 3D printing in the university, where a printed replica of a Celtic cross was reproduced. Students can examine similar replicas of fragile objects without risking damage to the original artefacts. For her demonstration Shona had opted to print a little elephant instead of a Celtic cross and explained that the elephant would take over four and a half hours to print. The printer was left to whirr softly, providing a pleasant background hum while the workshops began.

Picture courtesy of Marie-Therese Carmody 
The first workshop of the day was given by David Hughes, Systems Librarian with Dublin Business School (DBS). David discussed Koha, a web-based open source library management system, and how this was successfully implemented in DBS in 2013. Before he delved too deep into the benefits of Koha however, David highlighted that open source software may have drawbacks such as being complicated to install or providing haphazard technical support. But the strengths of open source technologies; cost, no contracts or licences, and the potential for customisation far outweighed the weaknesses from DBS’s perspective. As he began his presentation David invited the attendees to log on to a Koha demo installation, so they could investigate some of the aspects of the software while he spoke.

Picture courtesy of Marie-Therese Carmody 
David focused on a number aspects of Koha which he found particularly useful. The ability to enter Authorised Values is used primarily for cataloguing but by customising Koha, DBS has added shelving location information specific to their own libraries, improving their services. Management of Patron Data was administratively more simple with Koha by allowing the library to connect to and import from the student management system. Additionally, by defining custom fields associated with patron records, the library was able to capture data that would otherwise not be stored in patron records, enhancing the scope for reports. The extensive reporting capabilities of Koha was another aspect emphasised by David and again, this is an aspect of the software which has a large capacity for customisation. Finally, as a web-based platform, DBS had to consider the impact a loss of connectivity would have on their library service and as it turns out, Koha had also considered this and provided an offline circulation module to mitigate against such an eventuality.

In closing, David mentioned other pieces of open source software used by DBS; Loughborough Online Reading List Software (LORLS) and Zotero for reference management. He used these three pieces of open source software to skilfully demonstrate how open source applications can work seamlessly together in the library. It was an excellent closing statement in David’s argument for the open source library.

After a break for lunch and for some networking, NPD Ireland’s second workshop was given by the excellent Padraic Stack, Digital Humanities Support Officer for Maynooth University. Padraic’s workshop was on Omeka, a web-publishing platform that allows anyone with an account to create or collaborate on a website to display collections and build digital exhibitions. Before setting the eager attendees loose on Omeka, Padraic provided some useful context to the software by using a digitisation project case study published through Omeka; The Teresa Deevy Archive.

Picture courtesy of Marie-Therese Carmody 
Teresa Deevy was an Irish playwright whose work was featured in the Irish Literary Theatre (later the Abbey Theatre) during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Teresa Deevy Archive features 18 of her plays, short stories and essays, correspondence, theatre programmes, manuscripts and other assorted works. The goals of the project were to make Deevy’s writing available and to implement Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to index documents for search retrieval. In this regard, Omeka would compliment the archive with other resources available online. For example, Omeka allowed the Teresa Deevy Archive to link to resources held by Radió Telefís Éireann (RTÉ), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the National Library of Ireland, University College Dublin (UCD), and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) among others.

Picture courtesy of Marie-Therese Carmody 
Padraic also discussed the application of 15 Dublin Core metadata elements to the Teresa Deevy Archive. This would be an important part of his workshop on Omeka during which attendees would create an Omeka site of their own. David helpfully guided the attendees through this process making it clear how user-friendly Omeka is. He recommended several plugins which are used by Omeka to add functionality including a Dublin Core Extended plugin, which adds the full set if needed. It was quite impressive to see how quick and straightforward it was to learn the basics of Omeka but Padraic noted that a greater appreciation of the depth in Omeka would require a greater investment of time. As he closed, Padraic reiterated David’s thoughts on the cross compatibility of open source software using examples of sites where Omeka had been integrated with other platforms. 

With the workshops finished, the attendees returned to the 3D printer where Shona’s elephant was about to be born. As it was teased reluctantly from its nest, the baby elephant unfolded its movable legs and stood for the first time, delighting everyone in attendance. Perhaps for some, New Professionals Day Ireland 2015: The Open Source Library was a similar first step into an exciting new world.

Picture courtesy of Caroline Rowan

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