November 23, 2017

Drupal Done Right

Drupal is a PHP- and MySQL-based system for managing web sites, developed in 2000 and released in 2001 under the open GNU General Public License (GPL). It is modular, extensible, and scalable. These qualities make it perfect for web site management, lending flexibility to sites such as Popular Science, Sony Music, and Amherst College. In recent years, Drupal has gained a huge following within libraries as a content management system (CMS).

From Arizona State University to Connecticut’s Darien Library, institutions of all shapes, sizes, and types use Drupal to manage their library web sites. However, some librarians have looked to Drupal as more than a tool for creating web sites. Some have attempted to bring more library systems and content to Drupal as a way to integrate library content in a single place. Others have seen Drupal as a flexible framework that can be used to integrate with other systems or create interactive tools for users. These organizations are stretching the bounds of what is possible with this open source tool.

Drupal and the catalog

Probably the best-known extension of Drupal in the library world is SOPAC, the social OPAC. Created at Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), MI, in 2007, it aimed to improve users’ library experience by blending catalog content seamlessly with the library web site. SOPAC also adds next-generation catalog features such as facets, tags, book covers, reviews, and ratings to create a richer experience for library users.

Since its inception, SOPAC has undergone many changes, including a complete rewrite in 2008 for version 6.0 of Drupal (SOPAC 2.0). Originally, SOPAC was customized to AADL’s setup and not meant to work out of the box for other libraries. By contrast, version 2.0 was written to be a highly configurable, distributable package with the potential to work with any integrated library system (ILS). To accomplish this, two pieces of SOPAC 2.0, Locum and Insurge, were separated from Drupal and made stand-alone components that collect and store data to be manipulated and presented by the Drupal modules to which they are connected.

Locum is responsible for ingesting and indexing bibliographic records for SOPAC. To do this, an ILS-specific connector is needed. Currently, there are three connectors available: one for Innovative Interfaces’ Millennium 2006, another for SirsiDynix’s Unicorn, and one recently developed for Koha. Insurge stores user-created tags, ratings, and reviews. By separating these two components from the Drupal module, librarians can more easily develop new connectors for different ILS’s and share user-created metadata across libraries.

Adoption of and support for SOPAC has grown since version 2.0’s release in September 2008. YourLibrarySite.com, a company that develops and supports Drupal library web sites, is assisting with SOPAC implementations. In addition to Darien Library (where SOPAC 2.0 was engineered by assistant director for innovation and user experience John Blyberg), Palos Verdes Library District, CA, and AADL have already implemented SOPAC 2.0. It is also being tested by Allen County Public Library, IN, and BibLibre, a Koha and Drupal development and support vendor. Development on the next version of SOPAC is currently under way, with features and enhancements potentially including multibranch assistance, incorporation of third-party data into discovery index (Syndetics, Amazon, etc.), the ability to limit searches to available items, SMS notifications, and RSS.

The eXtensible Catalog project

Like SOPAC, the eXtensible Catalog (XC) project hopes to bring together content from various library silos of information: the catalog, digital library, web site, etc. Geared to serve the needs of academic libraries with more specialized collections, XC developed several tool kits, including ones for OAI, NCIP, Metadata Services, and Drupal. The first three have been released, while the Drupal version is still in development. The OAI tool kit allows libraries to make data stored in their ILS or other repository available for harvesting via the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). The Metadata Services tool kit is designed to harvest Dublin Core and MARC record metadata, then transform and FRBRize it so that the metadata is simpler to work with and display through a catalog interface. The Drupal tool kit is then designed to import records into the XC metadata schema and make them available to the CMS.

Though designed to function together as a stack, the XC tool kits are also meant to function as individual modules, each comprising different services that interact with one another. However, at this time the tool kits work most effectively when used in conjunction, because plugins have yet to be developed by other institutions.

Overall, though the project is still maturing, the final product promises to allow libraries to meld disparate content into a cohesive and comprehensive web site powered by Drupal.

Drupal for digital collections

In addition to using Drupal as a tool for merging silos of collections and materials, some libraries are using it to support their digital library projects. The library at McMaster University, Ontario, is a pioneer in this area. McMaster wanted its digital library to support Web 2.0 functionality like tagging, reviews, and ratings. But what makes the McMaster project unique is that Drupal is not only the primary access point for its digital collections, it is also the tool for creating and cataloging those materials.

McMaster has accomplished this using several Drupal modules, some custom code, and lots of know-how. The collections are primarily built using CCK (Content Construction Kit), which allows new custom fields and content types to be created. As a result, McMaster was able to use an extended Dublin Core metadata schema to capture the relevant information about the items in each collection. The Views module and Drupal themes enable McMaster to create customized display screens. In addition, McMaster has implemented a variety of items to improve the user interface. These include some fantastic modules for images, for example, ImageAPI, Imagecache, Imagefield, ImageAPI Reflect, Thickbox, and Lightbox2. They let McMaster staff highlight images in a shadowbox and add a time line feature that enhances the user interface by providing a chronological look at objects.

The Facet Search module enables the library to expose CCK metadata in elements that let users navigate effortlessly among related objects. The result is a unique digital collections interface offering users a rich experience similar to digital photo-sharing sites or web-based media galleries.

Another incredible feature of the McMaster project is the combination of encyclopedic content and its individual objects. This is done especially well in the library’s Peace and War in the 20th Century collection, which is both searchable and browsable via an exhibit-like interface. Currently, McMaster is working to upgrade its implementation to version 6.0 of Drupal, at which time it will implement the RDF module for linked data support.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) in British Columbia is facilitating the submission of electronic theses and dissertations (ETD) with an interface powered by Drupal. Similar to the McMaster effort, SFU’s submission form was created using a custom content type and the CCK module.

Students are able to log in to the system to submit their theses using their regular library account information. From there, they are asked to submit basic metadata about their work. This includes simple bibliographic data, thesis supervisor’s name, and request for embargo. Students then upload the document via PDF along with any supplemental files. Once a thesis has been submitted, library staff do an audit to ensure that all the proper documentation has been included. Then, the graduate records department is able to download an Excel file of students who have completed their thesis requirements.

At the end of the semester, the system creates MARC records for SFU’s catalog and loads the theses into the university’s DSpace repository. For print theses (which students are still allowed to submit), the system generates printable packing and binding slips. The centralized system is now in place to handle the works generated by students this semester and stands to streamline the submissions process like never before.

Drupal collaboration

Drupal can also serve as a collaboration tool for librarians. This past summer, the American Library Association (ALA) debuted ALA Connect, a system for facilitating communication as well as social and professional connections among members. ALA Connect provides space for group members to engage with one another while not at conference either through Member Communities or by creating personal social networks. (For more detailed information on ALA Connect’s debut, see “Making Connections,” LJ 7/09, p. 48).

Two newly developed aspects of ALA Connect are the Mentoring network and Opportunities Initiative. Currently, mentoring within the profession is often extremely informal and spontaneous, but MentorConnect aims to change this by providing a more concrete avenue for mentoring opportunities based on information in its profiles.

Mentees add the areas they wish to be mentored in, while mentors add their areas of expertise and reasons why they want to serve. Based on this information, users can search for what they need within the mentor network.

Once users find a potential match, they can send a message asking for help or guidance. MentorConnect allows for several mentoring relationships at one time. A user can be a mentor to one or more users while at the same time being mentored by one or more people. This is accomplished by leveraging the power of both existing Drupal functionality such as file upload, user profiles, search, and custom modules, which ALA has had developed to add key MentorConnect usability. That ALA can use preexisting Drupal modules and newly developed ones in concert demonstrates Drupal’s flexibility.

In addition to connecting members, MentorConnect is designed to help mentors and mentees communicate effectively by several means. It provides general information on effective mentoring and a Mentor FAQ and also offers a feedback mechanism so anyone can receive constructive criticism. It even has a space for users to share and collaborate on documents.

The Opportunities Initiative will be a clearinghouse for any and all offers related to presenting, publishing, volunteering, scholarships, and residencies. When users submit a new post, they will be asked to fill in some general information about the opportunity. These facts, along with the data about a member’s interests, will allow appropriate offers to be included on a user’s profile page.

Drupal’s flexibility, robust architecture, modularity, and open source license allow libraries to extend and customize it to meet their individual needs. From digital libraries to the library catalog, Drupal is changing the way in which libraries provide services and systems through a common platform for web-based applications and bridging the gap among what have traditionally been disparate information systems.


Karen Coombs (librarywebchic@gmail.com) is the Head of Web Services, University of Houston Libraries, TX. She is a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker

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