April 25, 2018

Darien Library’s Open Source SOPAC 2.0 Emphasizes Patron Content

By Josh Hadro

  • New “social OPAC” interface features user-added ratings, comments, and review
  • “Insurge” software enables open repository of community data contributed by multiple libraries
  • Software to be released as open source; data under open license

On September 1, the Darien Library, CT, will debut SOPAC 2.0, a new open source social catalog interface, as part of a revamped web presence (update 9/2/08: the catalog is now live at http://www.darienlibrary.org/catalog). The sleek interface is the brainchild of Darien head of technology and digital initiatives (and 2006 LJ Mover & Shaker) John Blyberg. It features faceted browsing, tag clouds, and total integration of patron-added content like ratings, comments, and reviews.

SOPAC 2.0 (“Social OPAC”) focuses on community for both users and library software developers. The roughly 20,000 residents of Darien will be the first to benefit from and contribute content to the new library catalog, but the software is built to tap into a much larger community of users, incorporating shared aggregate user data sets, similar to products like LibraryThing for Libraries and BiblioCommons. As Blyberg has said, a larger community is necessary for a critical mass of content for robust search and discovery. 

SOPAC 2.0 somewhat resembles the recently debuted BiblioCommons software, another ILS discovery and interface layer that seeks to leverage user-contributed content, which already has a large number of libraries committed to it. But, as Blyberg was quick to point out, the data used by SOPAC 2.0 “will be completely open and fee-less,” in contrast to any kind of subscription or license fee-based models for data usage. 

In addition, every component of SOPAC 2.0 is being released under the GNU General Public License (GPLv3) to encourage widespread development of the software. The Darien Library will host the software on its web site, making it available shortly after the initial launch, and also will spearhead future development and community support.

Guiding principles
Blyberg told LJ  the end goal is to merge “all of the components of the user experience into a single unified interface,” from the library’s homepage down to the individual record level and the patron preference screen. More broadly, Blyberg also wants to keep the software package simple enough for other librarians to implement easily.

Of course, even the easiest of software installations, including those using software free of charge, requires support and ongoing maintenance from IT staff, and SOPAC 2.0 will be no exception. Mindful of these potential pitfalls, Blyberg asked himself throughout the design process, “what is the threshold at which it is acceptable to expect a library to manage this?” With the software nearing its initial release, Blyberg has high hopes that other libraries will find that the software’s installation and upkeep, with community support, will not be prohibitive.

Locum and Insurge inside
The software suite is composed of three discrete components: the SOPAC 2.0 interface application and two software libraries Blyberg named Locum and Insurge. The interface is a “100% theme-able and template-able” Drupal (an open source content management system) module that governs all aspects of the end users’ experience with catalog records and their patron account.

Locum and Insurge are SOPAC’s under-the-hood software engines, from which the interface derives its power and utility. Locum is a software layer that sits between the user interface and the integrated library system (ILS), serving as an “ILS-independent abstraction for all catalog-related activity,” wrote Blyberg.

Darien’s implementation is built on top of Innovative Interfaces’ Millennium ILS, but Locum is designed to allow SOPAC 2.0 to connect with any ILS system, Blyberg explained, from SirsiDynix Unicorn to Koha.

The second software component, Insurge (“Independent Social Repository”), is designed to build an aggregate source of user data. With access to a repository of community content, Insurge gives libraries the benefit of each others’ user-contributed data, like tagged items, comments, and reviews. 

This data is locally managed by Insurge but can also be synced with remote repositories, allowing libraries to bolster their catalogs with new data downloaded from other institutions and to contribute their own content.

A seat at the table
Such software development is seen relatively infrequently on the public side of the library divide, as it is usually the domain of academic library software developers. With SOPAC 2.0 geared to public libraries and their technical support staff, Blyberg envisions this software’s open release as a way to “make sure public libraries are represented in the [library software] development sphere as well … and help public libraries feel like they have a seat at the table.”

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