STAFF RESOURCES

LibData
Report of the Review Committee
March 24, 2006

The LibData Review Committee was charged with reviewing the LibData software developed at the University of Minnesota, available at http://libdata.sourcefource.net. LibData is a web-based, database-driven software application for creating library guides and web pages. LibData allows users to create a data bank of resource descriptions which can then be easily inserted into a template to create quick guides, research guides, and courseware.

LibData as Software

The LibData package has been extensively implemented at the University of Minnesota, where it is used to serve all of the libraries Course Guides and Research QuickStart Guides. An additional six smaller libraries in Minnesota and several other libraries, including Western Washington University, are also using LibData. Documentation for the software is available online, although basic tutorials for novice users are not. Nor has an active user discussion community been developed. The software has not been updated since 2004, and is not designed for the latest version of MySQL, although this latter issue should be easy to correct.

While large-scale Open Source projects depend on the shared knowledge of a user community for growth and vitality, LibData, which was designed to meet local needs, has not grown beyond its initial development site. The software is functional in its initial configuration, and continues to be used at Minnesota with only minor modifications. It does not appear to be undergoing any further development, even at Minnesota. If Rutgers adopts the software, we must be prepared to take it as is, and rely on our own resources for any future development or adaptation of the software.

In the committee's judgment, the LibData software could not be adopted at Rutgers with the same level of enthusiasm and creativity as at Minnesota. It was built specifically to support Minnesota's own programs, which predated the software. The alternative, however, would be to engage in a similar large-scale project to create software to closely address the needs at Rutgers. Among pre-existing solutions, LibData is attractive insofar as it is designed around the academic library context, and is easily modifiable open source software, using a standard LAMP architecture, which our existing staff can support and adapt to our needs.

LibData as Research Guide support

The committee does not believe that LibData is a good candidate for supporting librarian research guides. LibData imposes a common format on research guides, which, even with editing, would not fit well with the diverse range of styles of RUL research guides. LibData is primarily designed to support Minnesota's own Research QuickStart pages, which are usually shorter and more focused topic guides than RUL's guides. RUL research guides are often broken into multiple pages, a feature not supported by LibData. The committee feels that there is little overlap in the content of most RUL research guides, which also frequently rely on explanatory paragraphs and interpretative comments. For this kind of material, a common database of item descriptions is less helpful.

In addition, using LibData effectively requires some knowledge of HTML and web page structure. It is easy-to-use only for those with moderate technology skills, and users without this level of familiarity might require substantial training before being able to make full use of the software. This goal might be better served by providing access to a basic HTML page creation tool.

LibData as Course Guide support

The second major function that LibData supports is the creation of course-specific guides to library resources, called CourseLib in the Minnesota implementation. This feature is of greater interest and relevance to RUL. Among course guides, there is a greater amount of overlapping and reusable material. LibData could aid in the quick creation and updating of such guides. Adoption of LibData or similar software for such guides could be a great potential timesaver for active guide creators.

Currently, some course-specific material finds its way onto the RUL Finding Aids list, if it is relatively stable and long-lasting. Other course material is posted on other locally hosted pages, particularly in Newark and Camden. Another source of course guides is the Instructional Repository, which is not publicly accessible. Also, individual librarians frequently create their own handouts and guides, which are sometimes posted on their individual rci accounts, and sometimes are not posted at all. Whether or not it is supported by software such as LibData, it would be desirable to have a visible common web location where librarians could create and edit course guides, including the ability to post last minute updates in advance of a class session.

Recommendations

Because of the widely varying practices of librarians with respect to creation and distribution of course guides, the committee recommends that a survey be developed to determine current practices and whether or not an aide to course guide creation would be useful to librarians.

The committee did not look at how LibData would work with Sakai or other course management systems currently in use at Rutgers. As more librarians work to integrate their course guides into course management systems, further investigation is highly recommended on how LibData, or other software, could work with course management systems.

If the results of the proposed survey indicate a significant interest in course guide creation tools, the committee recommends that LibData or similar software be offered to librarians to use at their discretion to create Course guides. This option would allow the usefulness of LibData, or similar software, to be tested in one area without interfering with other content of more long-term value, such as the research guides. If introduced, this service should be accompanied with an introductory training in use of the software. The more significant the interest in the software, the more programming resources can be used to customize the product for Rutgers' needs.

The committee also recommends that a small database-driven application be created to improve the Indexes & Databases page. The number of links on this page has grown unwieldy, and a function to search for databases with particular attributes (full-text sources, articles sources, subject, and the like) would be convenient. LibData could perform this function with some modification, but LibData is actually more complex than necessary for a limited task of this type. The committee recommends that a small application be created that specifically addresses this need.

Natalie Borisovets, Head Of Public Services, Dana Library
Shaun Ellis, Web Developer
Karen Hartman, Social Sciences Librarian, New Brunswick Libraries
Samuel McDonald, Webmaster
Ryan Womack, Business and Economics Librarian, New Brunswick Libraries (Chair)



 
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