Open Source Toolkit for Libraries: a writeup of our #libcampuk13 workshop

We were excited to attend one of 2013’s most collaborative and accessible UK library events, which was held in November at the new public library of Birmingham (UK): Library Camp. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of Library Camp, a brief explanation is that it’s an unconference for folks (of all shapes, types and sizes) interested in libraries (of all shapes, types and sizes). We’ve attended a number of these type of unconferences over the years (hello InfoCamp, Berkeley! THATcamp London) as individuals, and led various sessions around topics that we’re (Kate & Sara) interested in, but this was the first time we decided to propose and lead a session as Artefacto. Based on our experience in the sector, we felt it would be useful to propose a session which dealt with Open Source technologies, and how to make the most of non-’library’ software in library settings.

This idea was also at least partly inspired by our recent attendance at Flossie and Kate’s experience of Mozfest where there were lots of awesome FOSS tools on display but there were also communities of users gathering to learn about these tools (open journalism, open science, open data, artists, academics) – which made us think about how some of them might work in library and information management settings and how we can better share information about these resources.

What follows here is a summary version of the discussion during our session, with some extra notes based on the questions asked during it…

We started by discussing some of the barriers both to using some of these tools and to learning the necessary skills to use them. A lot of open source tools require installation on a server which is not something that is always possible in a work setting.

We’d brought along our very own LibraryBox, fresh from its pop-up appearance at Flossie 2014, where we’d curated a selection of Open Tech books for download from it (you’ll be able to read more on this project from us in a later blog post coming soon!) and LibraryBox/Piratebox encapsulates a lot of these same issues as it’s a tool that was developed from non-library uses (e.g. OpenWRT, PirateBox) and has been adapted to better meet the needs of library/education settings.

We’d invited awesome Manchester librarian Sue Lawson to come and talk a little on LibraryBox (LB) at our session as well (as she’d originally proposed to talk on this and then decided as a Library Camp organiser she would probably not have a lot of time). Sue mentioned some use examples she knew of, which included: Lake Forest Library – using LB to share local artist, poets, musicians and writers work; and SXSW LibraryBoxen on bikes – which provided free music content, public data sets and other content from the Digital Public Library of America, web archives of memorials to Aaron Swartz, and sample chapters from books being promoted by authors doing readings at SXSW; and in fact you can check out all the current locations of the LB technology on this handy map here.

Sue also talked about her own plans for using LB in her local area of Manchester, “I want to have different content that will engage different audiences”, where she hopes to provide a mixture of: pop up library stalls using the librarybox – including mixed content of contributions from Manchester writers and poets; Archive outreach work – provide archive images and original sources (currently 8000 items on FLickr scanned in by volunteers which could be offered); and having LB in operation at Manchester Literature Festival and Manchester Book Market, as well as in local parks where e.g. eBooks, audiobooks, knitting patterns could be distributed, and perhaps providing Macmillan cancer information points locally also through static or roving LB points.

After Sue’s contribution, we moved on to discussing open source tools in general, and we were asked about what might be suitable to use in the setting of a small, volunteer-run library. Jim’ll (his writeup of the day: suggested Koha which was developed by a small library in NZ – though this requires dedicated hosting and a bit of command line skills to get up and running. There’s some great documentation for Koha available: check out the koha-community for starters. Another option for small library collections is repurposed Content Management Systems (CMSs) – which tend to be a bit more lightweight than more traditional LMSs but can be modified to manage and present library collections/library data. For example, Weblibrarian is a wordpress plugin “that implements a basic library collection and circulation system”, while the BibLibre people are doing lots of interesting stuff around Koha drupal-integration (like this: and there’s the Drupal Libraries group also.

There was also a question about event management/ticketing software and while we drew a blank for standalone ticketing platforms (as a lot of CMS and CRM platforms have event management extensions available), we’ve since discovered (built on WordPress & WooCommerce) which looks interesting. There’s also FusionTicket – which has a crowdfunding campaign underway.

We additionally covered a few resources for audio and video, in response to questions from participants, and we flagged up audacity as a great, free tool for both creating and encoding tracks. You can export as Egg Vorbis, MP3 and various other formats – and when MP3 exporting you’re also able to set ID3 tags (a boon for all the librarian metadata fans out there!); while Lightworks is an OSS video software package; and we mentioned sites like blip and vimeo in response to queries about where to host video content freely (either for library marketing~promotion purposes, or community-produced content which a library might wish to display as an embedded video on their webpages etc.)

At points, our discussion extended beyond OSS resources in particular, in response to participant discussions – there was a clear interest from everyone in learning about each other’s (library) social media use, and some questions on web analytics. We emphasised how both were an important resource for understanding how you’re communicating your library services to your users, as well as a powerful tool in promoting and demonstrating your library’s value and reach to funders, departmental heads etc. and brought along a copy of Piwik Web Essentials Analytics Essentials (borrowed from what turned out to be an *awesome* computing section in the building) which people found helpful to refer to on this point.

It was also exciting at the beginning of our discussion to point people to our very own LibraryBox in the Birmingham Public Library building, where we’d installed it behind a curtain in the auditorium. There’s nothing like giving a live demo to provide use cases and gather evidence for how people practically use your tech, and folks in our session logged on and were soon downloading some of the Open Tech ebooks we had on offer, and it seemed like everyone found the technology easy and simple to use – so we were happy with this result.

All in all, from the number of people participating in our session, and our lively discussions, it seems like Open Source Software and tech is continuing to be an area of interest and use to library professionals, so we were delighted to be able to share more information on this topic and to encourage its further use and dissemination out into the wider world!