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Open Source Electronic Resource Management Systems: ERMes and CORAL


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Speakers notes for the presentation given June 26, 2011 at the American Librarian Association's Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA.

Presentation Description: To tame the complex and ever-changing electronic resource management landscape, electronic resource management systems need to be flexible, evolving and affordable. Two such systems are ERMes and CORAL, developed by libraries for libraries and made freely available. ERMes runs in Microsoft Access and is suitable for small and medium libraries. Released in summer 2010, CORAL, is a modular, web-based system. Presenters will discuss the development, use and future plans for each system.

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Open Source Electronic Resource Management Systems: ERMes and CORAL

  1. 1. Open Source ERMS Presentation - Draft OutlineSunday, June 26 10:30 – NoonPanelists Galadriel Chilton, E-Resources Librarian, University of Wisconsin -- La Crosse William Doering, Systems, Catalog & Digital Initiatives Librarian, University of Wisconsin -- La Crosse Benjamin J. Heet, Senior Technical Consultant/Analyst, University of Notre Dame Robin Malott, Electronic Resources Technical Consultant, University of Notre DameBob Nardini, Program Chair:IntroThis program provides introductory information on twofreely available e-resource management systems (ERMS):ERMes developed at the University of Wisconsin – LaCrosse and CORAL developed at the University of NotreDame. Two speakers from each institution will describewhy they chose to develop their own systems as well asthe benefits and challenges of using and supporting anopen source ERMS. Additionally, speakers will brieflydemonstrate ERMes and CORAL.1. An Overview of Open Source Electronic ResourceManagement SystemsBill:a. Implementation: Why are they difficult to implement? Open source products don’t have the benefit of a large business to develop, sustain and support the product. On the other hand, open source systems such as ERMes or CORAL allow users to quickly change the code to meet your workflow and local needs. Few other ERM systems allow this level of customization. If you need the system to do something, you can make it happen.1 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  2. 2. b. One size doesn’t fit all: The difficulties of making a solution that works for everybodyBill: Every library has different work flows, different purchasing models, and different needs based on how they operate. For example, some ERMes users just use it to keep track of vendor phone numbers and contact information, others use it for the reports, while others import use statistics. Some users/potential users have asked for the ability to manage e- journal packages while others want to manage e- resources for multiple organizations. We are working toward supporting e-journals, but this has been done at UW-La Crosse by two different units and ERMes hasn’t been the right way for us to manage e-journals. So, developing functionality we don’t actually use can be difficult. Early on, Norma Dowell from Iowa State University developed the ability to import COUNTER use statistics into ERMes. This functionality has been used by other institutions. This true open source development worked well for this functionality. When questions arise, we put the user in direct contact with Norma. Version control could be a problem, but hasn’t been thus far. The benefit with ERMes, is that with nominal familiarity with MS Access, one can customize ERMes to fit your own local needs. Additionally, ERMes functions even if you do not input data into all fields.Benjamin: CORAL has a similar tale of libraries using it in various ways. Built in a modular fashion, CORAL can be installed one piece at a time. Much of the initial interest in CORAL for example has been from sites which are interested in using it for managing license agreements only. For these sites they are able to install the Licensing module without the need to install any of the other CORAL components. The same situation has happened with sites interested in e-journal statistics management only. The Usage Statistics module can also be installed as a standalone tool, or it can be integrated with the other modules. CORAL also remains highly customizable. Virtually all field values can be customized through the use of an Administration page which each module2 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  3. 3. contains. This frees libraries from being forced to use vocabulary used and globally determined by others. CORAL is also built in such a way where various pieces of information are edited through the use of pop-up edit windows. These edit menus display all of the fields available to the user while allowing the general display of any particular page to show only the fields with data. Empty fields are thus hidden allowing for a much cleaner display. The number of fields and data points that we track for any electronic resource can be overwhelming and this functionality allows us to track and see only the most relevant pieces of information. Purchased ERMs see the same problem. One ends up with a lot of functionality and data fields that you never use which clutters the screen and makes implementation difficult. As the client base grows for an Open Source product, theoretically, there should be more support from this larger, invested community.2. Building it Yourselfa. Local development: Reasons to build your own and why we made the decisionGaladriel: We looked at various ERMs over a period of a couple of years. All of them required a significant cost and time investment. After an initial purchase, there were significant annual maintenance fees which cost a lot of money and didn’t meet our needs. Additionally, we began hearing from many institutions (via listservs and conference programs) that commercial ERMs were not meeting expectations. Ultimately, building ERMes saved us time, and money, allowed us to build an ERM that matched our current workflow, but is easily adjustable to the ever-changing evolving world of managing e-resources. For ERMes, we choose MS Access because we use Access on a daily basis for all sorts of other projects and I knew enough about MS Access to know that we could build a basic system to meet our immediate needs.Benjamin: At Notre Dame we tried for several years to implement a commercial ERM but like many others found it a3 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  4. 4. difficult fit. Implementing a robust ‘all or nothing’ system was very difficult. The available systems seemed designed for some theoretical lifecycle of an electronic resource that just didn’t translate well to day to day use. Instead our wish was to have a system which was designed towards what processes and activities staff needed to perform on a daily basis. What are the series of steps that staff perform, and what information do they need at their disposal along the way? It seems like the same question, what is the lifecycle, but it really isn’t. We focused on the staff rather than on the resource.b. Risk Assessment: Dangers/challenges of local developmentBill: It is sometimes hard to find the time do the development and development is limited to time/skill set presently available. When you develop locally, staff expectations can be very high. They may have unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished. Tempering expectations is important. It is still important to challenge and improve workflows, rather than blindly building a system to support an unanalyzed and often old workflow procedure. Staff may not wish to analyze or change their workflows when developing locally, although I suppose this is a problem with commercial software as well. Staff may leave. How do you support the system when programming staff are often difficult to come by and in high demand? Building the system in such a way as to be easy for a replacement to pick up and support is difficult. You must balance simplicity with functionality.3. Open Sourcea. Why we chose to provide open source version of our ERMSGaladriel: UW-La Crosse didn’t build ERMes with the intent of offering it to others. We built it to address our e- resource management needs -- a single source for e- resource information that multiple staff could access easily. However, we were quickly asked by another institution, if we would share. We said sure, why not. Others may find it useful, and they have. In turn, hearing from ERMes users about ways to improve ERMes has helped us improve the ERM and refine our4 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  5. 5. workflow.Robin: Notre Dame had a similar experience. Providing an open source ERM was not our original intention but we did quickly realize that what we were doing would be a benefit to others as well. Our library participates in a few other open source projects which have contributed to the culture of sharing.b. Building a community: Benefits of sharing the code and building a community of adoptersBill: There have been 3-4 institutions who have borrowed the Access code for development. During this time we cease local development to make sure we have version control. We have greatly benefited by the contributions of other institutions as does the whole community. The ERMes community is growing and hopefully, more people will help with the actual development.Benjamin: Our community of users is growing as well with over one hundred members on our discussion listserv. This has allowed for discussion about desired ERM components and enhancements but as yet we haven’t begun a true co-development. We hope to do so eventually but we are still building the relationships that will allow that to happen. We did have our first user group meeting at ER&L which was a success and has started to build relationships, and we hope to continue that with future meetings as well. An open source product cannot be successful and supported in the long run by just a single institution. There must be a community to shepherd that product through the years and to ensure that it is not built to meet the needs of only a single site.3. Supporting the product: Sustainability of open source software and costs/benefits of using open source softwareGaladriel: It’s amazing and a little scary to think that at least 605 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  6. 6. institutions are actively using ERMes and that UW-La Crosse is the point institution for development and support. We get moderate support from our colleagues, and no release time to actually work on development and support. So, we really depend on the ERMes community. Perhaps the largest question we get comes from users who haven’t used MS Access before. This one is hard for us to support. We have tried to offer some links on the ERMes web site to free Access training/tutorials. Robin: At Notre Dame, we have all kept our presently full jobs, so CORAL development is sometimes difficult to arrange and prioritize. That said we are doing our best to support the software and have had great help from members of our discussion listserv. One of the biggest hurdles we have seen other sites have concerns the authentication components. Fortunately we have some systems staff from other libraries who do have that experience and are sharing their expertise and help with others on our discussion listserv. Support obviously will be one of the biggest concerns for any CORAL implementer. There is no support contract that libraries have to sign and there is no hard and fast guarantee of long term support. That may feel like a bit of a gamble. That said, we are creating a community of users that have been assisting each other. And the software is built in such a way that sites should be able to support it on their own as well. It’s built using common components, PHP and MySQL, which should be in the repertoire of many systems departments.4. ERMesBill: a. ERMes’ History: how and why an MS Access ERMS Early development We did not have an ERM, but had a list of desired functionality for an ERM, an immediate leave due to Galadriel’s extended leave in Fall 2008 which lead to a diagram of initial tables and their relationships. The first iteration was very primitive, but was still a huge improvement. The second release in 2009 revealed vast improvements implemented by Norma J. Dowell from Iowa State University who transformed the 6 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  7. 7. interface added the ability to import COUNTER statistics among many other enhancements. The third and current release includes tweaks based on user requests including multiple new fields. It also includes several new reports and a new A-Z list option. How ERMes became and open source ERMS As mentioned earlier, ERMes was not an intentional open source ERMS. However, we quickly realized that there were many other institutions facing similar e- resource workflow challenges and that have licenses for MS Access. Creating the ERMs in a widely utilized application is probably one of the main reasons so many organizations use ERMes -- like us, they do not have the technical expertise or access to a programmer who can help them implement and maintain another type of set-up.b. The ERMes CommunityNow in its third release, ERMes is used by libraries world-wide. 60 libraries are currently using ERMes. This represents 19 states in the US, the Disctrict of Columbia, and 7 countries outside the US. Map of users: en&msa=0&msid=109919912470535143116.0 004898daaff90da81fc9&ll=7.710992,24.960938 &spn=168.070651,46.054687&z=2 Supporting ERMes users There is no official support system for ERMes users. However, there is a website with links to extensive documentation, a Google Group for ERMes users, the ERMes blog, as well as free MS Access training and online tutorials. ( In addition, we do respond to ERMes users who e-mail/call with questions. ERMes users have been very grateful for whatever support we can provide. But more could be provided.7 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  8. 8. c. Using ERMesGaladriel ii. Demo Data entry and retrieval Reports Customization b. The future of ERMes Galadriel:  There is some key functionality which we know we need to address including support of e-journals, version migration, web interface and simultaneous access. We foresee that ERMes will see a steady growth, primarily among small to medium sized libraries. Perhaps when we get the above functionality in place, we will see larger institutions join us.  Galadriel: Managing Serials I am currently refining diagrams for the e- journals management piece of ERMes – I’m determining basic tables and reports to add to the next ERMes release. Like the initial release of ERMes, we view the managing serials functionality as a work in progress – the first release will be simple with plenty of room to hear from users about what works and what/how to improve. We’re envisioning simple e-journals functionality to start with plenty of room to evolve!  Bill: Paul Benzschawel a Master of Software Engineerings student began working with us on ERMes in Spring 2011 as an independent project and plans to continue development for his graduate thesis project.  His work thus far is a Java-based add-on that provides read-only access to single- table data in a tabular view.  His future development includes work on a report writer, authentication levels, more functionality and a version to version migration tool.8 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
  9. 9. Robin and BenjaminCORAL Introduction (Robin)- Coral website- Overall modular design- AvailabilityResource module overview/demo (Ben)Licensing module overview/demo (Robin)Organizations module overview/demo (Robin)Stats module overview/demo (Ben)The future of CORAL (Ben)- User group- Additional modules- Enhancements9 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011
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  13. 13. END – Thanks, Questions/Comments13 ALA Annual, New Orleans, Louisiana 26 June 2011