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Developing a digital library in-house

A five-year implementation plan

By Alexander Belov, PNRPU | July 01, 2012

In April 2012 Perm National Research Polytechnic University (PNRPU) completed a five-year project to develop an electronic library (EL). The goals of the project were to substantively improve the quality of data support for the educational and scientific-pedagogical activity of our university, and ensure access to academic and methodical literature for students in the extension department and in the distance-learning faculty of educational technologies.

The following stages describe the project’s evolution.

Stage 1 – Staff development for library employees

Before formulating any plans, library employees participated in conferences, internships and working trips related to creating digital libraries in higher education. These events helped us understand the current condition of the digital library field. Topics covered included theory and practice in creating electronic libraries, libraries and education, quality improvement, and the practical implementation of a digital library.

Stage 2 – Examining users’ needs

We created a 10-question survey that users could fill out in person or on our website to identify what digital information our potential users needed and how they wanted to access it. We received responses from 195 faculty members in scientific disciplines, university employees, and students. Among our findings:

EL acquisitions: The top item on our audience’s wish list was electronic copies of educational publications, such as textbooks, manuals, periodicals and scientific monographs included in The National Educational Standards and university education programs (with 57 percent of our audience asking for it). Other types of publications were also of interest, but to a lesser degree (33 percent wanted educational materials, e.g., training manuals). We also found that textbooks published by PNRPU Press were of interest, and 77 percent of respondents agreed to provide their materials to the EL.

EL access: The largest number of respondents (81 percent) wanted to access the EL from any computer or university LAN computer. But only 32 percent of respondents wanted to delegate rights to their work for public access, and only 26 percent for access by the university LAN.

These findings enabled us to connect our vision — that our university’s educational and methodological publications be accessible online — with our users’ needs.

Stage 3 – Project development and procedural documentation

After working with the Library’s Methodological Council to draft procedural guidelines, working within constraints related to authors’ rights, we shifted the project focus to the creation of a technical and software-based infrastructure for the EL.

Stage 4 – Purchase and installation of EL software and hardware

On the hardware side, we purchased ELAR PlanScan C, which includes a built-in work station with monitor, touchless color scanning with a resolution of up to 600 dpi, network interface, and document format A2+. The EL software platform is based on the off-the-shelf product LIBER, which is built on the KnowledgeTree adapted system of electronic document workflow (Apache, PHP, MySQL). A single-field search (based on Google) includes the document content (the indexing system supports basic formats of electronic documents), and supports searches by keywords and clouds of keywords. Unlike automated library system (ALS) server programs, which have a rack-mounted server set up in a server room, the technical composition of the EL server was implemented within the scope of the heavy-duty computational university pool by means of virtualization using VMware’s VSphere. This was intentional, as the EL computational and memory requirements will increase much faster than ALS, and this platform will allow us to expand productivity with less effort, downtime and expense. With the platform implemented, we turned to preparing the electronic documents themselves.

Stage 5 – Preparation of the electronic documents collection

We began by digitizing the rare books collection, and after resolving any rights’ questions, we received more than 500 publications, including PDF versions of textbooks, manuals, monographs and periodicals. Currently, our main activity is focused on entering descriptions within the scope of the ALS electronic catalog, the importation of recordings into the EL, and the distribution of electronic documents within certain collections. To summarize, when we finish preparing the electronic collections (including inclusion within a single reference and search tool) and importing reader data from ALS (library pass number /bar code, last name, first name, middle name, e-mail and password for ordering), we will have achieved our goal of improving access to a broad base of our institutional scientific data and literature.