TBOS learns about KualiOLE


As part of work on the TBOS project, I attended the seminar on the much-discussed Kuali/OLE project, the highlight of which was an overview of the project by Robert McDonald, Director of Kuali/OLE community development.

The Kuali project is a community of US institutions that came together to create a financial system for the HE community in the states, backed by funding from the Andrew Mellon foundation. The group has expanded (now 72 members) and diversified to look at other corporate systems in HE. Each system area has its own board of governors and a development team

In a sentence OLE (Open Library Environment) is an attempt to develop an open library management system for the HE community that is, crucially, owned by the HE community. It has been backed by funding of over $2million for the initial development project from 2010 to 2012. Ahead of this seminar, the breakthrough for UK HE was the announcement that the consortium of University of  London libraries intends to replace their library management systems with the Kuali/OLE, probably in 2014. As well as the development plans for Kuali, the seminar focused on the decision making process at Senate House.

System Development

Open source LMSs have been around for a while, Evergreen and Koha for example, informed the development of the Kuali/OLE project. It was felt that these systems were too small scale for large US HEIs and what the Kuali foundation sought to do was build on these initiatives and develop something on an enterprise scale.

In 2009, a partnership of nine libraries was formed and in 2010, they began the development of a flexible, service-oriented library management system owned by the HE community.

In terms of a release roadmap, the 0.6 release is complete, with manuals and testing in place. 0.8 is due shortly followed by release 1.0 in 2013. It is this release that the Bloomsbury group of libraries plan to implement.

The system will draw on the GOKb knowledge base which received development funding  in 2012 and, in conjunction with JISC developments will provide an open repository of data for libraries on publication information about electronic resources, including journals, databases and ebooks. It is seen as crucial to the success of the OLE project that the partner libraries has ready access to accurate data on publications, underpinning the delivery of, mostly electronic, content to users.

In terms of software, as range of service components are being used – Google Refine, Apache solr as well as open technologies around document storage, there are also a number of commercial partners within the development. A move away from MARC was also discussed, making more use of MARCXml. Identify management is also being looked at, a key development area.

It seems clear that, at time of writing, there is little functionality that can be demonstrated in any meaningful way, with a production system not expected until late in 2013. This makes the Bloomsbury decision all the more interesting and worthy of further consideration.

The Kuali/OLE community

The main selling point of the OLE approach, as opposed to a more conventional LMS procurement is that the system is owned within the HE community. Rather than purchasing a product, or even a service, from a commercial vendor, moving to OLE is more about joining a club, becoming a member of a development group. ]

This concept brings some responsibilities, but also affords opportunities. The key benefit for libraries is that as owners of the system, we have control over its development, any and every development will be carried out and the resulting functionality will be available to the entire community of members. Libraries will not be expected to simply tolerate the way a system works, but will be able to influence its design and development in a much more direct and meaningful way and, it is hoped, cost effectively.

Bloomsbury decision

The decision of the Bloomsbury LMS consortium to use Kuali/OLE to develop its system is interesting in several ways and the process is likely to attract interest of the wider HE community for some months (years?) to come.

Their decision is based not on a conventional procurement or the development of an onerous and, some would say, restrictive ITT, but on a “horizon scan” of the future of library management systems as well as systems interoperating effectively with other major corporate systems. This element of the system is at the heart of what was required.

What OLE offered was a system built by HE and built around workflows, allowing the freedom within the organization to develop the system as it sees fit to meet the user demands. A system that will require investment of staff time, but that this in turn allows staff to develop skills and experience.

Much was made of the tactics of some of the conventional LMS suppliers and a policy of creating fear, uncertainty and doubt around a change of this magnitude, clearly as a way of protecting their own interests. Ironically, a key argument in favour of using open source is that many of the tools used in this environment are used by proprietary system vendors themselves.

There are doubts and concerns, of course, and the decision, albeit only in principle, is a bold one. The OLE approach would still require significant investment, there are fees involved, though they are not expected to be high, and there is little to show in terms of a quantifiable asset. This approach is also largely unproven, though there are successful installations of Koha at Staffordshire and Evergreen at the SEDAR consortium in Stirling and East Dunbartonshire.

Could this approach work in Scotland?

The idea of community ownership of a system and of shared development lends itself easily to the discussions being had within the Scottish HE community about sharing library management systems.

The Scottish HE community is well established, well used to collaborative procurements and shared service developments. We are small enough that colleagues are well known, but large enough that we have the expertise and experience within our institutions to contribute to a shared development on this scale.

Outside of the US, smaller development groups are a potential way forward allowing the development, in theory of a Scottish Kuali group? Something to think about.

The slides from the presentation to SCONUL can be found at:


Written by Colin Sinclair, University of Stirling

One thought on “TBOS learns about KualiOLE

  1. Thanks for a fantastic summary Colin. Uself to hear the opinions of another UK based JISC LMS group and very useful to hear more about the development timescale of Kuali/OLE.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *