Making a library database?
June 14, 2010 7:01 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to create a library database which would searchable in multiple fields and on the web. Any advice?

Imagine a database where one could search a catalog by author, title, subject and a few other fields - some perhaps via drop-down menus, but not all. This database would be available for searching via the web. Other particulars:

1) The software to create such a database would be Mac-compatible.

2) The database would be easy to incorporate into a website.

3) The database would allow for eight to ten different search fields. Users could enter a term in just one, or in multiple fields, depending on how specific their results to be.

4) Results would come up in a similar manner to how they do on Amazon - as a list of titles / basic info - which can be expanded if one were to click on it.

Is there a program that's set up or easily adaptable for this sort of thing, or does it need to be created? How much would this sort of thing cost?

(posting for a friend)
posted by Dee Xtrovert to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at Koha?
posted by flabdablet at 7:03 PM on June 14, 2010

If programming an actual web application (say, in Ruby / Rails) is beyond the scope of what you're looking to do, perhaps using Google Docs (and Forms) to create a spreadsheet with an easy data entry form would work?
posted by Alt F4 at 7:16 PM on June 14, 2010

There is a fork of Wordpress that is built for this. I don't remember what it is called, but it looked pretty good last time I saw it.
posted by Jairus at 7:19 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: A couple of other notes:

This database would be searchable, but that's it. There wouldn't be any purchasing, lending (etc) going on. It's purely to look things up. Stability and iser-friendliness are pluses, but it would other wise just be plain simple to add things to the database and plain simple to look them up.

I'll check out Wordpress to see what I can find, and check out Koha, too. I'd be interested in hearing about costs - please make the assumption that the user has no actual skills in any of this!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:23 PM on June 14, 2010

Jairus is thinking of Scriblio (formerly known as WPopac).

Where would your friend be getting your book data? Is the idea to manually catalog every item in the collection, or will you be importing data from some other format?

Any reason your friend couldn't just use LibraryThing?
posted by twirlip at 7:40 PM on June 14, 2010

Response by poster: It's for a small, university-affiliated library of (mostly) very obscure foreign-language titles, half of which are unpublished. So yes, it would all be manually cataloged, and the database would need fields more specific to the subject matter than what LibraryThing offers. I'll have him check out Scriblio, thanks.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:55 PM on June 14, 2010

If you don't care about how it looks too much, then a decent Drupal developer worth their salt could do a super barebones-version in three hours - 30 minutes to set the modules up, an hour to configure the backend, another hour to theme it, and half an hour to use some simple CSS styles.

If you want it designed, or have a design already, and want to make it absolutely foolproof user-friendliness wise, then add another three hours or more.

Here's how I would do it in Drupal, for example: make a node type 'book', with CCK types author, title, subject, date, etc. etc. etc. Create a View with a page display and make exposed filters on the CCK types with the mode "contains", and make sure that you have it set so that it returns all info for a blank query. That page itself is the search page, and the node/add/entry page is the page to create nodes. Add a role and permissions for that role to create 'book' nodes, style everything appropriately, and you should be set.

(BTW, If you show the above paragraph to someone working in Drupal, and they don't know what it means, then you should look for someone else.)
posted by suedehead at 8:05 PM on June 14, 2010

Google Apps (or Zoho), both are free. Create a spreadsheet with a friendly user interface. You can also create a form for adding items to the database. People will not actually see the spreadsheet, just the interface.
posted by fifilaru at 10:15 PM on June 14, 2010

Depending on the size of the collection, Koha may be your best bet. It's an open-source integrated library management system with a very active community of users and developers. However, It isn't the easiest to set up and will need someone with some technical expertise to set up and customize. In fact, any solution you try to use will. That said, I've only used Koha for my personal library and haven't done much development for it.

On one hand, it is definitely overkill for your friend's needs. It's actually pretty complicated software and does a lot of stuff (including acquisitions budgeting). On the other, it's overkill in the good way. It'll be set up and ready for whenever the collection expands in the future (or heaven forbid, merges with the rest of the university library system, since it can easily import and export its collection in a standard format). But that reminds me, what is the rest of the university using? I imagine most ILS software is probably able to handle multiple collections/libraries within the same database, can your friend go and talk to the library IT folk and see if they can set up a new collection?

I'm not entirely sure about cost it really depends on what sort of solution you go for. The first thing I would do is talk to the university IT folk. The reason I say this is because even though college IT departments tends to be really slow at doing things, contracting for government and educational entities tends to have rules and requirements that nobody knows about. Furthermore, you're going to have to follow 508 accessibility rules that many small developers and designers don't fully understand (even though they should, everybody should follow them no matter what project they're working on, but that's life), while your uni's IT will (hopefully, but not necessarily). Even though you could easily have someone set up a Wordpress site or some other custom database solution that'll fill your requirements, I am really hesitant to suggest that sort of thing. There is an existing standard for library databases, the last thing your friend should want to do is just say "I just need this project to work, the next person can figure out what to do if our needs change," even if it is very tempting. Library collection sizes tend to sneak up on you, if in 5 years someone else suddenly needs to upgrade or migrate a poorly built database, the headache and cost will be tremendous.

Tl;dr: talk to the uni's library and IT/web departments before your friend does anything, that's part of the reason they're around.

Memail me if your friend has more specific questions.
posted by thebestsophist at 7:22 AM on June 15, 2010

This is like an FAQ for librarians. I have experience with Koha. If you think you'll need to at some point merge this catalog with a "real" library catalog, I'd try to go that way, particularly if you have IT support. I'm pretty techie but I can barely manage it BUT once it's up and running it's actually not too tough to keep running and it accepts MARC records in standard format which means if you can find any library catalog anyplace that has your book you may be able to copy catalog the data from it and save some time.

That said if this is just a hobby thing, doing something custom with WordPress and/or Scriblio would be good. I am friends with the guy who mainly works on Scriblio. It's slick, I'm not sure how much of a user community has built up around it but I could put you in touch with some people who use it if you want people to talk to.

To repeat, if these books are published and are the sort where you can get standard format [i.e. MARC] records for them, please try to do that. This way your catalog will be able to be used as a real library catalog and there will be much more metadata in standard machine readable formats available for researchers and scholars and librarians.

Mostly what you need to figure out is how much of a project you want this to be. Anything approaching real cataloging will have long reaching impact but will be a total pain in the ass. Feel free to MeMail me [or have your friend MeMail me] if you'd like to hash this out more.
posted by jessamyn at 12:55 PM on June 15, 2010

jessamyn, have you played with any of the preconfigured VM appliance releases of Koha? If so, how much work do they save compared to starting from one of the official releases?
posted by flabdablet at 7:59 PM on June 15, 2010

I haven't, I've mostly just done the install-it-yourself stuff, though we've got [the GMLC, in Vermont] a support contract with ByWater and man are they delightful.
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 PM on June 15, 2010

« Older good, free online World Cup?   |   Spanish proverb filter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.