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Mellon-funded OLE Project Underway to Define Next-generation Library Automation

Smart Libraries Newsletter [October 2008]

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Thanks to a $475,700 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, there is a new initiative to design and create a next-generation library automation environment. The goal of the project is to develop a set of requirements for library automation based on a fresh analysis of the workflows that take place in libraries free from the constraints imposed by current library automation products. The project will follow principles and methodologies consistent with the service-oriented architecture (SOA). The current one-year project aims to produce a requirements document. A possible follow-up effort may result in the development of an open-source implementation built on the work of the OLE Project.

Work to develop a project proposal and identify institutions committed to involvement in a build project will run parallel with the current design effort. Duke University is leading this multi-institutional initiative, with Lynne O'Brien, Director of Academic Technology and Instructional Services for the Perkins Library serving as Principal Investigator. Other partners that will contribute substantially to the project include Lehigh University, the University of Kansas, the University of Pennsylvania, the National Library of Australia and the Library Archives of Canada, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, the University of Chicago, the University of Florida Libraries, Rutgers University, Whittier College, the University of Maryland, and Columbia University. Marshall Breeding of Vanderbilt University participates as Project Advisor. Representatives from these institutions will meet in-person and virtually over the course of the next year to engage in the process of designing a new library automation platform.

While these institutions and individuals provide stewardship of the project, a key value important to the group is broad-based community ownership of the initiative. In order to design a system capable of providing critical automation services for libraries, the project will require substantial input, feedback, and analysis from individuals and organizations in library community beyond the specific institutions named in the grant. To foster community participation the OLE Project will conduct its work in public forums such as open discussion groups, will conduct public Web casts, and is convening a number of regional meetings and other activities to actively solicit input.

The OLE Project conducted its initial two-day meeting on September 9th and 10th, 2008 at Duke University. Some of the event's key activities included team building, introductory training in SOA, and refining the project timeline. The team also drafted a scope document that that will define what activities, areas of functionality and operations the project will or will not address.

The initial meeting of the OLE Project follows many months of preliminary work. Grant writing activities commenced in November 2007, specifying the work to be accomplished, but also taking on the time-consuming task of identifying the institutions willing to participate in the process. The grant development process included defining project goals and objectives as well as broad solicitation of potential project partners.

The completed grant proposal was submitted to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in April 2008 and approved in June 2008. As a project funding multiple institutions, substantial organizational planning and preliminary work took place between the positive funding decision and the first in-person meeting.

A basic tenant of the OLE Project is service orientation. The grant funds the services of SOA Systems, Inc., a leading firm offering consulting, training, and certification in the SOA domain. This design phase of the OLE Project embraces service orientation and remains agnostic to particular technologies that might be used to implement the design in any future project to build software based on the resulting design and requirements documents.

The primary deliverable for the OLE Project is a document that provides a blueprint for the proposed library automation environment. One of the activities of the project involves a series of structured exercises to identify and map the workflows involved in library operations.

This analysis will attempt to parse out what library workflows would look like in the absence of the legacy software systems that currently impose specific ways of approaching library tasks. These legacy systems, for example, either specialize in print collections or electronic content as separate activities. The OLE Project will take the results of the workflow analysis as the basis for defining reusable services that can be composed into higher-level applications.

The OLE Project funding comes from the Program in Research in Information Technology of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. One of the key activities of this program is to fund projects involving “the creation of enterprise administrative and infrastructure software by means of distributed collaborative open-source development”( Other projects funded through this program of the Mellon Foundation include:

  • The Sakai Collaboration and Learning Environment (;
  • A series of projects under the Kuali Foundation addressing the administrative systems for educational institutions including the:
    • Kuali Student System, “a nextgeneration student services system based on an enterprise services architecture”(
    • Kuali Financial System, a “fundbased accounting and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for non-profit organizations” (,
    • Kuali RICE provides an “enterprise class middleware suite of integrated products that allows both Kuali and non-Kuali applications to be built in an agile fashion” (
  • CollectionSpace, a collections management and access application for museums (http://, and Fluid, a project that focuses on user interface design, methodologies, and technologies that can be adopted by other community source projects.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it illustrates the context of the OLE Project as part of the Mellon Foundation's broad initiative to foster the development of key infrastructure components to support higher education institutions, museums, and other non-profit organizations. Each of these projects follows principles of community ownership and open-source, service-oriented implementations.

Given its context within the other enterprise-level, service oriented projects funded by the Mellon Foundation, the OLE Project may be able to leverage not only the experience and knowledge of these other efforts, but may benefit from infrastructure components previously developed.

For more information see the OLE Project Web site at

Disclaimer: Marshall Breeding, the author of this article is a participant in the OLE Project.

View Citation
Publication Year:2008
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 28 Number 10
Issue:October 2008
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Products: Kuali OLE
Record Number:13623
Last Update:2023-02-02 18:46:38
Date Created:2008-10-25 11:43:10