Library Technology Guides

Document Repository

Smart Libraries Newsletter

OLE advances forward through the Kuali Foundation

Smart Libraries Newsletter [January 2010]

Image for OLE advances forward through the Kuali Foundation

The Open Library Environment (OLE) is an initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon foundation with the goal of creating a new platform to provide automation support for research libraries. OLE has completed its initial planning project and is preparing to begin its software development phase. The submission of the final report of the OLE Project to the Mellon Foundation marks the completion of the one-year planning process. The acceptance of the project into the Kuali Foundation and the announcement of a consortium of Founding Partners represent significant milestones in the progress of this new breed in technical infrastructure for research libraries.

Note that all documents produced during the initial OLE Project, including the final report, continue to be available at

OLE Concepts

OLE's key mission involves reconceptualizing automation for research libraries. Seen through the lens of OLE, the automation systems that find use in libraries today are hard-pressed to cast off their print-oriented heritage. The purpose of the OLE design is to manage all resources, regardless of their format. The OLE design takes the realities of libraries deeply involved with electronic content as a starting point. It assumes that librarians have the need for greater flexibility to adapt to future changes in whatever form that library collections may take.

Most research libraries do not operate in isolation, but serve larger organizations that have assembled an interconnected technical infrastructure supporting their business and operations. Enterprise computing involves participation in computing facilities that serve the entire organization rather than having individual departments or units provide their own isolated business systems. The incumbent model of the ILS falls into the more isolated departmental computing model; OLE embraces the enterprise approach, providing its services in ways that deeply interconnect with the enterprise infrastructure and even handing off major aspects of functionality to existing enterprise applications. As an application designed to fit into the enterprise, OLE will make use of existing technical infrastructure like authentication services and will hand off functionality to other applications when appropriate. Many of the procurement tasks traditionally handled by the ILS acquisitions module, for example, will be delegated to the institutional enterprise resource planning or accounting systems.

OLE embraces the service-oriented architecture (SOA), a software methodology based on creating services that represent very small tasks, which can then be assembled to handle larger and more complex workflows. A well-designed SOA framework achieves high levels of efficiency by using the same lower-level services across many different workflows. SOA stands as the current preferred approach for large-scale software development projects.

of business process modeling to create its design documents. A key assumption of the project involved treating resources entirely independently from their format. All processes were designed to accommodate any of the variants of print and electronic resources. According to the OLE perspective, an agnostic approach to formats will lend the system more flexibility than the current automation products designed primarily around print (ILS) or electronic (ERM) materials.

During its initial phase, OLE conducted workshops in many geographic regions that invited library personnel from all functional areas to help design workflows that might be more optimally efficient than those imposed by their current automation tools.

OLE focuses on automating the internal business processes of the library, not on the end-user experience. The intention of the project managers is for the software produced to function well with any third-party discovery interfaces. OLE has synergies with the eXtensible Catalog project under development at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries, which are also funded by the Mellon Foundation. However, no exclusive arrangement has been proposed; it will be designed to accommodate any other open source or commercial discovery platform.

Governance though Kuali

One of the key recommendations of the planning process involved addressing governance issues early in the build project. This recommendation has been realized by OLE's decision to join forces with the Kuali Foundation. Going forward, the project will take the name Kuali OLE. This announcement became public during Kuali Days VIII, the annual meeting of institutions involved in the various Kuali software projects held November 17-18 in San Antonio. OLE Participants Michael Winkler (University of Pennsylvania), Tim McGeary (Lehigh University), and Robert H. McDonald (Indiana University) gave a presentation that introduced Kuali OLE to the broader Kuali community.

While the Kuali Foundation and its projects may be well known in the broader higher education community, librarians tend to be less aware of the nuances of the organization and its approach. This marks the first time that Kuali has extended its reach directly into the library community.

The Kuali Foundation shepherds a handful of large-scale software projects for higher education. It is an independent non-profit organization supported primarily though the membership dues paid by institutional members and commercial partners. It provides legal, administrative, conceptual, and project management support for its projects, all of which follow a community source model of development. It provides a repository for intellectual property associated with its projects. The Kuali Foundation aims to manage governance in a way that ensures that each institution that contributes to the project receives an equitable role in decision making.

The Kuali Foundation carefully selects new projects. Once these projects and the foundation are allied, the projects must operate according to Kuali's principles. The projects managed by the Kuali Foundation involve major institutional commitment and buy-in. They do not depend on voluntary efforts, but rather they are supported by major contributions from participating institutions and grant-making organizations like the Mellon Foundation.

The flagship project of the Kuali Foundation, the Kuali Financial System (KFS), exemplifies these principles. KFS traces its roots to the software created initially at Indiana University, which has been refined, enhanced and deployed through the Kuali Foundation's community source model. Other founding partners include Cornell University, Michigan State University, University of Arizona, several University of California campuses including those at Davis, Irvine, and Santa Barbara, University of Hawaii, University of Maryland, University of Southern California, Colorado State University, and San Joaquin Delta Community College. Not unlike OLE, the Mellon Foundation funded a planning phase, followed by a $2.5 million grant. KFS, launched in 2006, saw its third major release in March 2009.

Another relevant project involves Kuali Rice, an enterprise middleware component. Enterprise software built around SOA can take advantage of a middleware layer to provide a shared set of services to support higher-level applications. The use of Kuali Rice can save subsequent projects significant time and resources.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been a strong ally of the Kuali Foundation projects. The Mellon Foundation does not fund the complete cost of the Kuali projects, but rather has contributed funds to accelerate the development of some Kuali Projects and to mitigate the costs for the participating institutions. At most, the Mellon Foundation will provide funding to match that contributed by committed institutional participants.

Kuali embraces the involvement of commercial services. Organizations can also work with Kuali Commercial Affiliates to gain assistance with the implementation and operation of the software. The Kuali Foundation maintains a list of the firms that belong to its Kuali Partners Program and pay membership fees. While these affiliates may make no claims to the ownership of the software, they offer fee-based services and may even provide packaged versions of the Kuali software that offer features or convenience factors not found in the basic Kuali software.

These arrangements are consistent with the legal requirements of the open source software licenses involved.

Community Source Cost Expectations

The Kuali Foundation offers its software as open source. It can be downloaded and used without the payment of license fees. The implementation of enterprise software of the order of the Kuali projects, however, does involve significant costs in many other categories: scaleable redundant hardware, project management, data conversion, personnel training, business analysis, auditing and compliance review, to mention just a few.

Institutions involved as partners in one of Kuali's projects are expected to join and pay membership fees, which, adjusted to the size of the institution, are set at a maximum of $25,000 per year. Institutions do not have to be a member of the Kuali Foundation to use the software, but since this kind of software requires major investments, joining the foundation is generally regarded as a way to ensure that the institution has a voice in the foundation and individual software roadmaps.

Large-scale enterprise-oriented software projects involve major investments, even when they follow the community source model. This kind of software will never be free of cost, but community source models like those managed by the Kuali Foundation give the institutions that commit and make investments the ability to establish the priorities and strategic directions of the project. Successful community source projects can also drastically lower costs as seen by the recent implementation of Kuali Financial and Coeus, (a research support system) at Colorado State University. This implementation project, as reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, described an expedited implementation schedule on a budget roughly one tenth of what would be expected if the project was based on proprietary software.

You can read that article here:

The community source movement, as exemplified by the Kuali projects, involves some high-profile institutions but represents a small minority of enterprise software deployments in higher education. The Sakai and Moodle courseware projects erode the dominance of companies that offer proprietary products, such as Blackboard, to only a limited extent. Although commercial products dominate the current enterprise software market for higher education, as these community source projects mature, they will likely gain a broader appeal.

Enter Kuali OLE

In the Kuali Foundation, OLE finds a solution for its needs for governance as well as an organization that shares its focus on research libraries and its vision for SOA and enterprise computing. The build phase for Kuali OLE will involve a consortium of institutions that have made significant commitments through financial and in-kind contributions. The roster of Kuali OLE build partners differs somewhat from the group of libraries involved in the preliminary phase. Institutions involved in the planning phase not continuing on the build project include Rutgers University, Vanderbilt University, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, the University of Kansas, the National Library of Australia, and Library and Archives Canada.

The Kuali OLE founding partners, along with their current automation systems, include:

  • Indiana University (Unicorn)
  • A consortium of libraries in the University of Florida system, including Florida International University, Florida State University, New College of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of Miami, University of South Florida. The Florida Center for Library Automation, the organization that manages automation on behalf of the University of Florida libraries (Aleph). Rollins College (Voyager), will also be represented in this consortium, though not part of the UF Aleph implementation managed by FCLA.
  • Lehigh University (Unicorn)
  • Research Triangle Libraries Network, including Duke University (Aleph) and North Carolina State University (Unicorn)
  • University of Chicago (Horizon)
  • University of Maryland (Aleph)
  • University of Michigan (Aleph)
  • University of Pennsylvania (Voyager)

Brad Wheeler, Chief Information Officer for Indiana University also serves as the Board Chairman of the Kuali Foundation. Indiana University will serve as the lead institution of OLE Kuali. Carolyn Walters, currently the interim Ruth Lilly Dean of the University Libraries at Indiana University, will serve along with Wheeler as the co-principal investigator for IU. Robert H. McDonald, associate Dean for Library Technologies, is an advisor to the board and director for Kuali OLE. Please see the chart on this page for a more extensive list of participants. The grant proposal submitted to the Mellon Foundation requested $2.4 million in support, matched by a combined $2.5 million contributed by the founding partner institutions.

The founding partner institutions enter with enormous levels of commitment to the project. Not only will they make significant financial investments, but they are committing to implementation of the software upon its successful completion.

The Kuali OLE founding partners aim to create a new automation framework to replace the legacy systems currently in use. The cost to these institutions may roughly equal that of acquiring a comparable proprietary product, if there were one, from a commercial vendor. Kuali OLE provides an opportunity to share ownership and strategic control of this critical infrastructure component beyond what is possible when procuring a commercially licensed product. Even larger benefits may be conveyed to the broader library community in the long term.

Once the project reaches completion, the software becomes available for other institutions to implement, which presents opportunities for savings to the broader research library community. The benefits not only involve potential cost savings, but also the creation of software that will follow a much different vision than the legacy integrated library systems currently available.

Avoiding Governance Pitfalls

This strategy of dealing with governance issues early on contrasts with other open source library automation projects. The open source Koha ILS, for example, has gone forward with only informal software governance mechanisms. As we noted in a previous issue of SLN, Koha's codebase has forked into distinct branches and the ownership of its intellectual property remains under the control of one of the commercial support firms. Almost a decade after the initial development of Koha, efforts are now underway to place the project under the jurisdiction of some type of non-profit organization. In October and November 2009, key participants in the Koha project have engaged in online meetings and have conducted polls among themselves to determine short-term and permanent organizational options.

Good governance does not come cheap. But when dealing with an organization's critical software infrastructure, attention to these issues can mitigate some of the risks associated with a complex development and implementation project. While the issues currently plaguing the Koha project will likely come to positive resolution over time, a strong governance structure like the one provided under the Kuali Foundation should provide a more stable environment for OLE.

Competitive context

While an important milestone, the Kuali OLE project remains at a very early stage. Optimistic timetables set the availability of early versions of the software in the range of 18 to 24 months from the commencement of the build phase in January 2010.

OLE Kuali will find vigorous competition from the commercial ILS providers. Ex Libris, for example, has begun development of URM (Universal Resource Management), a next generation library automation framework that shares many of the conceptual ideals of OLE. As one would expect from projects in direct competition, we already see a critical dialog expressing the relative merits of each approach. Carl Grant, President of Ex Libris North America, for example, has written a critique of OLE questioning whether the project justifies the risks and costs involved on his blog. (http://commentary. Brad Wheeler, Indiana University CIO, presented a response reflecting the community source perspective.

Kuali OLE and Ex Libris URM represent a fairly radical departure from the traditional ILS. For many and possibly even most libraries, the conventional ILS will continue to serve as the major automation support tool for years to come.

The companies that offer traditional ILS products should remain competitive in the future provided that they continue to evolve their products to meet basic library needs and deliver quality service and support.

The other option to mention in this context involves OCLC's proposed strategy to deliver core automation functionality through the WorldCat Local platform. The development of these services is well underway, and may be available for general use in approximately the same timeframe as Kuali OLE and Ex Libris URM.

With products representing such divergent approaches to automating libraries underway, the next two years may well be a critical point in the history of library automation. Given these developments, libraries have an opportunity now to become acquainted with each option and to begin considerations regarding which approach matches their basic automation requirements, strategic vision, tolerance for risk, and budget.

Kuali OLE Board of Directors
Lehigh University
Bruce Taggart
Vice-President for Library and Technology Services
Florida Consortium (FC)
Judith C. Russell
Dean of University Libraries
University of Florida
Triangle Research Libraries
Network (TRLN) represented by
Duke University and
North Carolina State University
Deborah Jakubs
Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University
Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs (Duke)
University of Maryland
Patricia A. Steele
Dean of Libraries
University of Chicago
Judith Nadler
Director and University Librarian
University of Pennsylvania
H. Carton Rogers
Vice-Provost and Director of Libraries
View Citation
Publication Year:2010
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 30 Number 01
Issue:January 2010
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:14598
Last Update:2022-11-23 05:14:01
Date Created:2010-03-03 18:01:16