Selecting a Free and Open Source LMS – Kuali OLE at the University of London

Senate House Libraries, and the University of London colleges that make up the Bloomsbury Colleges group recently made a decision in principle to select Kuali OLE as our next library management system (LMS). This project is currently termed the Bloomsbury LMS, or BLMS.

I will blog throughout this project but for now I wanted to explain a little more about this from a strategic point of view from the perspective of the systems librarian at the central University of London.

Significance

For me the significance of the decision in principle is that:

  1. We have chosen a Free / Open Source Software (FOSS) system.
  2. The system will be run on a shared services model by the University of London.
  3. Kuali OLE is a next-generation library management system.

By next-generation I mean Kuali is one of the new breed of systems that are cloud-hosted, based on modern Web services, and engage better with online electronic content. This is the type of system Marshall Breeding terms a library services platform as distinct from the traditional LMS.

Choosing an Open Source system

Strategically it’s important to us that our next system will not be more of the same both in terms of the conceptual approach to the LMS as a platform and in terms of being developed openly and collaboratively.

Discussing cultural issues, I have argued previously at Library Camp 2012 that in higher education (HE) the core values of Free Software – the Four Freedoms (Free Software Foundation, 2012) – are in alignment with our professional culture in HE and that within and outside HE librarians are particularly collaborative profession. Kuali OLE is an LMS designed by and for academic and research libraries for managing their library services. I do think that’s significant, but I think what OLE offers goes far beyond the software license being a philosophical best fit for our culture in higher education and libraries.

OLE is an enterprise-level software package that will match the functionality of closed-source library systems and exists as part of a suite of enterprise software including among others a financial system and student record system. This is interesting for us as a potential solution to the huge problems we have in higher education of ‘siloedness’ of our campus-wide enterprise information systems and the difficulties we have making them talk to each other.

Importantly, OLE is a true library services platform rather than just being a traditional LMS. Virtually any LMS currently on the market can tick all the boxes on the venerable UK LMS core specification, but there are relatively few that move beyond this and also open up the possibility developing the software to meet our needs. It is FOSS licensing that effectively provides a strong position of sharing by default to the development model, on the other hand the Kuali governance model addresses traditional weaknesses in FOSS projects and guarantees the production quality of the finished system. Those most relevant to us at the University of London are quality and risk management, and providing a robust testing methodology.

Contact

This post is meant as a brief introduction from my own perspective. If you are interested in the BLMS project and wish to contact us please see the BLMS website.

References

Free Software Foundation (2012) ‘What is Free Software?’ Available at: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

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