Mellon Grant Continues Support of Open-Source Library System

Duke University has received a $1.165 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the continued development of an open-source integrated library system.

Known as Kuali OLE (pronounced oh-LAY), for Open Library Environment, it is the first system designed by and for academic and research libraries to manage and deliver scholarly information. Three OLE Partners—Lehigh University, the University of Chicago, and SOAS at the University of London—have already implemented Kuali OLE in their library operations. The grant will support the further development, refinement, and adoption of the system by a broader group of public and private institutions.

Large research library systems manage and provide access to millions of books, journals, online resources, special collections, and other media. To do so, they rely on various commercial software products to handle the everyday work of ordering and paying for materials, cataloging them, loaning them to library patrons, and making disparate computer systems work together. These routine business functions are mission-critical for libraries, but the proprietary software that manages them can cost colleges and universities thousands or millions of dollars to license and maintain.

The goal of Kuali OLE is to replace some of the costly, inflexible systems many libraries currently rely on with an open-source, enterprise-level system that is freely available to libraries worldwide and supported by members of the library profession itself.

“The information environment has changed rapidly over the last few decades, but the technology of library management systems has not kept pace,” said Deborah Jakubs, Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke. “The development of OLE offers a welcome opportunity to design a system that is flexible, customizable, and nimble enough to meet the complex needs of today’s libraries and library users.”

The Open Library Environment has been in development, with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, since 2008. In that year, representatives from more than a dozen libraries convened at Duke to discuss a next-generation framework for managing library collections and resources—essentially a library system designed by and for librarians.

This grant from Mellon will support the next phase of OLE’s code development through December 2017 by strengthening the technical capacity of the Kuali OLE Core Team. This will enable OLE to respond and adapt to technical infrastructure changes. It will also allow for increased functionality and features for successful implementation at the other partner libraries, including Duke, Cornell, Indiana University, Texas A&M University, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Pennsylvania, and Villanova University.

The hope is that Kuali OLE’s implementation at a range of private and public institutions will generate interest and participation among more academic institutions and partners worldwide.

“We envision this project as both a pivot for OLE that leads to a stronger, more effective and sustainable technology infrastructure, and an opportunity to renovate our organizational model to address code, community ownership, and the speed of development,” said Tim McGeary, Associate University Librarian for Information Technology Services at Duke. “We are grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for recognizing the promise of the Kuali OLE project.”