Koha, Interdocs and GratisNet in Northern Territory Health

The Northern Territory’s Health Library Network signed up for Prosentient System’s document delivery system and were impressed with the after sales service.  “We found Edmund to be very good to work with” explained Resources Management Librarian, Ruby Lindberg.  “No matter how many times we rang he was always patient and helpful.  After sales service and support is very important to us because we don’t have the technical in-house knowledge of the applications to do it ourselves”.  Their good experience with Interdocs soon led the library to join GratisNet, and then to take up the hosted Koha Library Management System.


Australia’s NT covers an area of 1.32 million square kilometers, an area equal to the combined areas of France, Spain and Italy.  The NT Department of Health’s five branch library network helps support a medical service for the sparsely distributed population of 226,000 people. From the main library in Darwin to remote Nhulunbuy on Gove Peninsular in the east and down south into the red heart with branches at Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, clinicians, nurses, administrators and managers depend on local library branches and mobile devices to provide vital decision support.


The library’s role is to support patient and public health care through the delivery of evidence-based information and knowledge, resources and services for clinical decision-support, public health programs, education and training, health technology assessment, policy, management and administration.  In addition to departmental staff, library users include students specialising in tropical medicine and indigenous health from the Flinders NT Medical Program. The Program is run by Flinders University School of Medicine, based in Darwin with campuses at Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy.


Textbooks sourced locally or from interstate libraries are still delivered to far-flung places in the  department’s mail bag, but increasingly the library is the gateway for access to electronic resources.  The library’s extensive specialist online database subscriptions and membership of the GratisNet inter-library loans network, means that any relevant publication can usually be found for a medical service that operates under some of the most challenging conditions anywhere.


As the library’s patrons become increasingly tech savvy and want point-of-care access to DynaMed on their smart phones, Ruby knows the library needs to continue to change.  Fortunately the library is equipped to keep up-to-date with developments in technology.  With access to iPads and WiFi networks in three libraries, the library is experimenting with QR codes, RSS feeds and other methods of communication.


But Ruby observes that where once the librarian’s role was to do the research for patrons, it is now more about showing the patrons themselves how to use the available tools.  Library staff can now be found running training courses on evidence-based medicine, how to use new technologies and how to make the best use of a dizzying number of databases.


But, If there is one piece of technology that is still missing Ruby Lindberg believes, it is a good unified discovery tool: a search engine that can operate across all holdings physical and electronic, and that does not cost the earth.

DSpace: Australian Open Access Support Group

In this case study published by the Australian Open Access Support Group, Gemma Siemensma, Library Manager at Ballarat Health Services, describes the thinking and processes behind the introduction of their DSpace repository

Koha and DSpace in the NSW Parliamentary Library

When the Parliamentary Library of New South Wales began using Koha as its Library Management system and DSpace as its digital repository, the staff didn't do so to make a political statement about the viability of open source software. “This was just the software that fulfilled our requirements,” said Deborah Brown, Parliament’s chief librarian.

While having a physical collection, NSW Parliament library's lifeblood is digitized news media. Through their parliamentary copyright exemption they reproduce and store dozens of articles each day for the use of the Members of Parliament (and their staff) who make up their user base.

When their MPs are sitting for parliamentary sessions many of them are far from their constituencies, so it’s essential to have a reliable source of news clippings from the regional papers covering their ridings. The library has a service that scans for mentions of all the Members' names in the regional papers, and digital fulltext versions of those articles are stored in DSpace to ensure their accessibility so the Members can keep up to date with policy development research.

While that's an automated process, the library also has a staff-member dedicated to scanning the seven metropolitan newspapers for topically relevant articles to see what's being recorded about what the public is thinking. These articles are digitally clipped and catalogued and put into the repository, as are the various Media Releases put out by parliamentarians (the NSW Parliamentary library is the state’s only centralized collection of those electronic Media Releases).

To handle these requirements (as well as their physical collection) the library has been using a digital repository combined with library management software since 1997, but 2010 and 2011 saw their shift to Koha and DSpace. The division of tasks, which is maintained in their current open source implementation, has Koha storing the detailed metadata in bibliographic records, while DSpace stores digital entities themselves with “just enough metadata to get by.” The idea is to leave DSpace invisibly in the background so users do most of their interaction with Koha. When an item is loaded into DSpace it also gets loaded into Koha for detailed cataloguing, and electronic documents can be loaded into DSpace through Koha.

Integrating the two approaches has taken some time (and money) to implement, but now that both are up and running newsclippings can be imported, get indexed, and have authorized subject headings applied all in a timely manner. Some of these subject headings, like the various dates and names, are automatically generated from the externally provided electronic clippings files, but a librarian does the more advanced subject heading work as part of the standard workflow. This created a challenge in dealing with Koha, which was designed for working with books and in much smaller quantities. Making the workflow for fast subject cataloguing of the flood of news articles took some time to solve, but their service provider came up with a customized newsloader approach using some clever Ajax programming.

There were some other technical challenges to implementing their new systems. Because the old system had a very “agricultural” process to load clippings into the various systems it was difficult to see exactly how long each of these tasks were taking. Koha and DSpace, having a much more streamlined process exposed some technical issues that would have been good to have benchmarks from the past to compare with. Also, in the process of doing such a major upgrade, the library was interrogating its data very thoroughly and discovering the data entry sins of the past dozen years.

Moving into the future, the library sees end user education as the biggest challenge. Teaching about the effectiveness of current awareness tools like RSS feeds for parliamentarians is a prime example. Deborah Brown sees the future as moving towards more self-service for the basics of finding information. Adding value and packaging information up for Parliamentarians who, as clients go, are time-poor information hounds is a challenge that has no endpoint, but one they feel confident in facing.

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