APIs (application programming interface) are almost a way of life for us in MALS. They are an essential tool that allows us to exploit systems (I don’t mean in the sense of unfair or underhand access, but rather to derive maximum benefit from a system). However, time and time again we hit the problem of suppliers who proudly state they have APIs for their systems but when we ask to access them we find:
- the APIs are unavailable to customers – but the supplier would be happy to do whatever development we were intending if we can provide them with a big bag of cash ($$$)
- the APIs are undocumented – in other words no use at all
- the APIs were documented – yeah! – about five years ago and despite the code being upgraded no one thought to do the same with the documentation – no!
- the supplier is happy to provide access to the APIs for an additional charge
- you need to attend a training course (and possibly be certified – I’ll let you decide on the definition) before you can access the APIs
I can sympathise with suppliers not wanting people messing with their systems. However, if you say you provide APIs to access them then for goodness sake do so!
In 2012 we produced a dashboard for our reading list system that allowed academics to see how (and if) their reading list were being used. This proved to be a great success both with the academics and also in terms of the approach taken to develop it. So a year later when there was a need to produce some statistics from the newly installed access control system in the Library we choose to repeat ourselves.
We were supplied with the log files from the access control system and enriched this with additional information from the Library Management System. A database was created and associated script developed to regularly import the information into the database. A small series of CGI scripts were also produced to extract information from the database and return the results in JSON/JSONP format, which was in turn is processed the front end HTML5 web page using appropriate plug-ins. The dashboard has been used by the Library to promote the success of its recent extension and refurbishment and is being used to monitor occupancy levels (particularly during peak periods such as exams).
And then we did it again!
By taking a snapshot of the lab availability system every fifteen minutes and putting the resultant information into a simple database, we used the same tools to develop another dashboard recently to show the use of IT Services managed Lab PCs across the campus. IT staff can now see the occupancy of these labs over time, when they were booked and even see a map of PC hot spots.
So basically our philosophy seems to be: You’re having a dashboard! You’re having a dashboard! The whole INSTITUTION’s having a dashboard! They’re having a dashboard!
We have recently developed a mobile webApp to support access to a range of our Library services from student and staff owned mobile devices.
Library services provided via the webApp currently include opening hours, your borrowing details, reading lists, room booking information, contact details, events and library news. It is intended that further development will take place over the coming months to incorporate new features into the webApp based upon feedback from our users.
Version 2 of our mobile webApp was released on 7th March 2013 and included the following new features:
- Renew of loan items
- Cancel item requests
- Current Library PC availability (based upon the lab availability system)
Version 3 of the mobile webApp was released on the 23rd April 2013 and included the following additional features:
- Make a room/resource booking
- Cancel existing room/resource bookings
- New “Library on Tour” section (with information about accessing library resources over the summer)
The Middleware and Library Systems Team develop the Loughborough Online Reading List System (LORLS).
LORLS is a resource/reading list management system and has been made available as open source. It enables students to access reading lists and easily check availability of recommended resources, allows appropriate staff to create and maintain lists and informs the Library of changes made to lists to support collection development.
Further details about LORLS are available on its own website.