Managing KB+ Software Development

I’m not responsible for managing the development of software and code for KB+ (apart from in the sense that I have overall responsibility for the project), so I am going to keep my comments short to minimise the chances of getting things wrong.

Over the weekend I was interested by John Naughton’s column in the Observer on Why big IT projects always go wrong.

The column discussed the work of Fred Brooks who worked at IBM in the 1960s. Brooks wrote a series of essays on managing software projects, called The Mythical Man-Month, one of the main lessons he learned in his time at IBM was that the more programmers he added to a project the more likely it was to fall behind.
Now, I’m not suggesting that KB+ is on the same scale as IBM’s developments in the 60s, but something we have strongly resisted the urge to do is throw more programmers at the software development side of things.

To do so would not only have increased the management burden on the project as a whole, but it was judged, it would make it more likely we would spend an ever greater amount of time either trying to ensure that different code from different programmers was compatible, or correcting bugs in different code from different sources.

Sometimes it may have felt as though development has not been as swift as it might be, but for myself I am confident that the approach we have taken has meant we have had to spend much less time correcting code than would have been the case if we had decided to throw programmers at the project from the outset.


What’s in Release 2 of KB+

We’ve just made Release 2 of KB+ available, which is the culmination of work that started as soon as we made R1 available last September.

This update contains some significant enhancements including:

  •  A facility for Jisc Collections staff to add new Packages and Subscriptions offered to the system
  • Support for ‘renewals’. This is documented at This is the first release of the renewals functionality, and we will be looking for feedback so we can improve the process in future releases.
  • New ‘core’ properties. We had some very strong feedback that KB+ should support some more properties related to ‘core’ journals. After the update you will be able to record not only that a title is a ‘core’ title, but also what type of subscription is ‘core’ (Print, Print+Electronic or Electronic – or just a plain Yes or No if you want), and the date at which the title started and stopped being core for you. These ‘core’ properties have been added to the main ‘Subscription Details’ screen.
  • New ‘Issue Entitlement’ full display. On the Subscription details screen KB+ lists the details of the journals included in the subscription with some brief details (the start and end dates for coverage in the subscription, and as just noted the new ‘core’ properties). However KB+ has more information which there is simply not room to display in this simple list. In order to ensure all the relevant information is available we have introduced a new ‘Issue Entitlements’ display. You access it by clicking on the Journal title from the Subscriptions page (this previously took you to the journal online – this link is now next to the title labelled ‘host link’). On the new page you can see the full details for the journal within your subscription, and in the parent ‘package’ (so you can easily compare your coverage details with the package default), as well as displaying details of other packages where the same journal title is available – allowing you to easily see alternative routes of access. The full details of this new screen are documented at
  • Change notifications. These were introduced in the last update, but have now been extended. Most updates to a Template licence, including changes to the Key Values, will create a change notification on any linked Actual licences. More details are available at
  • This update also includes a number of small enhancements to the UI – including more concise and consistent date formats (yyyy/mm/dd throughout) and default sort orders for some lists. We have some further enhancements identified but that we were unable to get into this release

We’ve updated the online documentation in line with the changes and as previously this is available from

Thank to everyone who has given feedback on KB+ to date, and helped us test and develop the system. Of course we have tested all the updates going intothe release, but if you notice any oddities or issues after the update tomorrow, please let us know via

Editorial on KB+ for UKSG eNews

We put together an overview of KB+ for UKSG eNews.

It provides a good overview of the project aims, outputs and plans for the future as of July 2012.

The article is available at: Knowledge Base+ for UKSG subscribers, or on the JISC Collections web site a:

Trust, Transparency and Cultural Change

This week saw the second GOKb Steering Committee meeting with colleagues from KUALI and JISC, as well as the latest KB+ Community Advisory Group meeting.

Whilst both projects are putting in place the technical infrastructure to support shared community approaches to data management, much of the discussion at both meetings was given over to the necessary conditions required for a hard pressed librarian to make the cultural change from working with well known and understood local practices, to adopting new shared services.

How does one initiate such change and more importantly sustain and embed it in the daily grind of getting the job done?

From the discussions it is clear that to be successful KB+ and GOKb will need to earn the Trust of their respective communities:

  • Trust that the accuracy of the data is at least as good as what you have now, if not better.
  • Trust in the capability of new partners to do as good a job as you maintaining data.
  • Trust that the services themselves will be available in the longer term, that their development plans respond to community needs and are worth investing time and effort in.

It is a shared belief of us all that transparency is the best way to achieve that level of trust:

  • putting in place a governance structure and  a group of test institutions that ask searching questions and have very high standards
  • providing information on who is or has been working on title lists – has it only been checked by institutions, or JISC Collections, or the publisher? Or has it been checked by all of them? We also had some interesting discussions about ‘buddying’ subject matter experts from the UK and US as a way of building trust through collaborative work.
  • provide information on the level of certainty we have in the accuracy of the information – flagging concerns and working collectively to build more accurate data sets
  • transparency about the limitations of KB+ at launch – what is in the service, what isn’t and what level of effort an institution may need to put in.

The implication of all of this is that we won’t always be able to tell people what they want to hear, but then again maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. After all the whole basis for KB+ is that the library community is deeply unsatisfied with the current system and decided that the best way to achieve both the quality of data and efficiency savings required by the community as a whole is to change the culture of e-resource management from a local level activity and pursue a shared community driven approach.

Maximising the Knowledge Base

Last week we completed three days of meetings in London (6-9 July) bringing together expertise from the JISC Collections KB+ and Global Open Knowledgebase (GOKb – project partners from North Carolina State University and the University of Pennsylvania plus technology partners Knowledge Integration (

GOKb was funded in June 2012 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build a community-sourced knowledgebase for access to e-resource metadata. It aims to enhance the supply chain lifecycle for libraries in managing e-resources, mobilizing community effort to add quality, timeliness and economies to the library management environment. The project is a joint international initiative between Kuali OLE partners (including Chicago, Duke, Penn and NC State) and JISC Collections.

The UK KB+ project is focused primarily on developing trusted data and workflows for locally negotiated e-resource packages. KB+ recognizes the value of the GOKb international effort in establishing the same quality of data for global titles and packages, covering e-journals and looking beyond to e-books.

The two projects are therefore working together in detail to address globally-identified operational problems, including common transfer formats (KBART-based), data models, rules engine and re-use of the Kuali OLE Document Store repository (

The meeting was focused on defining key joint tasks for coming months:

  • Identification and classification of sources of periodic information within the publishing supply chain – for example publisher title lists. Whilst this may sound obvious and straightforward, practitioners are keenly aware of issues regarding format, content and provenance that differ from source to source.
  • Definition of rules and remedial actions relating to the processing of source data – which will range from format standardisation (such as dates) to much more complex update conditions.
  • Specification of an end to end process model and toolset to ingest, transform and process updates with a minimum of human intervention, whilst recognizing the points at which such expertise will be essential (at least in the formative period of operation where rules will need to be optimised and ‘learned’ by the system).
  • Design of a shared data model so that KB+ and GOKb are able to share code (such as the rules base), to present a one-stop approach to import/export in common formats and to identify opportunities for shared services based on once-only management of data.

The partners left London sensing there is even greater scope for collaboration and shared services than was originally envisaged. The challenge will be to convert that opportunity into quality data, code and services, starting with the next joint working group in Chicago in August.

David Kay

KB+ and GOKb project teams in discussion

KB+ Workflow Task Group – Looking to Autumn 2012

The development of library workflows and associated support (such as alerts) is a priority task for KB+ developments in Autumn 2012. In order to ensure grounded input from the start, we’ve established a task group running from June to September, with volunteer members from the library teams at Birmingham, Cambridge, Kings and Salford. Other institutions are helping with parallel reports and user interface task groups.

The workflow group has agreed a simple five-step work plan.

Step 1 – Agree what we mean by ‘workflow’ and which types of workflow support will make KB+ most useful to library operations. We listed seven types of activities ranging from coordinating publisher updates and supporting renewals decisions (both really important) to task-based messaging within the local library team (not a priority – email does that pretty well for now).

Step 2 – Meet up to detail the important workflows that will make a difference from Autumn 2012 onwards. The Cambridge team kindly hosted 9 of us on 27 June, when we focused on publisher updates and decision support around new deals and renewals. We covered approximately 75 square feet of white board space in 4 hours (sounds impressive), generating just 5 iPhone photos (all that work for 5 low quality snaps) … and a mass of important thinking. We found an old fashioned ‘swim lane’ diagram (once it was explained to us by @owenstephens) to be a good way of systematizing workflow actions and ideas as a shared service design – each column in the diagram relates to a key actor in the envisaged process. From this annotated photo of our efforts, you can see that the write up in Step 4 will be essential to bring this to life!

Discussions of the KB+ Workflow Task Group


Step 3 – Compare our ideas with GOKb partners. KB+ is collaborating with the Mellon Foundation funded GOKb (  project involving four US Higher Eds from the Kuali OLE consortium (Chicago, Duke, North Carolina State and Penn). We want to leverage their efforts with data beyond the UK deals and also share ideas about optimal workflows between local library, above-campus and vendor functions. We’ll also look at the Kuali Rice community source software that they are using to enable workflows. We have two meetings in July and August.

Step 4 – Draft and mutually agree a report. As emphasized by the KB+ Community Group, this report needs to be an accessible document that sets out the workflow priorities for KB+ development from the perspective of how they will fit with real library operations and key local systems (such as Link Resolvers). It will also provide the ‘Use Case’ requirements to inform the development team. The final report will be reviewed by the group in early September.

Step 5 – Use the report as the basis for a library update meeting in the autumn. Our group is suggesting that the report should form a good basis for a UK community update meeting for managers and practitioners to discuss how KB+ will fit and enhance their practices and lessen their local workload.

 David Kay

Approaches to Licensing in elcat and KB+

Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken at a number of events bringing people up to date about KB+ and the data and services that will be available from launch. In the course of those events it’s become clear that the provision of licensing information for library systems is attractive to both academic libraries and the systems vendors who support them.

There are a number of reasons for this:

Systems vendors have found it challenging to get hold of the content provider licences, and then map them in a way that can be displayed usefully to institutions in their systems.

This has meant that Libraries have largely been left to do the job of populating the licensing modules in their systems by themselves, which doesn’t work because they often lack confidence in their ability to interpret the licences or the time it would take to do this work across all the licences they are responsible for.

Closely related to both of the above is that the licences being negotiated, sometimes end up being somewhat hazy on some of the key questions that librarians ask of them. Now whilst haziness is often an advantage from a legal point of view (it’s difficult to be accused of breaching a licence when it’s far from clear what a clause actually means or if a particular use case was even covered by the licence), it’s a pain in the neck if you are just trying to give someone a straight answer to an apparently simple question. It also makes the job of representing a licence in a library (or any other) system very difficult indeed.

What are the consequences of all this?

Well, if the work to map a licence and enter it into an ERM is being repeated by each institution on the same licences, that is a huge amount of time across the sector being spent by senior staff, who could in all probability be better employed doing something else.

On the other hand, if the work isn’t being done at all, then a lot of expensive functionality is going to waste and libraries aren’t in a position to efficiently make their users aware of licence information.

Finally, there is a knock on impact on decision making within the institution – what services can I offer to users? What resources do I want to subscribe to? What print can I dispose of? – all of these decision either rely on or can be informed by access to licence information.

Different JISC Collections Approaches

JISC Collections is currently trying to help address these issues through the Electronic Licence Comparison and Analysis Tool (elcat) and Knowledge Base+, both of which approach the issue in slightly different ways.


Over the last 2 years JISC Collections has been mapping a large number of its licences into ONIX-PL – a NISO standard for the expression of licence agreements in a machine readable way, developed by EDItEUR specifically for use by publishers, ERM and other library system vendors.

ONIX-PL allows us to capture the whole of the licence and even if the licences themselves aren’t consistent, the mapping process is, which allows us to view a consistent expression of all our licences and to compare different licences with each other efficiently.

There are now 135 licences in elcat covering JISC Collections model licences, e-journal, e-books, databases and archive agreements going back as far as 2008 in some cases. It’s has been used by over 100 institutions since it was launched in March.

We hope that elcat will simplify the process by which institutions get to the information in a licence that they need to answer a query or inform a decision, for example, are walk-in users allowed under the terms of this licence, or perhaps more usefully, which of my licences DON’T provide for walk-in users.

Comparison of two licences in elcat. Accessed 21st June 2012

However, there are some challenges facing elcat:

  1. Creating the licence expressions is time consuming, and it isn’t clear that there is high demand.
  2. Currently elcat, only includes JISC Collections licence agreements. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, the fact is that they are all pretty similar and the real value would start to come from being able to compare completely different licences with each other. Unfortunately, at present, very few people, other than KUALI in the US, are mapping licences in ONIX-PL. This raises the question of whether it’s a viable activity in the longer term – even if we believe that it is of value. Fortunately I’m happy to say that at least one major ERM vendor is currently mapping all of our ONIX-PL licence expressions to their licensing module.
  3. ONIX-PL can only represent what is in the licence – if there is an absence of information or clarity it can’t provide a response. Despite all of our efforts even JISC Collections licences aren’t always as clear as we would perhaps like on some key questions – post-cancellation access entitlements being one that comes to mind. However, the discipline of creating ONIX-PL versions has highlighted this and colleagues are working to try and ensure that in future licences will be much clearer.

Currently elcat is in something of a beta phase where we’ll be adding licences to it and working with our members to see if there is demand, and how we might improve it in the future.

Knowledge Base+

We also intend to include licence information in KB+, but we’re taking a slightly different approach to that taken by elcat:

  1. Rather than map the whole licence (and all of the detail), we are only seeking to capture ‘Yes’, ‘No’. ‘Conditional’ information for a small range of key definitions and clauses that are important to institutions:
    • Concurrent Users
    • Remote access
    • Walk-in Access
    • Multi-Site Access
    • Partner Organisation access
    • Alumni Access
    • Inter-Library Loan
    • Course packs
    • VLEs
    • Use by SMEs
    • Post Cancellation Access
    • Notice Period
  2. Wherever possible, we will be trying to derive this information from the ONIX-PL expressions that we’ve created already so that KB+ can be at least partially pre-populated as soon as a new licence expression enters elcat.
  3. These values can be supplemented with additional notes and commentary – currently JISC Collections is adding the information, but once the system is live, individual institutions will be able to add information that can either be private or shared across all institutions. The advantage of these notes is that it allows us to provide information on, for example, post-cancellation access, that is contained within an offer document rather the licence, but which adds to the comprehension of the licence.
  4. Finally, we’ll be linking to the full licence expression in elcat, so that institutions can see the whole thing and allowing institutions to upload their own versions (scanned PDFs for example) into the system.

An example of the licence information included in KB+ as shown in the underlying database

We hope that this approach will answer key questions for institutions and point them to where they can find further information, saving time and improving access to information and knowledge for all users.

Currently we’re testing KB+ with academic institutions to make sure that we are adding clarity and not just another layer of confusion!

Help wanted

The ethos behind KB+ is ‘do once and share’. We’re very happy to share the work that we’ve done with institutions, publishers and systems vendors so that the supply chain as a whole can benefit, but we would really like to see more people get involved in the creation of these licence expressions across a wide range of resources and make them openly available.

JISC Collections doesn’t cover all resources and this means that whilst we can have a good attempt at creating the licence expression or details of key values, it’s potentially more challenging to start adding interpretative notes.

Of course, if we do KB+ right that might not matter since we’ll have access to the combined knowledge of all those librarians who have been working with those licences over the years and what they’ve learnt.