Displaying unique title and volume count on the Koha staff client

An upgrade-friendly way to show unique title and copies’ count using Koha’s SQL reports in tandem with Koha’s Reports web service API, JSON formatted data and some Javascript.

Kia ora!

Last week my good friend Dr. Gautam Sarma, Asst Librarian, K.K. Handique State Open University in Assam posed an question on the Koha Users forum on Facebook. He wanted to know what was the easiest way to view the total count of unique titles as well as total number of copies (item holdings) in his Koha catalog.

Given that he comes to us from a SOUL user’s background, this is a reasonable demand. SOUL developed and marketed by Inflibnet does show this information at a glance, especially when using the cataloging module. Similarly, so does e-Granthalaya, another LMS developed by NIC, Govt of India. The following screenshot snippets show how this information is displayed for SOUL v2.0 and e-Granthalaya 4.0 respectively.

soul

egrant

In Gautam’s own words he was looking for something that would allow him to:

hurriedly say that how much data we have by entering our ILS

While Koha’s SQL reporting facility makes finding this information a breeze, thanks to this ready-made SQL report by Nicole C. Baratta, it does not immediately allow the users to have the sort of heads-up view that SOUL and e-Granthalaya allows. A library staffer have to go to Reports -> Guided Reports -> Use Saved and then finally manually select the actual report and run it to see the unique title and copy count statistics.

At L2C2 Technologies we have been doing some things like these for our client-partners. So I promised Gautam that I will soon post about it. And as it would happen, yesterday Mr. Kalipada Jana, Librarian, Basanti Devi College and a client partner wanted the same facility for his hosted instance’s staff client. We decided to use the Basanti Devi College library as a live use-case (since they are currently doing retro-conversion) and document the same so that other users may also be able to benefit from the same.

Concepts – or what makes it all work

Koha since long have provided a set of HTTP based web service API. According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – the global standards body that defines anything and everything related to the web, a web service is “a software system designed to support inter-operable machine-to-machine interaction over a network”.

Among the various things Koha’s web services API allow includes the Reports web service, which allows an SQL report’s data to be made available in JSON format, as long as the report is marked as “public“. A public report is accessible via a URL that looks like this: http://MYOPAC/cgi-bin/koha/svc/report?id=REPORTID.

basanti-stats1

In this case, we called the report as a public report using the reports web service via https://bdcl-staff.l2c2.co.in/cgi-bin/koha/svc/report?id=6&annotated=1.

The SQL query being executed by the call was :

SELECT homebranch, count(DISTINCT biblionumber) AS bibs, 
       count(itemnumber) AS items 
FROM items 
GROUP BY homebranch 
ORDER BY homebranch ASC

The JSON data (which thanks to the annotated=1 querystring parameter) was returned as the following key-value pairs : [{"bibs":"1374","homebranch":"BDCL","items":"2359"}].

The solution

With the report (in this case report id #6) returning the branch-wise unique title and copies information in JSON format, it was now only a small matter of putting together some JavaScript so that the information could be displayed in a more human-friendly format on the staff client. The following JQuery snippet was all that was required to be placed into BDCL’s IntranetUserJS system preference to get our desired result.

$(document).ready(function() {
    if ( $('#main_intranet-main').length ) {
    $.getJSON("https://bdcl-staff.l2c2.co.in/cgi-bin/koha/svc/report?id=6&annotated=1", function(data) {
        var branches = data[0].homebranch;
        var bibs = data[0].bibs;
        var items = data[0].items;
        $('div.newsitem').prepend('<div class="newsitem" id="mystats"><table class="table table-striped" style="width: 100%; background: none;"><thead><th colspan="3" style="text-align: center; font-weight: bold; padding: 8px; line-height: 1.42857143; vertical-align: middle; text-transform: uppercase;">Library Statistics</thead><tbody><tr><td><strong>Branch</strong></td><td><strong>Unique titles</strong></td><td><strong>Total Copies</strong></td></tr><tr><td class="text-center">'+branches+'</td><td class="text-center">'+bibs+'</td><td class="text-center">'+items+'</td></tr></tbody></table></div>');
    });
    }
});

And voila! Houston! We have touchdown! 🙂

koha-count

Hope this post helps you at your library. Happy hacking!

Koha and the “magic” of XSLT – Part 2 : Show accession no. in OPAC results page

How to add 952$p (typically the accession no.) to your OPAC’s Results page display.

About 6 months back, we had posted about “Koha and the “magic” of XSLT : displaying new MARC fields on the OPAC“. This post can be thought of as its Part 2 as it introduces a couple of new concepts – (a) looping through a list of repeatable values and (b) punctuating these values for correct display. If XSLT or Koha with XSLT sound like something you are hearing for the first time, we strongly suggest that you first read the Part 1 first (see above).

The Backstory

Our tutorial style blog posts are usually the result of addressing some sort of user demand. In this case, this post came about because of Mr. Kalipada Jana, Librarian at Basanti Devi College, Kolkata. Yesterday he had filed a ticket on our helpdesk saying that he would like accession number(s) attached to each bibliographic record to be displayed on the OPAC results page. This is something that Koha does not do by default. But having seen such a display elsewhere he wanted to have the same.

The default Results page

chrome_2017-11-28_22-58-45

What the user wanted

chrome_2017-11-28_22-57-56

The Process

Koha stores it holdings item identification in MARC21 tag 952$p. The user here was using this field to store the individually unique accession numbers of their items in holdings. Now a bibliographic record may quite easily have multiple copies with separate accession numbers. So the XSLT snipped we needed must do the following:

  1. Handle looping over to display repeated 952$p (when there were multiple copies of the same book.
  2. Separate the accn nos. with “commas” if there where multiple copies of a book and after the final accession number terminate the line with a period instead of a comma. And if there was only a single copy, then instead of comma use a period.
  3. .

  4. Suppress this accession no. display for bibliographic records that do not have any holdings.

The code

<!-- L2C2 - 2017-11-28 adding accn no to results page 952$p -->
<xsl:if test="marc:datafield[@tag=952]/marc:subfield[@code='p']">
<span class="results_summary accn_no">
<span class="label">Accession number(s): </span>
    <xsl:for-each select="marc:datafield[@tag=952]">
        <xsl:value-of select="marc:subfield[@code='p']"/>
        <xsl:choose>
            <xsl:when test="position()=last()">
                <xsl:text>.</xsl:text>
            </xsl:when>
            <xsl:otherwise>
                <xsl:text>, </xsl:text>
            </xsl:otherwise>
        </xsl:choose>
    </xsl:for-each>
</span>
</xsl:if>

In the first line (not the comment) we check if the MARC record has a 952$p field and sub-tag. If it does only then the rest of the code is executed. This is what helps us to suppress this new display for records without any accession numbers in its 952$p. The next couple of lines push out the necessary HTML code since the record has at least one accession number i.e. 952$p. In the subsequent two lines immediately after, we set up two loops. The first one loops through all the 952 (holdings) field in the bib record, while the inner loop looks up the $p sub-field. The inner most bit i.e. <xsl:choose><xsl:when test="position()=last()"> handled the punctuation. First if it checks if the currect MARCXML 952$p sub-node is the last one, if so it places a period and terminates the line. Otherwise, it places a comma as punctuation between the multiple accession numbers.

This code was added into the custom file which we named as MARC21slim2OPACResults-bdcl.xsl. This file is same as the default MARC21slim2OPACResults.xsl file, the only addition being the snippet given above. In order to get Koha to start using our file instead of the default, we placed the full path of our new file into the OPAC system preference – OPACXSLTResultsDisplay.

See it in action

If you want to see this XSLT in action, click here.

Vidyasagar College for Women moves to Koha on cloud with L2C2 Technologies

One more academic library moves from SOUL to Koha ILS

We are pleased to welcome Vidyasagar College for Women Central Library to L2C2 Technologies’ cloud hosted Koha ILS platform. The college, so far an user of SOUL software from INFLIBNET is making this move under the leadership of the librarian Smt. Moumita Ash. In the coming days, their catalogue data will be moved to Koha so that a complete OPAC can be presented to its users 24/7.

About the college

Vidyasagar College for Women as a full fledged separate college affiliated to the University of Calcutta was founded in 1960. However, its history went back to 1931 when a separate womens’ section of the Vidyasagar College was started to cater to the educational requirements of the women folk of Kolkata. Its classes were held in the morning. The womens’ section was temporarily brought to a stop during the second world war. Since 1947, however, expansion in all branches of its activities took place steadily and regularly. New subjects were introduced and a group of dedicated teachers inspired confidence among the students who enrolled in large numbers. Since its foundation in 1960, Vidyasagar College for Women committed itself to carry forward the ideals and principles of Pundit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, the great educationist and social reformer of the 19th century. At present the college consists of three campuses. (From the college website)

About the library

The college maintains two libraries i.e. (a) the central library is open to all users of the college between 8 am – 2 pm, Monday to Saturday. The library has a physical collection of over 23,000 documents, along with online subscriptions to electronic resources; (b) the seminar library is located on the main campus of the college. Catering mainly to Humanities departments, the seminar library has over 1000 reference books. It remains open to users based on the college’s regular timings and academic calendar.

About the OPAC

The OPAC is located at https://vcfw-opac.l2c2.co.in. Along side providing 24/7 access to the catalog, it also provides the library personnel with advanced usage analytics based on the open source Piwik software. It also provides for a real-time one-to-one chat option with the library staff, whenever they are logged in for “Ask A Librarian” function. As a standard security best practice the OPAC runs over HTTPS rather than plain vanilla HTTP, thereby protecting the traffic between users browsing the OPAC and the server by using industrial grade “A” rated SSL certificate.

Running a public z39.50 service with 100% reliability

Over 2 months now, we’ve been running the 5th public z39.50 server from India with 100% host reliability.

Earlier this year on April 20th, we had shared with our readers that FMIRO CCU’s public access z39.50 service run by L2C2 Technologies had achieved 100% host reliability (according to irspy.indexdata.com) and in the process had become the 5th Indian entry into the IRSPY’s global directory of open access z39.50 servers.

We are happy to inform that 2 months on, we have managed to run the server without a single service drop and have continued to maintain our 100% host reliability status. For us this has been a learning exercise and we hope this will encourage more Koha users across India to start opening up their catalogs for copy cataloging by their fellow catalogers.

Host connection reliability

Host connection reliability measures the reliability of the target only in its ability to respond to connections: the display indicates the number of successful connections in the last two months, the total number of attempted connections in that time, and the percentage of successful connections. For example, reliability of 9/15 = 60% indicates that fifteen attempts have been made to connect to the server in the last two months, of which nine (60%) have been successful. [1]

About IRSpy

IRSpy maintains a global registry of information retrieval targets, about 1295 as per recent count (http://irspy.indexdata.com/stats.html), supporting protocols like ANSI/NISO Z39.50 (ISO 23950) and SRU/SRW web services.

About Index Data

Short answer: The guys who publish the Zebra indexing engine and YAZ toolkit and software libraries.

Long answer: Since 1994, Index Data has offered software development, consulting and integration with a focus on search. Our pioneering involvement in open source and open standards dates back to the first release of the YAZ toolkit for Z39.50 in 1995. [2]

References

[1] IRSpy help: info/reliability

[1] About Index Data

Managing patrons with same permanent & local address

Setting your borrower’s local address same as their permanent address with just a single click during patron entry into Koha ILS.

Often folks when unable to find some nifty feature that was present in their erstwhile LMS but not there in Koha, is found to be exclaiming – “But we can’t do that with Koha!”. Well, we have news for you – Koha is open source and that means, you can build / modify the parts that you need or are missing. But you do not know how to do that. Well… *that* is not really Koha’s problem. But fear not, if you are willing and have the aptitude for poking around code you can do it too. There are plenty of open access resources that show you how to do so, just waiting for you to pick up and start working on your skills. After all, it is said:

If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Why this post

At L2C2 Technologies, we work with a lot of academic libraries where they need to record both the permanent as well as local address of their students. Koha allows for recording more than a single address for a patron since donkey’s years. If you look at the schema of the borrowers table in the Koha database, you will see that there are fields to record both the primary address as well as alternate address. These two set of fields fit nicely into our permanent and local address requirement.

2017-06-19_01

However, the library staff often complain that it is useless extra work to re-enter the same data over in both set of fields as many users often have one and the same address for both. As a result, we are sometimes asked how to cut down this extra work. In this post, we are going to share one of the ways by which you too can do the same, should you need to do this.

Choosing our tools

All we use are snippets of JavaScript, jquery and css to achieve our objective. All of which go in into the Koha database as part of the IntranetUserJS system preference. We do not touch any template file or change any underlying PERL code. This way our tweak is guaranteed to survive Koha version upgrades without any further effort on our part.

The steps… as easy as 1-2-3

Since we do not want to re-type the same information, the only option is to copy it from first set of fields and that what we do by adding a checkbox HTML form input element. We give this checkbox the id copypermaddress and insert this into the DOM just before the first li element belonging to the parent fieldset memberentry_address on the Add Patron screen.

$('<li><input type="checkbox" name="copypermaddress" id="copypermaddress" value=""><label for="copypermaddress">Same as permanent address:</label><div class="hint">Click to copy permanent address data</div></li>').insertBefore(' #memberentry_address > ol > li:first-child ');

While the above insertion gets us the following screen, it still does not do anything i.e. if you clicked the checkbox, nothing would happen yet. In the next step we cover that.

2017-06-19_02

So we add a listener that will wait for state-change of the checkbox. In plain English, that means it will detect when a user clicks that checkbox and then based on whether it was selected or unchecked, appropriate action would be taken. And that exactly what happens below. The first part goes into action if the checkbox was checked and the part coming after the else kicks in when it is unchecked. In the first instance we copy over the values from the permanent address field and in the second part we undo the copy and blank out the local address fields.

$(document).ready(function(){
$('#copypermaddress').change(function() {
  if(this.checked) {
    $('#B_address').val($('#address').val());
    $('#B_address2').val($('#address2').val());
    $('#B_city').val($('#city').val());
    $('#B_state').val($('#state').val());
    $('#B_zipcode').val($('#zipcode').val());
    $('#B_country').val($('#country').val());
  } else {
    $('#B_address').val('');
    $('#B_address2').val('');
    $('#B_city').val('');
    $('#B_state').val('West Bengal');
    $('#B_zipcode').val('');
    $('#B_country').val('India');
  }
});
});

In the two following screenshots we get to see how exactly this works. In the first one, only the permanent address has been added. While in the second screenshot, we see how the data has been copied over when the checkbox is clicked.

2017-06-19_03

2017-06-19_04

References

  1. .insertBefore()http://api.jquery.com/insertbefore/
  2. :first-child Selectorhttps://api.jquery.com/first-child-selector/
  3. .change()https://api.jquery.com/change/
  4. .val()http://api.jquery.com/val/
  5. Koha DB Schema – http://schema.koha-community.org/master/

JQuery quicktip : Using Patron Attribute fields without double rowed textarea boxes

A JQuery quick tip for Koha ILS

Often we are have clients who want to capture additional data for their patrons. For schools and colleges, this typically includes demographic details, roll numbers, program enrolled etc. The Koha-friendly way to do is by using Extended Patron Attributes aka custom fields for patron data.`

2017-06-17_03-30-18

The thing about these patron attribute fields is that if these are expecting textual data input, Koha uses the textarea HTML element for them. Which is fine, except the textarea elements are sized to 2 rows by default. This something that confuses some users who expect to see an input element instead. So, we decided to adopt a middle way solution – to reduce the textarea element’s rows attribute from 2 to 1.

JQuery to the rescue

As always we turn to trusty jquery which makes this something ridiculously easy thing to do. Here is the code snippet:

$(document).ready(function(){
  if ($('#pat_memberentrygen').length) {
    var tareas = $('textarea[id^=patron_attr_]');
    for (var i=0; i < tareas.length; i++) {
      var t = $(tareas[i]);
      var tarea_reset_rows = t.attr('rows',1);
    }
  }
});

We plug that code into our IntranetUserJS system preference and we are good to go! 🙂 The screenshot below shows the change it brings to the patron data entry UI.

2017-06-17_03-31-01

Code explained

In the first line (i.e. the one starting with if) we check if we are actually on the patron member entry page. Next we create a JS array of only the textarea element on *that* page, *which* have an id that begins with patron_attr_. And finally we loop through that array and change the rows attribute of each textarea fields whose reference is stored in the array.

An installer bug in Koha 17.05 and how it got fixed

Bugs in shipped version of s/w is as old as the history of computing. What matters is how fast and efficiently they are fixed. And that too by a loose-knit team of globally dispersed volunteers.

Earlier this afternoon, my senior colleague and fellow Koha aficianado Dr. Parthasarathi Mukhopadhyay aka PSM posted on FB about his experience with the latest stable release of Koha i.e. 17.05. Only yesterday Mirko Tietgen had released the debian packages of 17.05, and PSM was one of the early few in the country to get his hands dirty trying out the new version. In this case, his hands *did* become slightly dirty due to a bug in the newly re-vamped web installer of Koha. And thus PSM posted “With exciting new features and a serious bug“.

The web installer bug and what it does

There is a rather pesky bug in the web installer of Koha as shipped with 17.05. This bug is not present in Koha version 16.11.x or earlier. It will only manifest under two conditions: (1) when you are working with a fresh Koha 17.05 installation OR (2) when you are attempting to create a new Koha instance (using the sudo koha-create --create-db <instancename>) on a Koha installation upgraded from 16.11.x or earlier.

NOTE: The bug does not affect users who are simply upgrading their existing Koha instance to 17.05 from earlier versions e.g. say 16.05.x series.

What is bug does is that the optional data sets and some mandatory default data sets (sql files located in and under /usr/share/koha/intranet/cgi-bin/installer/data/mysql directory) do not get loaded into the Koha database being setup.

Image courtesy : Dr. P. Mukhapadhyay
Image courtesy : Dr. P. Mukhapadhyay

NOTE: Of course one can load them manually from the commandline, but that is not usually a pretty thing to do and the user needs to know what they are doing.

Long live the bugzilla

The bugzilla is the place where all Koha bugs are tracked and fixed. It is located at https://bugs.koha-community.org/. And on June 7, 2017 Julian Maurice, a Koha dev from BibLibre had reported the issue – “Web installer does not load default data” (Bug id 18741). Within 20 mins, Julian had also submitted the patch (i.e. the code to fix or remove the bug) to the bugzilla. Within 48 hours, Nick Clemens followed by the current Release Manager Jonathan Druart had signed off the patch (i.e. they tested and certified that Julian’s fix works as expected). Four minutes later Jonathan had also “pushed” the patch / fix in the current under development version. And 5 days later Fridolin Somers – the release maintainer for 17.05 series had “pushed” the patch into the current stable with the note that the next version 17.05.1 (to be released in another 10 – 12 days) will carry the fix as a publicly available built-in fix.

18741

For the impatient

Now for some reason, you are one of the impatient types who can’t wait until 17.05.1 is released at the end of this month, you may be able to manually patch your system. I do not recommend it, and if you do what follows next, then one of the following applies to you:

  1. You are impatient
  2. You like to live dangerously
  3. You know what you are doing
  4. All of these

Open the file /usr/share/koha/intranet/cgi-bin/installer/install.pl in a text editor and go to line number 248 which should read as “scalar $query->param('framework') );“. Replace this line with “$query->multi_param('framework') );“. Save and close the file.

Run the web-installer to setup your new Koha 17.05 instance. This time, things should be working OK. The screen that you will see after import of the all the mandatory and all the optional data sets (we chose it that way) will be like as given below.

2017-06-14_23-36-09

Using Google Drive to upload files into directory under Koha OPAC DocumentRoot

Almost a year back, we had shared a post about how to use google drive as a remote backup storage. If you are unfamiliar with it and wish to understand the concepts presented here, we suggest that you first read it and then proceed with this.

Why did we do this?

Our client partner Bangabasi College is putting up a collection of their college questions papers from previous years as PDF files. You can have a glimpse of it by clicking here. The page that is being presented to the visitor to the OPAC is generated using a facility called “Koha as a CMS“. Now here is the thing, while the HTML required to display the scanned question paper PDF files is handled well by the “Koha as a CMS” functionality, it does not handle the part where we need to actually upload the PDF files into Bangabasi College’s Koha instance’s Apache2 DocumentRoot path.

So here is what we did. A normal SCP user account was created on the server hosting Bangabasi college account, into which the PDF files were uploaded into by the library staff users. However, after this, it required manual intervention from us, in order to move these files into the correct DocumentRoot path. We had created a folder QB for the question back under the DocumentRoot as /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/bangabasi/qb. And into this QB folder the uploaded PDF files were moved into by us.

But this created one problem, a big one. Our client was dependent on us at all times to move / sync the uploaded files into their final destination the QB folder. Also, if they needed to correct and re-upload a PDF file, they would again need us to help them move the corrected file into the DocumentRoot location. So, basically if we were not available for any reason, we would be holding them up from updating / uploading their own files into their hosted Koha. While our client was happy with how things were happening, to us, this was clearly not at all a desirable situation.

Our client was already using Google Drive and that’s when we figured than instead of simply using the Google Drive for backup, we could also use it to allow our client to do direct, independent uploads – their data in their own hands at all times. And thus this experiment.

Setting it all up

1) We created a folder named “qb” on Bangabasi College’s Google drive.

2) Next on the server within the folder /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/bangabasi we ran the command drive init. This asked us to authorize the google drive command line client and fetch the API key, which is what we did after logging in into Bangabasi college library’s gmail account. The API key was copied from the browser and pasted back into the command line. Basically what this did was to create a hidden directory named .gd under /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/bangabasi and create a file there called credentials.json. This completed the authentication setup with bangabasi’s google drive account.

3) Lastly, we set up the following cron job as the root user:

*/5 * * * *  cd /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/bangabasi && /usr/bin/drive pull -quiet qb

to execute on our server once every 5 minutes.

How it works

Now whenever a library staff user uploads a PDF file into their Google drive’s qb folder, every 5 minutes the cron job on our server will check if there is a new file on the remote Google drive. If there is, then the new file(s) are pulled down automatically onto the /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/bangabasi/qb. In this case for instance 125 .pdf files totaling in at about 19 MB were pulled down in ~18 seconds.

Similarly in case of a modification or removal of a file from Bangabasi’s Google drive “qb” it would be similarly synced or removed from the /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/custinc/bangabasi/qb folder on our server.

How to reference the files

Since the PDF files are stored under /bangabasi/qb folder under the Koha OPAC’s DocumentRoot i.e. /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs/, we simply need to refer to the files with the following href attribute value set to /bangabasi/qb/<filename> in our HTML code.

Pros and cons of this approach

First the cons:

1) Google’s AI algorithms gets to read all your PDF files. But since our client is already using Google’s services, this is apparently not a major concern to them. And anyway our client is allowing public dissemination of these files, so Google is going to read it one way or another.

2) If the library staff user accidentally or maliciously deletes the Google drive folder or files in it, then the very next run of the pull command will remove the same off our server. But same would have been the case if the staff users had root / sudo access to the Koha DocumentRoot (i.e. /usr/share/koha/opac/htdocs). In fact, in the latter case, they can even rm -rf the entire server, removing *everything* from it.

The Pros

1) You can now allow your staff users to freely upload the processed files without having to give everyone the access to the actual Koha server’s filesystem. The chances of accidental or malicious deletion of files off the Koha server is largely minimized.

2) The speed! Simply put uploading files to Google drive is usually faster then directly uploading to the Koha server hosted on the Internet. The transfers between Google servers and the hosted Koha server also happens at a high rate of transfer.

3) You basically have *two* online copies of your PDF files – (a) on the Google Drive folder and (b) on the Koha server, which is good in terms of redundancy.

Using KohaILS ? Better update it from time to time or be left behind!

Earlier in the day, young Sandeep pinged me with a question:

Can I add additional, separate columns of information to this table on the screen?

The screen he referred to was this one:

18685478_1887705531470539_114367369_n

As regular readers of this blog are know well by now, for any question about Koha, the very first piece of useful information is what is the version of Koha in this case?. Sandeep replied back saying it was “3.20.02”! I was like “Hmmmm! That’s a bit old…”

With two major versions of Koha coming out every May and November respectively, every major Koha version usually have a supported life cycle of about 18 months. The 3.20 series was launched in May 2015. Thus Sandeep’s Koha instance at nearly 24 months old, was already out of support lifecycle for nearly 6 months.

I pointed Sandeep to bug number 10855“Custom fields for subscriptions”. This feature to add custom fields to serial subscriptions became a part of Koha with the release of version 3.22 on Nov 26, 2015 (See https://koha-community.org/koha-3-22-released/ and look for “Custom fields for subscriptions (bug 10855)” under Serials).

Had his Koha been updated at anytime during the last 1 year, he would have found that the featured he wanted already built-in.

Harnessing Koha’s ExtendedPatronAttributes (aka patron custom fields)

Custom fields that make it possible to fit KohaILS to any type of library user category.

During from my frequent interactions with Indian Koha users over the last several years, one thing stands out rather starkly. There is surprisingly little understanding or use of the capabilities offered via Extended Patron Attributes. Since Koha ILS was written originally for public libraries (in fact public library consortia), its default patron data structures too are somewhat aligned with public libraries’ patron information capture.

When put to use in academic libraries e.g. K12 schools or colleges, the default patron information schema does not address the obvious need to capture data points like – programme enrolled, registration / roll numbers / class / sections details and in case of K12 schools – parent / guardian name and contact information etc. Many Koha users from the Indian sub-continent either (a) work their way around these issues without fully addressing their needs OR (b) often resort to direct editing of the koha.borrowers table schema, adding new custom fields and modifying the template files (.tmpl or .tt files) along with the Perl scripts that drive these templates.

The second approach is particularly problematic, as it means the modifications are usually hardcoded into scripts and templates. This is problematic is because doing so prevents the user from the benefit of seamless upgrades to their Koha. It means they have to do the whole “rinse-and-repeat” cycle everytime they upgrade their Koha, if they want their changes to persist. This makes Koha upgrades a costly, laborious, time-consuming process and error prone process.

Enter ExtendedPatronAttributes

According to the Koha manual –

“Patron attributes can be used to define custom fields to associate with your patron records. In order to enable the use of custom fields you need to set the ExtendedPatronAttributes system preference.”

About 10 years back, as Koha was finally moving out of version 2.x and moving into Koha 3.x, several new and exciting features were coming on to their own in Koha. One of this was the ability to easily handle custom fields for our patron records aka patron attributes. Around May 2008, my friend Galen Charlton, then with LibLime, wrote a (rather) large chunk of the code that brought in the support for custom fields to patron records. The ExtendedPatronAttributes system preference was the outcome and custom fields were here to stay.

Flash forward to present day

Recently we have been working with the Senior section library of Don Bosco School in Calcutta. Being a school library they needed to additionally support the following fields in their patron record (a) Class (b) Section (c) Roll No. (d) Parent / Guardian information i.e. name, contact info, relationship with student. Of course, we used defined these custom fields as patron attributes that were applicable only for their student patron category. In this blogpost, I will try to share just how easy and painless this is.

Step #1 : Enable ExtendedPatronAttributes syspref

This *is* the very first step and unless you enable this syspref, no matter what you do to define your custom fields (aka patron attributes), nothing would be visible.

Step #2 : Defining the Patron Attributes

In our case, we had two sets of information to be handled i.e. the student’s (a) academic details and (b) parent / guardian information. So we defined ST_CLASS, ST_SECTION and ST_ROLLNO patron attributes for the first part and ST_PNAME, ST_PRELATN and ST_PCONT as attributes for the second part.

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To make things easier for the library personnel (and reduce human error in the process), we pre-defined the values available to ST_CLASS, ST_SECTION and ST_PRELATN as authorised values.

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We also defined the PA_CLASS authorised value with the following two values : (a) ADETAILS (for academic details) and (b) GDETAILS (for guardian information).

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Step #3 : PA_CLASS – the secret sauce!

The Koha manual barely touches on this little nugget otherwise known as the PA_CLASS authorised value category. Before we proceed, just remember that in Koha Authorised value and Authority value mean two completely different things. Here we are talking about the former. If you have ever done any programming or done anything online, you must have used a drop-down / picklist to select a value. Well in Koha, authorised values are simply another name for picklists. These are defined as a category with the options added it. To the end-user, authorised values are presented as select drop-down HTML form element.

Now coming to PA_CLASS (or Patron Attribute Class), the first thing to remember is that by default Koha does not even define the PA_CLASS authorised value category. Rather it is left to the user to define it. There is a reason why it is not defined by default, not every library is going to used ExtendedPatronAttribute and unless you use it, PA_CLASS has no use. In our case, we have defined it and allotted it two values – ADETAILS and GDETAILS for now.

By allotting our custom fields (patron attributes) to either of these two PA_CLASS values allows us to logically group our two sets of information. By default, once done it looks like this:

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Order! Order! Order!

While chaos defines us, in life it is order that we look for, especially when we are attempting to present or capture information. So while the “Additional attributes and identifiers” grouping at the end of the page is adequate it is not ordered in the most logic flow with respect to the overall patron information form. Lucky for us, Koha has supported JQuery for donkey’s years. And JQuery provides us with a very nifty method .detach(). As the documentation says:

The .detach() method is the same as .remove(), except that .detach() keeps all jQuery data associated with the removed elements. This method is useful when removed elements are to be reinserted into the DOM at a later time.

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By detaching the PA_CLASS grouped fieldsets from the DOM and by storing these into variables one at a time, we are now ready to insert them exactly where we want these fieldsets to be placed in the overall form. And that is exactly what we did.

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Conclusion

This way we did not touch the templates or the underlying business logic of KohaILS. All our definitions are stored in the database. As a result, we can now perform IN-SITU upgrades of Koha without worrying if we will break our forms if we upgraded.