Adding chat support to Koha

Yesterday being a lazy Sunday, I decided to tick off one of my pending TODO items i.e. watch the “Wishlist” discussion from National Koha Conclave organised by Informatics last February.

Around 34:30min into recording, Chris Cormack takes up the wishlist from ISI Kolkata. Around 35:19, Chris picks up the topic of chat facility that was on ISI Kolkata’s “wishlist”. He says that while it is unlikely that Koha itself would get one, it was really easy to integrate something like “MIBEW” and that all that is needed is someone to write up a HOWTO for that.

So, without further adieu, I decided setup a chat server on a dedicated sub-domain of l2c2.co.in. The idea being we should be able to use the chat facility across any servers and user accounts we managed on our servers spread out across the globe.

Installation proved to be a cakewalk on our Debian 8.x test server. We already had LAMP and mibew specific PHP extensions in place. Next up we installed nodejs, npm and gulp and finally we cloned the mibew git repo on Github. The deployment tarball was built following the instructions on the Github page.

Once ready, we unzipped the newly created mibew-2.1.0.tar.gz tarball into the DocumentRoot of the sub-domain we had created earlier. The instructions given in the README.txt proved to be adequate. First, we created the MySQL database, with required user and permissions. Setting the ‘cache‘ folder to writable by the webserver process was important. Next up, the database connection configuration went up into configs/config.yml which was templated off configs/default_config.yml.

Final setup was done by accessing http://<our-sub-domain_FQDN>/install.php and following the on-screen wizard. The admin user and password were setup and we were basically done. For the sake of security, the install.php was removed from the tree.

Logging in as the admin user, we setup a new group and added a new user to that group to work as an operator representing our client. The chat button code was copied over and pasted into the OpacNavRight system preference in Koha and saved all the changes made.

On the Mibew server side, things were just as simple. We logged in as user “brclibrarian” that we had created for Bhaktivedanta Research Centre. To make the user “brclibrarian” available for chat, we clicked on “Connect”.

Upon going “online” as brclibrarian user, the dashboard changed into an “inbox” page, where we now waited for our first support request.

Soon enough, a visitor on BRC OPAC had clicked on the chat button and we had our first support chat coming live at the “operator” side of things.

On the visitor’s side, the following screenshot shows the support chat in progress.

P.S. We wanted our chat button to say “Ask a Librarian“. So instead of using the default buttons that come with MIBEW, we used GIMP to quickly make a couple of images and saved them as aal_on.gif and aal_off.gif. The  “_on” and “_off” in the filenames is important. MIBEW reads the image name as “aal” with on and off markers treated as toggle.

To display when librarian / operator is absent.

To display when librarian / operator is online.