Drupal for Library Subject Hubs

We’ve been working on getting subject hubs ready for about a year. Many months on the back burner and convincing people it was the right platform for the job. The work to create the environment and the content isn’t that onerous.

I recently got an email from a librarian at another institution asking about our use of Drupal for subject guides (which I will call subject hubs to help differentiate from libguides by Springshare). Here are his questions:

  1. How difficult was it to install Drupal and set up your guides?
  2. Did you encounter any bugs along the way ?
  3. What are the “technical requirements” of using Drupal ?
  4. Do you know if you can use it to create course guides ?


I won’t answer question 2 and 3 here, they are covered in great detail in many other places (Drupal.org, Drupallib). Suffice it to say that if you have someone that can install and run open source software, Drupal will not be a problem. If you have PHP skills in your shop even better, but not required for using the basics.

How Difficult?

The technical parts of Drupal are not nearly so difficult as convincing librarians and library administration administration that using Drupal is a better way to go than libguides. I should say I have nothing against libguides, and when I was University of Winnipeg I recommended that we use libguides. Especially for larger institutions that have technical support, there are some key advantages to Drupal:

  • It is flexible, customizable, and open source. You are in control of your technological destiny. For example, if you decide that making your Drupal site mobile friendly, you can install the module that does this. Opposed to waiting for a vendor to do it.
  • I think it is easier to integrate with your existing “database of databases” or however you guide people to databases (for non-librarians, I mean things like JStor, Web of Knowledge, Ebscohost).
  • You are not stuck in the design of libguides, which may not comply with your institutional requirements.
  • You get to use modules like faceted browsing, calendars, et cetera to add lots of functionality to your site.

Getting a basic Drupal site up and running is pretty easy.


At University of Manitoba Libraires (UML) we are required to use RedDot for our website, or I’d probably be talking about using Drupal for your entire web site. Guides.lib is our working title for the subject hubs and what I call “common content”. UML is made up several “unit” libraries that historically created and maintained their own websites, that included information like “hours”,”location” and “loan periods” (that is, common content). This made it difficult for our students to find this basic information. We’re also using Drupal for common content.

Features of guides.lib (beta version)

See for yourself at guides.lib. All the content in guides.lib is held together with taxonomy glue. What I mean by this, is we’re using taxonomies and the views module to display content. When a librarian creates a “node” (in drupal a block of content, think of a piece of lego), they tag the content with two critical pieces of information:

  • subject taxonomy — which subject or subjects do I want the content to be associated with
  • tab — which tab in the “guide” do I want the content to appear under

This is a bit of a learning curve for librarians that are used to creating html pages or used to using libguides. But from initial feedback, once they understand this difference they find it very easy to create content.

  • Contents (menu on left) faceted browsing of content (using the faceted browse module)
  • Course guides – nodes associated with a particular course (which have durable links to make it easy to share in course management systems or other places)
  • RSS feeds for new books (see Architecture Library node, new books block on right for an example of this).
  • Calendar and signups – a way to create workshops and events that people can sign-up for. When an event is associated with a “subject” it shows up in the Workshops tab.

This is just the start. By using Drupal we can add and create additional functions. And yes, we do plan on testing with students.

guides.lib intro – Jing Video (sorry not of great quality, but I’m in a hurry), that shows you the student view.

guides.lib creating content (librarian view of creating content)

Once again, the challenge of using Drupal for subject hubs and course guides has not been technical, it was convincing librarians and administration that it was the best approach! And remember, if you look at guides.lib at University of Manitoba and think “hmm, I wouldn’t have done it like that”, you don’t have to! By using Drupal there are an infinite number of ways you can develop your site.


About Karen Keiller

I am the University Librarian at Lakehead University.
This entry was posted in Information Literacy, Leading with Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

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