Open Atrium – or why I might finally like Drupal

It’s interesting to see all the positive articles and blog posts about Drupal and libraries.  Three years ago, we were looking for a solution to provide an intranet portal for our library and choose Drupal for several reasons–LAMP, free, strong community, flexible, etc.  We setup a portal for library staff, offered training on content creation, and made many customizations, including an extensive taxonomy of categories to control access based on group membership.  We even migrated the content of our main public website into Drupal as a first step to providing a “MyLibrary” level of personalization.

Then we started to have second thoughts.  Performance on the web server plummeted because of Drupal’s inefficiency.  We had to turn on caching for the public website, compress css and javascript files, move MySQL to another server, and finally upgrade to a new server.   In addition, library staff were avoiding the intranet portal, primarily because the extensive taxonomy made finding and creating content difficult .  As the new system administrator (my colleague who set up and customized our Drupal installation had left for another job),  I was having a hard time maintaining updates for the numerous Drupal modules and core.  Trying to change customizations was difficult.  It was a very steep learning curve.

A year ago, we surveyed library staff about communication methods within the library, with some focus on Drupal as the intranet portal.  We identified what worked (incident reports, pre-authenticated links to other web applications, rss feeds) and what did not (finding content, creating content).  In addition, we identified several areas where the intranet portal competed with more traditional forms of information sharing in the organization–mailing lists for discussion and network drives for sharing files.  People were unsure what was the most appropriate venue for a given piece of information.

We also identified a need for some library staff to have  a public web presence (their “own” space) as well as a more flexible way to create path finders or research guides.  The thought of try to get our Drupal installation to do this was daunting.  So instead, we began adopting “best-of-bred” solutions–WordPressMU for individual or group websites and LibGuides for research guides.  Library staff adoption of WordPressMU and LibGuides has been relatively painless, sometimes even bordering on enthusiastic.

In addition, we migrated the main public website to MODx, a very flexible CMS/CMF that allows considerable freedom in terms of design and functionality with an easy to use in-line editor for library staff.  We plan to move several ancillary websites into MODx during the coming year.

So where does that leave us with Drupal and our library intranet?  For many months I had been convinced that we had to abandoned Drupal and migrate to another platform–(Sharepoint, Liferay Social Office, Elgg, OpenGoo…).  But along came Open Atrium, an “intranet-in-a-box” based on Drupal.  Open Atrium provides workspaces which are places for teams to collaborate.  This “sense of place” was a major element missing from our Drupal intranet portal.

We are in the process of upgrading our intranet to Open Atrium, moving content into separate workspaces.  We will start with very basic features and then add enhancements.  In addition, we will be using Drush, powerful command line tool, to manage the underlying Drupal installation. I can’t believe we are sticking with Drupal for now.  The ultimate goal is a tool that improves communication and information sharing within the library. We’ll see how it goes.