Using Drupal as web-based application for collaboratively developing a controlled

childlikeprudenceInternet and Web Development

Dec 5, 2013 (4 years and 6 months ago)


Using Drupal as web
based application for collaboratively developing a controlled


Drupal, Social networking website, Taxonomy, Tagging, Controlled vocabulary,
Video games, Content management system


This case study descri
bes the experiences of a

information technology librarian and a cataloger
who teamed up to use interactive, Web 2.0 technology to build a Web
based application for
collaboratively developing a controlled vocabulary. The vocabulary’s purpose would ultimate
be to provide subject access to video games in an academic library environment, and is primarily
intended for educators, researchers, and students, many of whom grew up playing video games
and have a sophisticated knowledge of genre, platforms, and subj
ect matter. The librarians that
developed the Web application wanted to ensure that the end result would contain a diversity of
terms that reflect gaming culture as well as academic concerns. To this end, they developed a
Web application that would bring t
ogether a community of librarians, educators and anyone
interested in developing metadata for video games. In broader terms, this project investigates
ways to integrate user

tags, a common means of organizing Web 2.0 applications, into
a more tra
ditional controlled vocabulary.

The authors used the open source content management system, Drupal to create the video game

This case study discusses how Drupal was installed and configured as a framework

for building the vocabulary. In parti
cular, it discusses configuration of the taxonomy module and
the permissions granted to users who contribute to the vocabulary. It describes additional
modifications and plug
ins that enhance display and taxonomy building features as well as an
of Drupal's strengths and weaknesses as a collaborative taxonomy building tool.


In the past

years Web 2.0 has transformed library public
. New technologies have
are used to get information out to users (blogs, RSS feeds, podc
asts) and receive feedback on
services (polls and surveys). However, librarians are only beginning to effectively harness the
power of interactive technology to improve access to physical collections. Web 2.0 allows users
to describe and organize resources

in ways that make sense to them and many people are tagging
Web content on blogs and social bookmarking sites, creating informal vocabularies, or
folksonomies, which the authors believe can greatly enhance and improve controlled
vocabularies. Incorporatin
g folksonomies into subject cataloging is a way to combine the
structure of controlled vocabularies with the flexibility and relevance of user
contributed tags.

This case study documents two librarians' experiences using the content management system,
upal, to build an online space for collaboratively developing a vocabulary for video games that
combines both user
contributed tags, and the structure and authority control of a controlled
vocabulary. It discusses the process of installing and using the co
re Drupal application, installing
additional user
contributed modules, configuring Drupal permissions, further modifying the
application to suit the project's

needs, and a preliminary assessment of Drupal's strengths and

as a tool for building a

hybrid folksonomy/controlled vocabulary.

Project background

Video games are increasingly being used in an academic context in a variety of disciplines
education to computer science to gender and cultural studies. Despite their increased academic
levance, current subject cataloging practices and standard subject vocabularies do not
adequately describe video games. Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) tend to refer to
publishers and platforms rather than content or "aboutness." Gaming website
s, created for people
who play games, describe games in terms

of functionality, game
play or audience suitability. To
address a lack of relevant subject terminology for an academic context, a cataloger and an
information technology librarian teamed up to w
rite a grant to develop a local subject vocabulary
that combines user
generated terms with LCSH.

The grant was awarded for
the 2008
2009 academic year. It
s goal was to create a system for
game collectors, including librarians, educators and students, to
build a hybrid
folksonomy/controlled vocabulary that better conforms to the language they use to describe
games. Using Web 2.0 functionality, users could add to and provide feedback on the subject
terms with the goal of creating a relevant, flexible and us
eful controlled vocabulary for video
games in academic libraries. The project required an online thesaurus development tool with
define user roles and permissions that enabled broad participation by subject experts
(game enthusiasts, educators usin
g games in academia, librarians from other institutions) who
did not necessarily have experience with (or interest in) controlled subject vocabularies or library
catalogs. In addition to creating a user
centered, collaboratively
built subject vocabulary, t
project uses social networking to create an online space for gamers, gaming educators, and

maybe even catalogers and taxonomists to share ideas and insights about this rapidly
world of games and education.

The project had a budget of $150 to

cover a year of hosting, domain name registration and the
cost of a thesaurus development tool with social networking components. Between the two of
them, their arsenal of Web development skills included HTML/CSS, ASP w/SQL, some PHP
experience and limite
d design skills. They were looking for a solution with ready
templates they could easily adapt with little more than a custom logo and matching colors. Given
these limitations, the open source content management system Drupal was the best solution. On
caveat is that although users can download Drupal for free, it requires skilled staff configure it
and server space to host it.

Libraries are increasingly embracing Drupal for both their external websites and intranet
development. It is currently use
d to manage content on many library websites. Notable examples
include Ann Arbor Public Library (, and the University of Minnesota’s
Biomedical Library (
). Lik
ewise, other libraries are exploring
similar content management systems like Plone, (
), and Joomla,
). These, and other open
source content

systems are an
especially good match for developing websites that encourage collaboration among users.

Drupal Background

Dries Buytaert and Hans Snijder, students at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, created an
application for communicating
and sharing information with each other and friends in their

dorms. The application grew, and they released the code publicly in 2001. Since then, a
committed community of coders have been improving and enhancing what is now known as
Drupal (Mercer 2008, 9
). Drupal is an open
source content management system built on the
LAMP (Linux/Apache/mySQL/PHP) stack protocol that facilitates the creation of social Web
based applications. It is a "dynamic, database
driven system that is used for electronic
and the publishing of information [that enables] Web site administrators and
authorized users to log into an electronic system to author or approve posted materials" (Boateng
and Boateng 2007).

It has built
in options for adding blogs, discussion boards, p
olls and other
social software into any Drupal application, as well as a flexible system for managing user
permissions. Drupal also includes a module for building and managing taxonomies.

Like blogging software, which separates content from design by d
ividing content into easily
editable pieces, Drupal separates the elements common to social networking sites into easily
configurable pieces. "Drupal is a modular system. Its functionality is held in modules that
integrate into the workflow at various poin
ts, altering the way other parts operate or even adding
new features entirely" (Mercer 2008, 59). In other words, once Drupal is installed, there is a
relatively intuitive graphical user interface for selecting and enabling website features like
forums, bl
ogs and polls. Menus and some design elements are also easily configurable through
Drupal's user interface.

In fact, users sometimes refer to Drupal as a content management framework rather than a
content management system. The idea of a framework highl
ights "Drupal's superior user
management features that are especially suited to collaborative content authorship" (Austin and

Harris 2008, 15). Drupal is more flexible than blogs or wikis because it not only allows the Web
site users to easily manage conte
nt, but also enables the Web site developers/administrators to
define types of content and social applications offered on the site.

The core Drupal install includes a variety of modules, as well as a default template and default
user permissions settings
. The Drupal website offers many additional, user
templates, and since the entire application is built on the LAMP stack protocol (that is, using
PHP/MySQL and hosting the code on a local server), users can edit the source code themselves
at an
y point. Installing Drupal was a matter of copying the PHP files that make up Drupal to the
Web server, via FTP. The second step was creating a MySQL database for use with Drupal.

After installation, the librarians customized the look and layout of the s
selecting a template,
uploading a logo, and choosing a matching color scheme. For users who want a very customized
look and feel, creating a custom template is an option. However, it made sense to start with a
made template and configure it minima
lly. Next came the content pages for the site,
including an About Us page, FAQs for non
librarians, the mission statement and information on
how to get involved in the project. The next step was to choose the social networking
components of the site. A blo
g worked well for the main page and in addition each taxonomy
editor had his or her own individual blog. Lastly, was the major component of the site

out how taxonomy development would work. The first step was looking at the taxonomy
module, a D
rupal core module, and determining appropriate permissions levels for users, then
researching additional modules to install and adding a custom PHP script.

Taxonomy Module

In many dictionaries, the primary definition of the word taxonomy pertains to i
ts use in the
biological sciences as a tool to classify

in order to highlight similarities and
relationships. Increasingly, however, taxonomies are used to categorize information about and
provide access to Web resources. In her discussion of dif
ferent types of online taxonomy
builders Heather Hedden describes the basic roles of online taxonomy tools as "[maintaining]
terms and their associated relationships and other attributes" and "support for optional scope
notes and user
defined classificatio
n categories for each term" (2008, 40). In a social networking
context, taxonomies are more than a static list of subject terms, they enable users to provide
meaning and highlight relationships among the objects they are tagging.

Even though Drupal was n
ot developed specifically as a tool for creating and editing taxonomies,
its taxonomy module was sufficient for this project. Drupal's taxonomy module enables the
social taxonomy building that Hedder describes above. It allows for unlimited vocabularies
axonomy subunits) within which users can add, edit, and delete terms, provide scope notes, and
locate them within a hierarchy. Each entry has a term name and description. Users can also select
multiple related terms from a list of pre
existing terms. Addit
ionally, users can identify a parent
term for each term, thereby creating hierarchical relationships.

A separate vocabulary can be assigned to different Drupal content types (blog entry, forum topic,
page, poll and story) so that users can organize diffe
rent types of site content with

vocabularies. Additional settings within the taxonomy module define how users can assign terms

to content. For example, it is possible to restrict users to a single term to describe a blog post or a
page, or to requ
ire that users assign at least one term from the vocabulary to their content.
Vocabularies can be viewed alphabetically, in a hierarchical structure, and by weight or relative

One of the purposes of the project was to investigate how folksonomies
and controlled
vocabularies could be used together to provide better subject access to video games. For this
project, we created two separate vocabularies. The first vocabulary is more of a folksonomy,
with fewer restrictions on who can add or edit terms.
This vocabulary generates "real world"
content that will be incorporated into another more controlled vocabulary. The second
vocabulary will combine tags generated by

to the first vocabulary, gaming terms
from Wikipedia and gaming websites, te
rms derived from the fields of education and media
studies, and, of course, LCSH to create a taxonomy that will be useful to catalogers and
educators while reflecting the culture of gaming. This controlled vocabulary can be incorporated
into cataloging rec
ords (MARC 6xx fields) or used to provide subject access to uncataloged
game collections.

Users and Permissions

Drupal allows administrators to create and edit user roles in the permissions module. In our case,
we defined four roles: Anonymous User, Auth
enticated User, Administrator and Taxonomy
editor. Administrators have complete access to the website and are able to modify every Drupal
setting in all modules, including the permissions levels for other users. Anonymous users have
the most restricted acc
ess and this is the only permission level that does not require the user to

log in. Taxonomy editors can edit and create most types of content, but cannot change the site's
configuration. Authenticated users have more permissions than anonymous users, but
fewer than
taxonomy editors. Users are confirmed by administrators before they are able to contribute
content to the site.

Optional Modules and Modifications

In addition to the taxonomy module, Drupal's core modules include blogs, help, discussion
, sidebars, polls
all standard attributes of Web 2.0 websites. Beyond the core modules, as
an open source content management system, Drupal benefits from modules and themes that have
been developed by the Drupal community and provide extra or enhanced fun
such as
better accessibility for visually impaired users or more options for handling of images. However,
the downside to using these contributed modules is that the original contributor may not update
the module to work with the next update of

Drupal, creating compatibility issues.

Nevertheless, it made sense to install modules to enhance both vocabularies on this project's
website. For the "folksonomy" vocabulary, community tags and tagadelic extend the permissions
functionality and also crea
te tag clouds for displaying the vocabulary content.

For the more
controlled vocabulary, Taxonomy introduction, Taxonomy Access Control and Taxonomy
Manager, all make it easier to edit and manage the vocabulary. Another useful optional module
was Views (
), which allows users to build queries and have better
control over how to present content.

The core functionality and Drupal's added modules, combined to create the functional
necessary to consider the website ready for use. However, the site needed to be modified so that

the vocabularies were visible to all, but could only be edited by users with permission to do so.
Although no contributed module met this requirement, ther
e was a useful PHP script written by a
Drupal user online (
Using this code was as easy as copy

and paste. No PHP knowledge was required. Developers can
find plug
ins and modifications and a community of users willing to help beyond Drupal's
official website.


In many ways, the values of the open
source community mirror those of the libr
ary community.
Both are committed to developing socially beneficial systems and sharing information widely to
others. This project benefited from the community of Drupal users who served as technical
support and creators of useful contributed modules and p
ins. Sources of support for Drupal
include,, user
created YouTube

tutorials, blog posts, etc.
Although the core

were nearly sufficient for the purposes of this project, the user
contributed modules as well as co
de snippets found from other Drupal users on the web, made it
possible to develop a social, collaborative website to build a taxonomy, without having to write
any PHP.

Content management systems like Drupal enable a range of users to contribute web conte
nt that
reflects various interests and points of view. Moreover, the authors hope that Drupal has enabled
them to create a useful

tool that is based on the collaborative efforts of librarians, gamers, and
educators. Not only will this video game taxonomy p
rovide better subject access within libraries,
but it could help to bridge the divide between folksonomies and controlled vocabularies.

Reference List

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Farkas, Meredith. 2008. "CMS for Next
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Goldman, Aaron. Wha
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(accessed April 17,


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