Notes from the Field

Thailand’s Parliamentary Digital Library Leads in Open Government

May 7, 2014

Since its launch in 2012, the Legislative Institutional Repository of Thailand (LIRT), the online library of the Thai Parliament, has stood out as an example of the open government trends spreading across Asia. Behind buzzwords like “e-government” and “open data,” though, is the complex task of implementing digital access to state-held information. The LIRT is a product of this dynamic back-and-forth among user demands, software capabilities, and the ever-changing technological landscape.

After nearly 100 years of operating a brick-and-mortar library, the Thai National Assembly started experimenting with digital resources in the early 2000s. Its original goals were to reduce the storage space needed for print resources, and to ensure long-term digital preservation of documents.

Now, the LIRT had grown to include over 400,000 items, including e-books, journals, newspapers, and videos. The collection has gone beyond its early goals of space and preservation, and has shifted its focus to helping the public gain greater value from the National Assembly’s collection.

One of the LIRT’s defining characteristics is its use of DSpace, the premier free and open-source software (FOSS) for managing institutional repositories. DSpace is most often associated with university libraries, research archives, and the push for open access to scholarly information.

“DSpace is iconic in the open access world,” said Adisak Sukul, a Computer Science Lecturer at King Mongut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang in Bangkok who advises the National Assembly on the LIRT. Sukul is also Thailand’s Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) Coordinator for Open Access and FOSS initiatives.

Using DSpace for a parliamentary library is an innovative departure from the software’s customary applications in academia. DSpace’s reliability and scalability made it ideal for the constantly growing LIRT collection. DSpace is also customizable, which has proven vital as the LIRT responds to National Assembly and user demands.

Because of the sensitivity of some National Assembly documents, the LIRT requires Digital Rights Management (DRM) – that is, a system that allows only authorized users to access and download licensed documents. The DSpace software, in contrast, has been developed primarily for use in academia, in which the goal is often to make all documents in a repository freely accessible. DSpace included no support for DRM, so the LIRT team had to make extensive modifications.

Finding the right search engine for the LIRT presented an additional challenge. The initial open-source search engine had trouble with the complexity of the Thai language. The Google search server Google Search Appliance (GSA) presented the best alternative. The LIRT worked with Google Enterprise and various developer groups to launch Thailand’s first Google search bar, including a built-in Thai dictionary, auto-complete, and spell check.

“Everyone wants to have a search bar and then get a result, like on Google,” said Sukul. “The GSA allowed us to let users search with Thai script, so now people can retrieve everything and get what they want.”

Since adopting the GSA, the LIRT’s search speeds have increased tenfold. Google Scholar and other outside search engines also increasingly point users to LIRT documents. Combined with the GSA’s more user-friendly interface, this has brought the LIRT a 200-percent boost in user traffic, with monthly page views jumping to 200,000.

The LIRT’s latest challenge is developing and promoting mobile apps. In response to growing mobile demand, the LIRT is now accessible on iOS, Android, and soon Windows devices. Mobile users currently account for 20-25 percent of the LIRT’s traffic. One of the most promising areas for growth in LIRT mobile use is not young students or professionals, but rather the older demographic of Thai Parliament members.

“Parliament members are used to walking into the physical library and checking out materials,” said Sukul. “Now they all have some kind of mobile device. We just need to teach them how to use the app.”

Looking ahead, the LIRT has several collaborative projects in its sights. First, the “Smart Library” initiative promises to connect the LIRT to existing in-house Library of Parliament document management systems. This will give users more comprehensive access to both digital and physical Parliamentary resources.

Next, the LIRT hopes to reach out and combine its resources with other repositories to create a single, searchable archive. This would let users gain access to many collections with just one search. Thai government ministries are the most likely potential partners.

“The Ministry of Public Health is pursuing digital archiving,” said Sukul, “and the Ministry of Justice would also be a great cooperation.”

Following the LIRT’s successful implementation of DSpace, GSA, and other technology, such cooperation would further distinguish Thailand’s open government efforts. With sustained digital development throughout the Thai public sphere, the stage is set for the LIRT to continue to reveal new dimensions of library-government cooperation.

Gennie Gebhart is a 2013-2014 Luce Scholar at the Chiang Mai University Library in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She can be contacted at gegebhart@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

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