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Julien Bras
Julien Bras

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

The web is an API (scrap it !)

How I have used the Python API BeautifulSoup to enhance a website.

I currently live in Montreal where we have very good public libraries to borrow books and all sort of things. Each time you take an item back home, a system is used to manage that. It comes with a public website that help you to check if you have to bring back the books or if you want to extend the loan period.

The point is that I have 3 kids, and my wife also have an account. Yep, we have 5 accounts on the system and things started to get difficult when I have to check on each account !


Nelligan catalog, the end-user library system

The catalog system is named Nelligan, but searching on the source of the website, you will easily find it is a commercial solution named III Encore. The public website doesn’t allow multi-account option of something.

My goal is be able to :

  • Check quickly the date I need to bring back the books to the library to avoid fines
  • Be able to extend the loan period

So let’s try to check if an API is existing in order to write something on top of that ! After a few days, I didn’t see anything. The company III seems to provide API but not something with a public interface… I just found a python lib here that is doing this kind of work on multiple commercial systems for library ; but the implementation of III Encore / Web PAC Pro (seems the same product) seems not finished.

I have decided to work a bit on this GitHub repository and I found very useful to invest time in BeautifulSoup, that is a web-scrapper (ie you can read via a script what you want on the web !). Combined with the Requests API, I have all the tools I need to make my project. I decided to use Django for the web part just because everything was written in Python and because I want to learn it !

Mainly the game is not so hard :

  • Find a way to login via Request API :
login = {'code': code, 'pin': pin}
r = + '/patroninfo/?', data = login)
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  • Then find a way to read the data I want in the page :
# Grab loans (currently taken)
soup = BeautifulSoup(r.text, 'html.parser')
items ="tr.patFuncEntry")
for item in items:
    # do things on books
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My main service file is here, it contains all the calls to the website. It allow me to test the card, grab the actual loans, extend the loan for a book, request for books, view the fine associated with each card…

It is then very easy to order books by end-of-loan date…


Books ordered by end of loan date, from multiple cards

To get more on this application here is some links:

My next goal on this application ? I really want to contribute on this project to have a global API for library management (not only a single commercial app !). Then integrate this API in my web application (not only Montreal Nelligan system focus). And also one day trying to reproduce the API in a different language like JS for a equivalent NodeJS system.

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