Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Just over the horizon…..

For some years now, and in 2 jobs, I’ve been looking for a new search solution for the libraries I’ve worked in. All the feedback shows that users just want ‘stuff’: the answer to the question that they hadn’t really thought through, quickly and in one place. They don’t want to have to search for books and journal articles separately. They don’t see the point of abstracts. They don’t want to be faced with multiple authentication barriers. They do want up to date information. They want it now.

And most libraries still aren’t providing what the users are asking for. Not that this is always the fault of the libraries: the task of putting together a system to do this is expensive, time-consuming, and it isn’t easy. A lot of libraries take the easy option and implement a so-called ‘new generation’ catalogue (eg Encore or Primo in their vanilla flavours), which usually consists of an improved keyword search and friendlier screens on top of the existing library database. This fails to recognise that users want easy access to all of the information that a library supplies, not just its books.

An alternative is to take the new generation catalogue and to add article-discovery tools on top of it (eg Encore Synergy, Primo with the Primo Central Index and possibly Metalib). This means that your users are simultaneously searching your books and that subsection of your databases/ejournals which are accessible and included in the added indexes. This isn’t comprehensive, it is expensive, and I’m not confident that all suppliers have the ability to integrate this all without the sort of unexpected extra costs that University Librarians dislike intensely. Few libraries have the staffing resource to do much more than simple integration.

Another alternative is to go with the database suppliers, such as Ebsco’s EDS and Serial Solutions Summon. In both case they leverage their existing large central databases of journal resources, and the library uploads its catalogue to it on a regular basis. This results in a search of the books, plus the proportion of your ejournals which are in that suppliers central index. Your users see the Google-like single search box, which by and large the students adapt to well and the academics and library staff, who are used to separate author and title indexes, find confusing. The library needs to keep its holdings synchronised with the central index, which means procedures of varying complexities to handle new books and lost/ discarded books.

Of course there are other alternatives: I’m hopeful that the new OCLC world-scale cloud-hosted system might make things easier, and Alma, the new Ex Libris system, builds on Primo to take libraries further. DIY solutions might be possible if the library has several able developers: VuFind has been used to build next-generation catalogues in several US libraries and it may be possible to link it using web services to online resources.

But for the short-staffed library with limited resources there is still no simple solution despite the requirement having been clear for several years. Suppliers make claims which they don’t deliver on, and libraries continue to implement partial solutions which ultimately disappoint users. In IT I’ve learnt that perfect solutions to problems are rare, but paradigm changes do happen (iPad anyone?), and this situation is one that is ripe for new thinking and new approaches.

 

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November 6, 2012 - Posted by | Libraries | , ,

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