Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Discovery systems

I’ve come to realise that Resource Discovery Systems / next-gen catalogues /etc are seen as a good idea by library users but not necessarily so by content providers. There’s a discussion of this in Carl Grant’s latest blog entry ‘Do they or don’t they?‘ – well worth a read with some pretty big implications……

June 13, 2013 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

Dump the OPAC???????

I thought Dave Pattern had been quiet lately – he’s just been working up to something:

Some fascinating ideas which I’ll be watching closely. Luckily Keele isn’t in quite the same position as Huddersfield, so we’re able to take things more slowly.


May 20, 2013 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

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.


November 6, 2012 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

Perceptions of Libraries

Just read an excellent post from Carl Grant of Ex Libris about OCLC’s ‘Perceptions of libraries 2010‘ report. Academic libraries need to change, and that change needs to come fast.¬† Although the report is based on US data and Carl’s view is from the Ex Libris perspective, this lesson applies as much in the UK as the US. He talks of a revolution not evolution being needed in libraries today. There is a growing disconnect between libraries and users, and librarians are failing to realise this.

So what should we be doing? This is less clear, as is inevitable, but he does say:

We must meet the end-user on their terms, delivering information to the interface of their choice, at the place, time and format of their choosing.

For me as a systems manager this means things like single search boxes covering all library resources, smartphone interfaces and external availability of data.

But we must also be recognised as delivering this information: too often users don’t realise that the library has made available the database from which they have just skimmed an article – the information is just ‘out there’ and the user found it via Google. Even worse, our funders don’t understand this. Hence there’s a difficult job there of both branding information and making it easy to find and use. It isn’t just a challenge for the systems managers but for the subject librarians (student and faculty facing) and the library managers (university management facing)¬† so demands fundamental change at all levels.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | Libraries | , , , , | Leave a comment

EIUG conference 2010

Delegates at Aston VillaI’ve not blogged for a long while – doesn’t real life has an irritating habit of interrupting the virtual? However I was at my first European Innovative Users Group conference last week and thought it might be worth recording some thoughts from that.

The first thing that struck me was how relaxed it felt. In contrast to the past few COSI/DUG/HUG conferences this felt very easygoing. That’s probably partly due not being an organiser so I could sit back and let someone else do the worrying, but there was a relaxed friendly vibe to the sessions and the other attendees.I was struck by how open the III representatives seemed.

There were no great product announcements at the conference (maybe those have been held back for ALA?) but on the other hand as a newcomer I don’t see any massive gaps in III’s product suite compared with other suppliers. The main thing I’d come to see was of course Encore Synergy, III’s version of the new crop of Discovery tools (see also Summon, Primo Central, Ebsco Discover, etc.). Synergy looked good, although I think I’d want to ask more questions about the range of data suppliers to which it will link before committing (not that my library will have the funds to do so anytime soon!). I like the fact that it doesn’t need the extra complexity of Link Resolvers or Federated Search tools (although it will of course work with them if already present) – one of the problems with federated search has always been the added layer of complexity it gives to the search experience which the new Discovery tools avoid. EIUG are planning an Exchange of Experience day on this area which I hope to attend.

Encore Reporter, a web-based reporting tool, was the other product which the company were pushing strongly. This is a bit of a misnomer – it doesn’t actually need Encore Discovery to run and pulls statistics from the Millennium database as well as Encore. Its interesting to see also that it doesn’t use either the Millennium proprietary database or Oracle to hold its data, but instead pulls it into an independent¬† database. Its ability to import external data and to export to the OPAC/Encore looked good, such that if I was doing a new implementation today I’d see it as an essential core product rather than another bolt-on module.

The other valuable part of a user group conference is of course the user sessions. These were very varied, and reflected the same sort of pressures that my own library is facing, such as streamlining and integrating acquisitions and providing more information to the user on a static staffing count.

Overall, a good conference, and thanks in particular to the EIUG committee who worked so hard to make it so.

P.S. The photo? The conference dinner was in the Directors Box at Aston Villa and we had a tour of the ground beforehand.

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , , | Leave a comment