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

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

OCLC ‘Making partnerships mattter’

I was at OCLC’s ‘Making partnerships matter’ event in Birmingham on Tuesday and came away quite impressed. The title of the day for me didn’t really cover what I got out of it – they were talking about WorldCat Local and what they’re calling ‘Web-scale management services’.

WorldCat Local seems quite impressive: it leverages OCLC’s existing information sources WorldCat and extensive links to eresources, to create an interesting alternative to other Resource Discovery systems. Of course, the big question is the coverage of the pre-indexed material, and there seems no easy way of comparing this with alternatives such as EDS, Summon, Encore Synergy or Primo Central. But the feedback from their only UK customer so far, York St John University, seemed good,  and the recognition that federated searching still has a role to play to ensure completeness was welcome.  I’ll be looking at this in more detail – providing that the outcome of the Browne Report and CSR don’t preclude it……

Although WorldCat Local is part of OCLC’s move to ‘Web-scale management’, in a way the latter is more long-term. They’ve taken the logical step to realising that as it is now possible for an LMS supplier to remotely-host an LMS,  it might actually be more efficient to run the LMS in ‘the Cloud’. In other words, instead of multiple completely independent systems,  separating only the data rather than the functionality. They’re still in fairly early days yet – Circulation and Acquisitions are being beta-tested in several member libraries – but this looks an interesting alternative. Many libraries are having issues supporting their own LMS due to uncooperative local IT departments (don’t get me started :-)) and lack of funding for their own staff, and so to outsource this to a resource which understands libraries seems sensible.

Overall a very good day, not least because it was my first visit to OCLC’s third Bimingham office in the past 20 years!

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

Resource Discovery

Like a lot of HE libraries, Resource Discovery interfaces are on our minds at the moment. I attended the EIUG Exchange of Experience Day at Warwick a few weeks ago and saw demonstrations of Summon, EDS, Encore and Aquabrowser. I’ve also been up to Huddersfield to see their Summon installation and had other demos of Encore and Primo elsewhere. But I’m still confused as to the best match for our users.

From looking at their searches on the OPAC (III’s WebPac is pretty good at showing these) I can see that users search skills in general, despite the extensive work we put into information literacy training, are fairly low. Keyword searches on entire essay titles are common (do they develop amnesia after leaving the induction sessions? ;-)). Users also tell us that they don’t want to have to search in multiple places (eg the OPAC plus 4 or 5 online databases) and then bring together and de-duplicate the results themselves. After the simplicity of using Google they are not prepared to invest this kind of time and work into finding academic resources. Instead they want a single search box which does it all: it must concurrently search all the academic resources to which the University Library provides access, deduplicate and present the results in a usable relevance-ranked order, providing links to full-text wherever available. Better search facilities would also be good – the graphical concept map which Aquabrowser gives is impressive.

But few of the current Resource Discovery systems do all of this at the moment. Summon and EDS allow you to search on the OPAC plus a subset of resources which they’ve indexed (the impression I have is that EBSCOs coverage of academic resources is better but I have no evidence to support this). Moreover as the parent companies maintain the indexes and infrastructure they are relatively low-overhead. But they don’t index all of the expensive databases we pay for, so the results are still only partial. Encore and Primo get round this by retaining federated search and including this in the results as well, although at a greater financial cost and slower search results.  But maintaining all the infrastructure behind this also adds to the work for the library, and at a time when libraries are trying to ‘do more with less’ this is hardly welcome.

There are of course systems I’ve not really looked at yet, such as OCLC’s WorldCat Local and SirsiDynix’s Enterprise, although I do have the impression that they share some of the above features and weaknesses. Looks like I’ve got a lot more work to do….  So have the suppliers – as most libraries have a similar need their product development depts must be on overtime!

October 7, 2010 Posted by | Libraries, Universities | | 2 Comments