Resource discovery: a new twist ?

cotton twistPreviously we have seen two different solutions to the problem of Resource Discovery:  1) pre-built ‘connectors’ built to allow a federated search across our electronic resources  and 2) a discovery tool that uses metadata that is pre-indexed from the publishers, and also incorporates our local catalogue data. Exlibris say that ideally we would need both solutions; Serials Solutions say that we can run 2) without the need for 1).

I thought the demo from EBSCO last week was interesting as their comments were made from the position of a subscription agent . They cast doubt on publishers’ willingness to open up their data for harvesting – and said that libraries would always need both solutions in place.

What will Innovative say when they come and see us on the 6th November?

image credit: meknits


I attended a couple of  workshops, last month, funded by JISC under the JISC ITT Workshops  & Seminars:  Achievements & Challenges in Digitisation & e-Content strand.

‘Digital Media collection +100 years’

‘High Volume Digitisation’.

Copies of the presentations are availble on each site.

There was an interesting mix of people at both events including librarians, academics, musuem curators highlighting the diverse range of people involved in digitisation.

A number of issues raised at the seminars mirrored those raised at the JISC Digitisation conference early this year, which I blogged about.

The importance of planning for successful digitisation was clear at both seminars. It is important to be considering preservation issues early on in the digitial life cycle otherwise data will be lost and in some cases currently is. For large scale digitisation planning in advance and recognising  common problems would also be more effective.

The question of what to digitise was also raised and for many items out of copyright are the easiest to digitise.  I had also only been thinking about print material so it was really interesting to hear from the National Media museum about the issues they face in preserving new media such as games consoles and computers, not only preserving the technology but also the experience.

Once digitised there is also the importance of adding value  to the collections in terms of metadata and discoverability. It was interesting to hear from the British Library regarding the British Newspaper collection, a free resource to UK HE and they now provide a version for anyone to search with payment options for downloading, thereby opening the collection much further.

Resource discovery: demonstration by EBSCO

building bridgesThe 3rd of the demos we’ve organised  from resource discovery system suppliers takes place on Friday October 23rd at 10:30, when EBSCO will be talking about their Discovery Service, together with their federated search tool EBSCOhost Integrated Search

Please come and join us for tea, coffeee, biscuits and another peek at what resource discovery for our students might look like in the future

image credit: alef

Resource Discovery: a brief summary of what we've seen so far…



We are now halfway through our Autumn demos and we’ve had two interesting presentations so far, Robert Bley from Ex Libris showed us Primo and MetaLib, and Richard Burckitt and Richard Illingworth from Serials Solutions demonstrated Summon.

Both presentations highlighted research showing that readers understand and appreciate that resources offered by the Library are both high quality and relevant. The problem we have is that our readers struggle with the complexity of the systems we provide to lead them to those resources. Although the Library wins hands down over internet search engines as a credible, trustworthy and accurate source of information, students still turn to Google because it is so much more convenient and easy to use than the bewildering array of interfaces that we confront them with. There is a pressing need for us to make premium grade and expensive library approved content available from a single starting point; an interface that matches the expectations of today’s readers.

Both companies offer products that are a significant improvement on what we currently have, and Google is an obvious influence. Primo and Summon both allow searches to be carried out across a range of library controlled and commercial subscription resources. They both offer a single search box, an advanced search option, groups of facets as a means of refining searches and filtering results, “did you mean” functionality and enhanced content in the form of book jackets, tagging, reader reviews. etc.

Behind the scenes the two are quite different – Primo builds a local index with metadata from library controlled resources; the catalogue, digital repositories, content management systems etc, but relies on a federated search engine (i.e. Metalib) to search across commercial e-resources that the Library subscribes to. A single interface allows readers to search either the local data sources, or the commercial database and full text journal services, but the two searches are separated because federated search tends to deliver results slowly.

Summon from Serials Solutions uses a single index that merges local metadata with metadata harvested from commercial publishers. Readers search one index that combines all of the resources they are entitled to access (or, more accurately, the resources that Serials Solutions have been able to index). The search can also be expanded to cover everything in the Serials Solutions index, regardless of whether the Library subscribes to the resource. The results are delivered at Google like speed as the search is pointing at one index rather than multiple targets.

Interestingly, ExLibris are also in the process of negotiating with publishers to harvest metadata directly into a central index, they say that coverage isn’t wide enough yet to do away with the need for a federated search engine, but that over time reliance on federated search will inevitably decline. Serials Solutions on the other hand claim that they no longer need federated search because their comprehensive central index can provide 95% and better coverage of a Library’s resources.

Both products are offered on a subscription basis; Primo is available both as a hosted service or as a locally managed application, while Summon is only available via the Software as a Service model.

The turnout for both sessions was good, but we’d really love to know what you thought of what you’ve seen so far.

image credit: Dutch Nationaal Archief

Thoughts on publishers and where the challenge comes…

A key theme for me that seems to be emerging is the relationship of resources discovery product to the publishers’ content (eg the full-text articles). Solutions to this ‘problem’ – of how to search across publishers’ native databases and harvest content back from them seem to take different forms:  a company like ExLibris will for example still depend on their federated product product (Metalib – either hidden or overt) to search across publishers’ and aggregators’ databases using pre-written connectors, whilst companies like Serial Solutions will by-pass this stage and rely on Open-URL access to publisher’s metadata with a product like Summon, in the same way 360 Link can pick up an article reference from within a third-party A&I database . 

It is interesting that Summon is built using an open-source product  architecture – and ditching the need for a federated search back-end is quite a radical step forward into the cloud.  I’m wondering if this is related to their different approach to authentication: both Summon and Metalib seem to be ‘authentication agnostic’ and could work with a variety of authentication systems: but ExLibris seems to prefer the ‘up-front’ password challenge as opposed to Serials Solutions who give you it the other way round: metadata first and only authenticate later.

Is it harder to integrate authentication, as opposed to searching for content, into an institutional login this way round? I don’t yet know as I think it depends what choices we make on identity management. Personally I’m drawn to the ‘up-front’ approach – even though the simplicity of what Serials Solutions are doing is very attractive, I prefer my password challenges at the beginning – rather than at the end of the process. What about others?

Resource discovery: demonstration by Serials Solutions

Computer SpaceThe second in our Autumn series of presentations is happening in the Training Room, City North on Friday 16th October 2009, at 10.30am when Serials Solutions will be showing 360 Search (federated search) and Summon (next-generation discovery tool).

Here is an example of a Summon site at University of Liverpool who are beta-testing the product.

We hope you can come along, and we’d welcome your comments after the event. 

image credit: pargon

"Discoverability – users can't tolerate a disconnect

Just picked up a tweet from Lorcan Dempsey’s  (OCLC) and his blog – which summarizes a report by the University of Minnesota where they discussed key trends in their users’ experience of services. “Search, once one of the key skills and specialties of librarians, is a now a daily activity for the vast majority of our users”.  They “do not distinguish between discovery and delivery”  and “find it discordant to experience this disconnect “.  That’s my experience exactly : when users who are used to getting hits on Google come asking “why can’t I get through to this full-text?”

Google Vs Resource Discovery Tools

Here is a video link which Andrew Sayer first mentioned to me recently:

I think it  illustrates the perception that many students have that their starting point for any search should be Google. Yet we can provide (perhaps) a better way to search for any given topic on campus by using our own resource discovery tools. It’s a very cleverly crafted video and gets the message across perfectly.

Resource discovery: demonstration by ExLibris

would you buy a used resource discovery tool from this man?The first of our Autumn series of presentations is happening in the Training Room, City North on Friday 9th October 2009, at 10.30am when ExLibris will be showing Metalib (federated search) and Primo (next-generation discovery tool).

Here is a list of Primo sites, as supplied by Robert Bley of ExLibris.  For Metalib sites see Aston Guest Login to MetaLib and Coventry Metalib.

We hope you can come along, and we’d welcome your comments after the event.

image credit: Adolph B. Rice Studio

Dumbing down the catalogue?

PAC "classic"

image credit: Ann Arbor Library

Thanks to a tweet from Marshall Breeding – a well known commentator on Library IT trends, I’ve just read this article, which is interesting not least for the response it has generated, summarised here.

Of course this is a debate that has been going on for years, just this week it surfaced again at an eLibrary team meeting as we discussed next week’s demo of Primo, the first in a series of sessions looking at next generation library catalogues.

I think this, from Susan L. Gibbons, vice provost and dean of the River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester, is as good a summary of the debate as I’ve seen, and as someone who in the past has had at least one foot planted firmly in the “dumbing down is bad” camp, I now find myself happy to agree with pretty much everything she has to say:

“The commentary shows the all-too-common divide within libraries about information literacy. Some pine for the good old days when students had no choice but to come to the physical library and be forced to learn the idiosyncrasies of mastering a research tool, such as journal indices and the power of Library of Congress subject headings.  Personally, I think libraries have gone from being in a monopolistic to a competitive marketplace for information; and that marketplace shift requires different thinking about services. I am of the opinion that libraries should do everything they can to lower the barrier of entry. Nothing should stand in the way of a student entering some search terms and discovering good resources. Once the student has entered into the (virtually or physically) library, then the rich complexities can be revealed.”