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

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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

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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?