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Monthly Archives: June 2006

Dan has written (twice now) about the ‘ILS Bill of Rights’ and its complete lack of perspective.

He’s right in his equation (or lack thereof) of the OPAC to “Free Speech” and “lack of Government Oppression regarding which religion I choose”; however, I disagree with him about the ability to be able to freely change vendors at will when the vendor doesn’t meet our needs (which means we’d be changing vendors, like, weekly).

That being said… why bother with the ILS?

Art Rhyno and I have been trying for more than a year to extract our bib database into a Lucene index to work with as we please. It took until NCSU released their Endeca index for us to be taken even remotely seriously. Still, the question remains… why bother with the ILS? If we can change the public interface, are the staff interfaces so lacking? Do we need to AJAX-ify the cataloging client or the circulation interface?

Dan’s right, we don’t need an ILS “Bill of Rights”, but we do need to fix our problems. And we don’t have to change vendors to do so — we just need a bit of vision.

This is really the first time I’ve gotten to sit down and write since I got back from the first annual ELUNA (Ex Libris Users, North America) Conference earlier this week in Knoxville, TN. I made a presentation on the umlaut (and I’ll go into that a bit later), but, in general, I really enjoy the Ex Libris user’s group conferences. In fact, it’s an amazing contrast to Endeavor’s EndUser, the only other user’s group conference I’ve ever been to.

ELUNA combined NAAUG (North American Aleph User’s Group) and SMUG (SFX/Metalib User’s Group) which historically happened one after the other (and was becoming problematic since Ex Libris was introducing more products). This had positive and negative effects: it’s good that Aleph/SFX users didn’t have to spend an entire week in conference, but the concurrent track sessions in the concurrent tracks meant that I felt I missed a lot. Also, Aleph tended to dominate the non-track-dependent sessions. The hour and a half long sessions also meant that there weren’t very many, so I feel like I only got to take in 2 non-vendor presented sessions (outside my own). Still, I don’t think I really have any complaints.

The first (real) session I attended was a panel discussion about the SFX API. There was nothing particularly “ground breaking” here for me (since I’m pretty familiar with the API), but it did show some really clever applications taking advantage of the API (all three of which I can see trying to implement at Tech). The first was Anne Highsmith of Texas A&M. She was using the LinkFinderPlus feature in Voyager to create SFX links in the OPAC. They’re doing some clever work in making sure there’s electronic holdings before actually displaying the link. The added bonus to this approach is the lack of need to populate 856 tags. I think this is a really good avenue to implement link resolving in our state union catalog: utilize the LinkFinderPlus feature to point to a web service that asks the OCLC Resolver Service if the user’s IP fits any institution (and, if not, allow them to associate themself with an institution, either through the OCLC Service or utilizing some variation of the Rails Resolver Router on Rails) and display links to their appropriate resolver (which would help institutions like Emory).

Next up was Margery Tibbets of the CDL. They are using the API to LinkOut items in Pubmed. To me this seemed like a clever way to deal with the annoyances of OpenURL enabling Pubmed.

Mark Dehmlow of Notre Dame then described a process of doing document delivery of a package of Springer journals that they had cancelled subscribing to via Springer Express. They’ve duplicated the Springer targets and removed all threshold information, so it’s always available. If the user requests something they have access to (or predates Springer coverage completely), they give options to their existing Springer access or ILL accordingly. If it’s a Springer Title from 2006 onward, they present a link for the library to purchase it through Springer Express. Since it’s just 2006 titles, they don’t have enough data yet to see how successful it really is (or how much it will wind up costing in the long run).

After lunch, I was up. All in all, I think the umlaut was pretty well received and it was nice to be introduced by my old boss, Bill Britten. In fact, it was really great to see all my old coworkers. As usual, I geeked out a little too much and used too many acronyms and generally talked at too advanced a level. This is something I’ve got to start working on. One of the problems is that I feel I’m not explaining the umlaut very well. While, yes, it is a replacement for the SFX menu the point is more about eliminating the need for this weird piece of software that sits between them (the database vendors) and us. Plus, it’s actually trying to analyze what’s coming in and what the user can access (whether it’s licensed content or not and from any number of places the user can access things) and eliminate the need for them to look in multiple places for it.

Both John Webb and Sean Chen brought up the potential negative of this approach: “You’re making a decision to just cram more stuff in the menu”. I think it would have helped if I could have gotten the “Fancy Pants” implementation (Fancy Pants is what we’re calling our redesign of WebVoyage, done completely in AJAX) working in time.

After my presentation, Oren Beit-Arie gave a presentation that mainly featured Primo. Primo definitely shows promise, but it’s going to be a hard sell for Tech (mainly financially). Also, there’s a part of me that feels that it could be mostly accomplished with Solr (otherwise I’m going to be wasting a considerable amount of Tech’s time in the upcoming months).

That night they had barbecue, free beer and live music by R.B. Morris and Hector Qirko in the World’s Fair Park. I sure do love free beer.

Tuesday morning was spent in vendor sessions (SFX and Metalib). The biggest news here was that Metalib 4 will include clustering courtesy of Vivisimo.

After a wonderful lunch at the Tomato Head and a brutal Q&A session with the Ex Libris leadership (I now know more about Aleph than I ever cared to know- none of it terribly positive), I went to a session about Windows Live Academic Search by MSN’s own Mike Buschman. This was a good session (even if Mike was plagued with technical difficulties): he acknowledged the problems with the AJAX approach (like complete lack of Safari support), and issues regarding OpenURL linking. Still, I admire MSN’s take on this (transparency of what’s being indexed, limited scope, indexing scholarly content specifically, as opposed to filtering scholarly items out of the general index) and, if they can get the GUI working better, I think will have a pretty nice competitor to Google Scholar. The thought of an open, Academic-only API makes me excited, as well.

There’s nothing terribly interesting to report about Wednesday (mostly business stuff).

This was a good trip. I made some good contacts (hopefully some joint projects with the University of Rochester, possibly Yale), saw some interesting projects and new products, caught up with old friends (and some newer ones), and maintained my confidence in the way Ex Libris is run as a company. Can’t ask for much more than that out of a vendor conference.