Final Blog post

Background

The Brighton and Sussex Medical School is a joint venture between the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex (and the local NHS Trust). There was an identified need to provide a unified search interface for the two University Libraries, medical students had to search two or more catalogues to find where a book may be located, there resources are divided between the two Universities and also at the local NHS library. Furthermore a combined catalogue would be of use to other local researchers, both at the Universities and in the surrounding area.

Intended outcomes

  • A catalogue interface allowing users to search the records of both libraries, allowing medical students and others to quickly find and locate an item in either library.
  • A review of the two Open Source systems which we had shortlisted: VuFind and Blacklight.
  • User Testing of the chosen system

The Challenge

Medical Students had to search at least two systems, often more: two University library catalogues, e-journal/resource systems, NHS Library etc. While some Union catalogues exist, such as COPAC and Inform25, we were aware of few catalogues to cater to such needs, especially with limited resources.

Established Practice

As noted, Medical students and staff had to use a number of systems, performing the same search, to find an item. Any other user who was looking to see if an item was in either library would also need to search both separately.
The University of Sussex use Aquabrowser as their main Catalogue web interface. The system provided a lot of modern features, though did not provide My Account or reservation functionality. It also provides Prism2 (the web catalogue bundled with the Talis Alto LMS) as an alternative catalogue interface, and the only method to renew books and place reservations. Each night the Talis Alto LMS would export a completely dump of MARC files, to be indexed by Aquabrowser, as such as knew this functionality existed and worked.
The University of Brighton use Prism 2 as the main catalogue interface.

The LMS advantage

VuFind, the chosen Open Source system, provides a modern, quick, easy to use system that can search both University Libraries. It provides the clear benefit that users only have to search one catalogue to search across the two Libraries, it does not replace the existing catalogues, but provide an additional service to those who find it useful. As well as the bibliographic records it also provides holdings/availability/location information in an easy to ready format, no small feat when there are no standards for this.
Additionally the service – sabre – provides other benefits.
  • a backup catalogue should either main system become unavailable.
  • A good mobile interface – which neither main catalogue currently offers
  • options for different languages and browse options
  • export options.
It’s also helped us become familiar with working with our MARC21 records, and the options available to us when we require a new catalogue interface. Setting up additional VuFind interfaces becomes fairly trivial.

Key points for effective practice

  • User testing is incredibly useful and should be carried out for all new services
  • exporting all MARC records can take time to perfect, ensuring all are being successfully exported and imported. A recent blog post links to some tips regarding this.
  • VuFind has a good user/developer community, it is easy to adapt to meet local requirements and provides a lot of modern useful features that users like. Blacklight also looks like a very promising package.
  • VuFind has an exciting development roadmap, for example with support for EAD and other metadata types.
  • There are no standards for holdings/availability/location. While the international library community has made some efforts in this area, nothing has really come of it of late. This needs to change and an open standard, supported by all major suppliers is required. Meanwhile Libraries need to be prepared to allocate time and resources in to this functionality. Talis Alto had a relatively small user base, based mainly in the UK and Ireland and therefore lacks the potential community of VuFind users who use the LMS (at present ifind, developed at the University of Swansea and sabre, developed at the University of Sussex are the only two).
  • Likewise, no standards for allowing one system (i.e. the catalogue) to renew/reserve items on another (LMS) exist. VuFind does provide this functionality but it is dependant on a working driver for the LMS.
  • jangle provides a middleman between LMS systems and client applications (such as third party catalogues). It could avoid the need for every client system to provide a way to connect to every server, instead each just needs to be able to communicate with jangle (i.e. from Many-to-Many to One-to-Many). It would be good to see suppliers adopting this. Though jangle itself does require resources and time to setup.
  • VuFind could be used for many niche and specialist requirements, or even as a backup catalogue. Perhaps providing a search interface for a subset of records (just AV, or a particular library). If development time is tight then more complex features, such as ‘My Account’ can be hidden. A simple bibliographic search is very quick and easy to setup.
  • Be clear what can be offered, and what you plan to offer. If you are planning to provide a ‘quick win’ solution to a problem, be clear that not all of VuFind’s functionality will be available.

Conclusion and recommendations

  • Many of the points above can be seen as recommendations
  • User Testing can be fairly easy to perform and is incredibly useful
  • VuFind is flexible and relatively easy to work with, it can be used as a replacement catalogue, or as here used to cater for a specialist need.
  • The Library community urgently needs a standard – supported by vendors – to provide holdings/availability/location. Additionally a standard to support My Account / reservations and renewals.
  • Library suppliers need to understand that providing open, unrestricted APIs and data export is part of the service/system Libraries pay for, not a threat to ‘bolt-on’ products. If you system does not work in our eco-system then it is a bug.
The sabre service can be found at: http://sabre.sussex.ac.uk
Regards
Chris Keene
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