|Editors: Ann P. Dougherty, Mountainside Publishing; Richard M. Dougherty, University of Michigan, Emeritus
Contributing Editors: William Miller, Florida Atlantic University; Barbara Fister, Gustavus Adolphus College;
Larry Hardesty, University of Nebraska at Kearney; Mignon Adams, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia;
Steven Bell, Philadelphia University; Kathleen Hoeth, Florida Gulf Coast University
|Vol. 26, No. 2||November 2005|
Cornucopia of Library Technology:
What to Choose and Use
by Steven Bell
Given the nature of operating contemporary academic libraries, technology pervades almost every aspect, whether it’s human resources, budgets, user education or scholarship. But in a matter of a few years, the discussions have progressed from the ramifications of the academic library’s growing dependence on technology, the need to support it, and its impact on delivering services and resources to: with so many technologies to choose from, which do we choose? It’s no longer about “if”; it’s about when, what, how much does it cost, how will it improve what we do, and how will it affect our lives and our institutions.
Consider the exhibit hall at the American Library Association conference. With over 4,000 exhibitors, it is the Mecca of library technology. Self-service and automation technologies were being heavily touted this year, including one vast display that featured a robotic, automated book return system. Complete with conveyor belts from the book drop, to an automated check-in station, and finalized with the robotic loading of book trucks with books in their precise shelf order, this mightily impressive display took library automation to new levels—all for the return of a book.
Question one, always, is: How much does it cost? With so many technologies to choose from, only the largest and best resourced academic libraries might be able to adopt many new technologies without being impeded by their cost. But for the vast majority of academic libraries, with so many new technologies to choose from, more questions arise: Which are those we really need? Which are worth allocating our limited resources to? And perhaps more importantly: How will such technology impact our library staff and their ability to deliver high quality service? Will the new technology give our faculty and students an enhanced teaching and learning experience?
This article examines three contemporary technologies that academic administrators and faculty who sit on library committees should have on their radar screens. If the library administrator has yet to mention some of these technologies, there’s a good chance it will happen in the next few months. With the right information, library administrators and those they report to and collaborate with can make good choices about which technologies are likely to give the best return on investment and advance the library’s ability to offer new services, new features, and contribute to the attainment of student learning outcomes.
Bringing It All Together: Federated Search Systems
One of the forces driving the adoption of new technologies in academic libraries is the library management system. The library’s management system is the backbone of daily operations. Individual modules control most operational functions such as circulation, reserve, cataloging, acquisitions, serial publications, and the library online catalog is a core component of the system.
The companies that produce these systems operate in a highly competitive market. Automation vendors embed ever more sophisticated technology into their products to gain market share. New offerings, such as the Electronic Resource Management module that helps libraries gain control over their vast electronic holdings, require academic libraries to make more and better decisions about which modules to implement. Now another new technology, being offered by automation vendors and third-party distributors, is poised to make database searching easier and more productive for students and faculty.
What is a federated search system? Unlike self-service book checkout or systems for managing library journals, the benefits of a federated search system are far more beneficial to faculty and researchers. Think of federated search, also referred to as consolidated search or metasearch, as a multi-search system. It allows searching as few or as many databases as one wishes with a single search interface. This eliminates the need to gain familiarity with several different library database search interfaces.
Federated search systems are nothing new, but student and faculty response to single box searching, driven by the popularity of Google, is motivating library automation vendors to offer similar systems. The thinking is that as students and researchers grow more accustomed to single box search interfaces, they’ll demand that all the search systems they encounter be more like that. What’s more, the latest generation of federated search systems work faster, more powerfully, and give better results.
Mixed feelings. While library users will find much to like about federated searching, academic librarians have mixed feelings. We certainly want our resources to be popular and well used by our faculty and students, especially when it may encourage them to think twice about turning to Google for that next research project. Federated search systems reduce the native search features, which can sometimes be difficult for the uninitiated to grasp, to the simplest common denominator. From the librarian’s perspective, eliminating the sophisticated search features of most library databases likewise eliminates their ability to promote higher-level thinking and achieve precision search results. So what do we want?
How to make the most of it. Faculty and librarians both want students capable of conducting effective research with the right resources, and integrating what they acquire into their writing. Working together, faculty and librarians can promote that goal through an information literacy program. Federated searching may be most beneficial if it can be used to enlighten students to the availability of higher-quality library database content. Then, once students are more aware of these resources, faculty and librarians can develop targeted instruction that moves students to the native versions of the library databases. Federated search systems also have their place for pointing even experienced researchers to the right database by indicating which of several returns the most results.
“When acquired as an add-on to an existing library management system, a federated search can be a good value, especially if it promotes the use of a far more extensive capital investment — the library’s electronic resources.”
Librarians, faculty, and appropriate administrators should jointly assess different federated search systems before determining if one is right for their institution. There is much to be said about them and their fit into our modern search environment. The cost of the system depends on the number of databases offered. When acquired as an add-on to an existing library management system, a federated search can be a good value, especially if it promotes the use of a far more extensive capital investment – the library’s electronic resources.
From No Text To Full Text: Link Resolvers
If your library isn’t already making use of the link resolver it should certainly be exploring it because this technology is rapidly moving from emerging to mainstream status. Why? Because it gets researchers and students from article citations to the actual article and library users clearly prefer to get full text when it is available.
Most academic libraries subscribe to a smorgasbord of electronic databases, some of which are all full text, some part full text, and others have no full text at all. All of these databases have some overlap. For example, Database A carries the full text of all articles published in the Journal of Scholarly Literature. How can a researcher, having retrieved a citation to an article in that journal in Database B, know that the full text is readily available over at Database A? If he or she fails to make the connection, considerable time could be wasted on efforts using other avenues to get the full-text article.
How it works. That’s where link resolvers do their work. First the library has to acquire and install the software to perform the resolving task, or it can choose to purchase the service from a firm that will run and maintain the software. Once implemented the link resolver creates an inventory of all of the library’s electronic journals, both those in aggregated databases and electronic journal collections. It then places a unique icon next to each article in those databases to which the library subscribes.
Then, when a researcher locates an article citation in a database lacking full-text articles, the icon serves as a prompt for the researcher to determine if a full-text version of that article is available from another library electronic resource. If a full-text version is available the resolver provides a link that connects the searcher to the full-text article. In some cases, the library may have the full-text article in more than one database and all options are listed.
Advantages. Link resolver software isn’t foolproof, and some users may find it slightly confusing. But from an administrator’s perspective it does two things extremely well.
First, it maximizes the use of costly electronic library resources by allowing users to connect to full-text articles they could otherwise miss.
Second, it allows faculty and students to increase the effectiveness of their research. Faculty will save time and gather needed articles more quickly.
Students, when encountering a citation often simply ignore it, no matter how relevant the article may be for their research. They do this because they prefer a readily available full-text article even if it isn’t as good as the one for which there is only a citation. Getting full-text saves time and it can be easier to evaluate.
Citations alone may give no sense of the worth of an article. Adding the ability to quickly link to the full text of that article in another database will encourage students to give critical consideration of a citation that might previously have been ignored. It can make a world of difference.
Some collections more suited than others. For some libraries link resolvers may not yet provide the desired results. Those with vast full-text content in the sciences, math, engineering and business will find resolvers work well. Those with strength in certain areas of the humanities and social sciences, or more specialized art and design fields, will find there simply are not yet enough journals available in full-text format to derive the full benefit of link resolvers.
The fact remains that in the universe of journal publications, the majority are still unavailable in full-text format, and can only be discovered through databases that provide a citation to the article. Working with their librarians, academic administrators and faculty can analyze their collections and electronic resources to determine if acquiring and implementing link resolver technology makes sense for the institution. In many cases it will, and the benefits it will provide to all the library’s constituents should be abundantly clear.
Managing Locally Created Content: Institutional Repository Software
An academic institution without an archival collection would be a rare find indeed. Colleges and universities produce ample amounts of unique documents that are worthy of or require storage and preservation. In addition to historical and administrative institutional records, faculty and researchers produce documents that should be archived, but space constraints or inadequate procedures for identifying and obtaining those materials creates barriers.
Another significant problem is how to store archival content for efficient retrieval, and to identify methods to share that content with researchers, both locally and remotely. But just as federated search and link resolvers are giving academic libraries the tools to help researchers find and access valuable information more effectively and efficiently, a new technology may offer institutions of higher education a viable solution to these long time challenges of identifying, storing, preserving and retrieving locally produced content.
The beginning — DSpace. The excitement began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when it unveiled a new software project called DSpace. Termed “institutional repository” software, DSpace creates a digital archive environment into which researchers can independently store any type of electronic document. This may include books, theses, data sets, article preprints, multimedia learning materials, conference papers, and just about any digital object.
The role of the library. In many cases, as at MIT, the institutional repository is a project overseen by the library. With their capabilities for organizing large collections of information, librarians are ideally suited to lead their campuses in establishing institutional repositories.
The use of “metadata,” a system for identifying digital content with similarities to the way in which libraries catalog books, lies at the foundation of building an institutional repository conducive to the search and retrieval of content. Academic librarians are recognized for their expertise in developing and applying metadata so it makes good sense to entrust the institutional repository to their stewardship.
Other software options. DSpace is perhaps the best known institutional repository software, but there are other options. Fedora, like DSpace, is an open source software solution available to academic institutions. Open source software is free to anyone, but although there is no initial purchase price it has its costs. Not only must the institution provide the hardware for the repository, it must have adequate software programmers who can install and maintain the software. Unlike commercial software products, there is no technical support team available to answer questions and provide guidance. In addition, institutions that join an open source software community are expected to contribute to the development of the software. So some institutional resources must be committed to the acquisition and development of open source software like DSpace or Fedora.
One firm, the library database provider ProQuest, does offer a commercial institutional repository. Their product, Digital Commons, is an elegant, out-of-the-box repository. To confront the challenges of creating repositories, some institutions are banding together. In Texas, a consortium of four institutions announced a plan to create a single, joint repository.
New ways of disseminating and searching. Any of these institutional repository options benefits faculty and researchers by allowing them to widely disseminate their research quickly within their disciplinary communities. The contents of many institutional repositories are increasingly accessible via the Internet by way of search engines such as Google and Yahoo.
Although institutional repositories give researchers the ability to self-publish and distribute content, it’s unlikely this technology will provide a solution to the scholarly publishing crisis, at least not for the foreseeable future during which traditional journals will continue to dominate the “publish or perish” landscape. Still, if properly implemented these repositories will offer an entirely new universe for searching and retrieving scholarly content, and they will nicely complement existing library research databases.
Beyond the hardware/software hurdles. What many colleges and universities discover after establishing an institutional repository is that the real challenge lies beyond the software and hardware hurdles. Any repository is only as good as the content it holds, and faculty and researchers have reacted with either resistance or apathy to their institution’s digital repositories. Initial concerns about copyright protection of material in open repositories did contribute to faculty resistance, but those issues have largely been resolved. Now, it is more a matter of marketing the availability and benefits of institutional repositories to faculty and researchers to encourage them to deposit their content. Academic libraries are leading the way there as well with outreach efforts to their faculty colleagues.
As with URL link resolving software, it’s likely that for now only larger and technologically well-resourced institutions will find it a more attainable solution to a challenge all of higher education faces, but as with those other technologies they are growing more mainstream each year and will no doubt trickle down in the next few years
Taking Information Sharing To The Next Level: Social Networking
From the researcher’s perspective the value of an institutional repository is that it facilitates the sharing of information that would previously be difficulty to disseminate. The idea of sharing and exchanging information is at the core of what is perhaps the next wave of technology that will gain influence in higher education.
Social networking is the collective name being given to a host of technologies that advance collaborative thinking and research.
Internet bookmarking. A simple example to consider is Internet bookmarking. Most individuals bookmark web sites of interest. Consider that researchers within disciplines could learn of new information sources if they shared their bookmarks. If everyone stores their bookmarks only on their own computer, sharing is impossible. But there are new software sites, one of the most popular ones is Del.icio.us, that allow individuals to post their bookmarked web sites to a shared web-based community. Researchers can search the contents of Del.icio.us to see who else has bookmarked web sites in their research area.
Sharing research interests. Two other services, FURL and Connotea, take this concept a step further by allowing individuals to store links to any web-based content, including web site addresses, web-based newspaper and magazine articles, and research documents. Again, members of the community can search by subject to find what others have added to their storage space.
The technology allows those who discover they have shared research interests to connect with each other. Connotea was developed specifically for research scientists. Another technology called RSS (Rich Site Summary) takes the ability to share information even further. Subscribers to FURL, for example, can create an RSS feed that allows any subscriber to that feed to be notified when an individual adds new information to their FURL storage space. In some ways this eliminates the need to search for information.
Using RSS technology, news and other content can be "pushed" to individuals who can then view this information at their convenience. The idea of sharing information within social communities is branching out across academia, and finding its way into the laboratory and classroom.
Creating feeds for specialized topics. This technology is beginning to surface in traditional library database resources. ProQuest is one of the first to allow searchers to use RSS technology to create feeds for specialized topics. This allows researchers whose libraries subscribe to ProQuest to discover new research articles and news without needing to conduct a search. It is pushed to whichever space (frequently referred to as a news aggregator) the researcher designates as the one to which he or she wishes to receive content.
Academic librarians are taking a role in advancing the uses of and awareness about social networking technologies on their campuses. Doing so reinforces the role of the academic library as a collaborator with faculty and researchers in advancing the academic community’s access to information for educational discovery and research.
A Glimpse Ahead
When Library Issues devotes its next issue to technologies that libraries can bring to the parent institution, it’s likely to be even more futuristic than anything explored in this issue.
With the growth in mobile computing, libraries will need to find a way to deliver content in formats that can be easily accessed by cell phones and other handheld devices. Today, that is largely impossible. But as educators bring iPods, Blackberries, and other technologies into the classroom, libraries will be challenged to do what they must continue to do to avoid being marginalized: be where the users are. It’s a challenge that will present real resource and technological hurdles. If, however, academic libraries maintain their track record with exploring, acquiring, and putting new technology to good use, then they will be well poised to move into an increasingly technology-driven future.
—Steven Bell is Director of the Paul J. Gutman Library at Philadelphia University. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional Vendor Information
There are generally two options when one is in the market for either an OpenURL Link Resolver or a Federated Search System. It can often be acquired through the library’s automation vendor or through an independent third party vendor. In addition, a library would have an option to purchase and install the software on its own local computer system or it could opt to have an outside vendor host the software on its computers. Which decisions a library is likely to make can depend on a number of factors, including pricing, but a more critical factor is the presence (or lack of) of adequate computing facilities and programmers who can install and maintain the software.
At the time of publication, all links to the vendors were working.
OpenURL Link Resolvers
Additional information will be found in this article:
OpenURL Link Resolvers
10 Estes St.
Ipswich, MA 01938
Endeavor Information Systems
Des Plaines, IL 60018-4505
313 Washington St.
Newton, MA 02458
7400 West 132nd St.
Overland Park, KS 66213
Geac Library Solutions
120 Turnpike Rd.
Southborough, MA 01772-2104
Innovative Interfaces, Inc.
5850 Shellmound Way
Emeryville, CA 94608
Openly Informatics, Inc.
2 Broad St.
Bloomfield, NJ 07003
Ovid Technologies, Inc.
New York, NY 10001
Serials Solutions, Inc.
444 NE Ravenna Blvd.
Seattle, WA 98115-6467
1276 North Warson Rd.
St. Louis, MO 63132
West Chester, PA 19381
Federated or Metasearch Systems
Additional information and lists of product vendors may be found at:
Trumping Google? Metasearching’s Promise
Judy Luther (in) Library Journal, October 1, 2003
Search Portals and Product Vendors
Add to the above lists:
Library Issues: Briefings for Faculty and Administrators (ISSN 0734-3035) is published bimonthly beginning September 1980 by Mountainside Publishing Co., Inc., 321 S. Main St., #213, Ann Arbor, MI 48104; (734) 662-3925. Library Issues, Vol. 26, no.1 © 2005 by Mountainside Publishing Co., Inc. Subscriptions: $80/one year; $140/two years. Additional subscriptions to same address $25 each/year. Address all correspondence to Library Issues, P.O. Box 8330, Ann Arbor, MI 48107. (Fax: 734-662-4450; E-mail: apdougherty@CompuServe.com) Subscribers have permission to photocopy articles free of charge for distribution on their own campus. Library Issues is available online with a password at http://www.libraryissues.com
last modified: November 2005
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