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Wednesday, 30th September 2009

Academic Libraries: After Losing Users in Catalogs, Libraries Find Better Search Software

From the Article:

The problem is that traditional online library catalogs don't tend to order search results by ranked relevance, and they can befuddle users with clunky interfaces. [Jean] Bauer, a graduate student specializing in early American history, once had such a hard time finding materials that she titled a bibliography "Meager Fruits of an Ongoing Fight With Virgo."

That's changing because of two technology trends. First, a growing number of universities are shelling out serious money for sophisticated software that makes exploring their collections more like the easy-to-filter experience you might find in an online Sears catalog.

Second, Virginia and several other colleges, including Villanova University and the University of Rochester, are producing free open-source programs that tackle the same problems with no licensing fees.


Marshall Breeding, director of innovative technology and research at the Vanderbilt University library, calls the concept "an ambitious goal—and at this point I think it's more of a goal than reality."

But the move toward simplified, silo-busting, relevant-result-returning library searches may come with its own problems.

Mr. Breeding, who founded the Web site Library Technology Guides*, has observed "pockets of resistance" in the library community. Some argue that new search products—sometimes called next-generation catalogs or discovery interfaces—amount to a dumbing-down of catalogs.

By contrast, traditional search tools reinforce the idea that library users need a clear understanding of the different materials involved in research, Mr. Breeding said, such as the difference between articles and monographs. New interfaces that mix many different information sources blur all that, he said.

* Library Technology Guides also has a Facebook page.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education


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