The Open Archives Initiative develops interoperability standards with the goal of developing easy ways to access digital content and improve scholarly communication. They have developed a protocol for harvesting XML-formatted metadata from text repositories. If all e-content providers used open metadata standards, libraries could harvest metadata from a variety of places so that it could be searchable from a single interface. This would eliminate the need for federated searching. Right now, this is primarily going on in academic institutions as they are motivated to make their content freely and widely accessible.
The University of Michigan is working on the OAIster project with the goal of creating a metacollection of freely available scholarly electronic resources that can be searched from a single interface. When you do a search, OAIster is searching 458 different institutional repositories. It’s really amazing stuff!
With Google Scholar, Google is pretty much doing what libraries and vendors together should have done years ago. Google harvested the metadata from a variety of electronic serial publishers so that users can search them all from a single interface. The search results are tied to a registry of OpenURL providers so that users can get to the content either by paying or through their institution. Many libraries have been smart and have taken advantage of the fact that they can use SFX or other citation linking providers to link directly from Google Scholar’s results to their holdings of the articles.
The big question of the day is: why couldn’t libraries and vendors do the same thing? Obviously getting their results into Google is of commercial benefit to vendors, but one would think that libraries should have some influence on vendors as well. I think libraries have a lot to learn from Google and from how our users use Google. Libraries shouldn’t “go Google” but they could combine the highly structured metadata of the library catalog with the usable and intelligent search capabilities of Google.
I think we are going to increasingly see libraries creating their own solutions to these problems. Librarians are becoming more tech savvy and more and more libraries are joining consortia. We’ve already seen several Open Source Integrated Library Systems develop as a response to the dissatisfaction with the current vendor offerings. It’s only a matter of time before most libraries get fed-up with the one-size-fits-none solutions from their vendors and create their own systems. Only then will vendors wake up and start offering better services to libraries.
I think we need to fight against the idea that searching has to be taught and that it has to be complicated. Google, RedLightGreen, and Amazon have shown that searches can be intuitive. Librarians need to decide whether or not we are willing to risk “dumbing down” the catalog for the sake of having a system students use. Only then can we maximize the use of our collections.
Okay, now off to Butterfly World. 🙂
A very well-written and thoughtful series of posts. You mention RedLightGreen and OAIster as
useful search channels, and I agree. But it should be pointed out that libraries are working
to surface their resources to users through the search engines (OCLC’s Open WorldCat, for
example, http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/open) and that libraries, local system vendors, and
other library-related organizations are building and releasing web services/service-oriented
architecture (SOA) offerings from RSS feeds to various modular components. In short, more
and better middleware is arriving daily. Cheers, Eric.
I agree that great things are being developed right now to make library middleware more user-centered. I’ve certainly been very impressed with many of OCLC’s recent projects. But I think if we can’t change librarians’ thinking about searching and the catalog, it will be much more difficult to implement these great solutions. I know I can be cynical about vendors sometimes, but I do think we librarians share the blame for the lack of innovation.