:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Open Source Metasearch


Digital Libraries: Open Source Metasearch

By Roy Tennant -- Library Journal, 10/15/2007

   Software that searches multiple remote sources and merges the results
   for the user has been available for several years. Whether called
   federated searching, cross-database searching, or metasearching, it
   aims to make it as easy as possible for library users to find what they
   want from many different sources. Now, joining several commercial
   offerings in this space is a free, open source solution: LibraryFind.

   LibraryFind, which is under development by Oregon State University
   (OSU), Corvallis, is also being used by the University of Houston, TX.
   As of August 2007, the program has been downloaded nearly 2000 times.
   Jeremy Frumkin, the Gray Chair for Innovative Library Services at OSU,
   is a driving force behind it, as is Terry Reese, also at OSU and well
   known for the very useful MARC utility MARCEdit.

   What you get

   One of the most significant things you get with LibraryFind is the code
   itself--because it's open source, you're free to add to it, change it,
   or simply examine how it works. In contrast, commercial solutions do
   not allow you to view or change the software.

   Along with the LibraryFind software, you get some preconfigured
   resource connections to access about 50 specific databases (though
   there are many others).

   To make it faster and easier for searchers to find items of interest
   and quickly retrieve them, LibraryFind implements a "two-click
   workflow"--one click to find, one to access. When users perform a
   search, an integrated OpenURL resolver gathers all of the links for a
   screen of search results and puts links on the page that lead the user
   directly to the item when it's available. This avoids sending the user
   through a series of pop-up windows to retrieve an item.

   "Our goal is not to remove the richness and value that we have in the
   data in our collections," Frumkin says, "but to move the complexity of
   dealing with that rich data 'under the hood.'"

   As anyone who has ever used a metasearch application knows, it often
   takes a long time for the application to respond with the search
   results. To help alleviate this, LibraryFind caches search results,
   saving a local copy. This cache persists beyond a single user to
   enhance the speed for a second query.

   Another technique to enhance speed is to index locally whatever you
   can, and LibraryFind offers this capacity. Libraries with repositories
   of digitized content or faculty papers could use LibraryFind to harvest
   and index records from any repository that supports the Open Archives
   Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH).

   Challenges, progress

   LibraryFind is not (yet) a shrink-wrapped application--that is, it
   still takes someone with experience at installing UNIX software to
   configure and load it, though set up may become easier. Also, the
   number of preconfigured resource connections remains small, so any
   adopter of LibraryFind with needs beyond the included connections will
   have to set up new connections.

   LibraryFind has not yet made it to release 1.0 (expected in April
   2008), so more features are coming. Frumkin would like to add a better
   way for libraries to share connection information for various
   databases. But Frumkin's designs go well beyond the standard metasearch
   tool. In his universe, LibraryFind would simply be one tool among
   several that support the entire scholarly workflow.

   It still needs work

   Although LibraryFind may one day be an excellent choice for a large
   academic library, the lack of preconfigured resource connections means
   that any current adopters will have to create and maintain a
   significant number of them. Also, since LibraryFind remains at a
   relatively early stage of development, it is probably best for those
   libraries that are willing to be early adopters, e.g., libraries ready
   and able to contribute bug fixes and enhancements to the code base.

   For now, LibraryFind likely will be most easily implemented by small to
   medium-sized libraries that have the technical expertise to configure
   and install it as well as create missing resource connections. Over
   time, if development continues and the community of adopters grows,
   LibraryFind could become an excellent choice for many libraries.

   For more on the wired library, see the netConnect supplement mailed
   with the January, April 15, July, and October 15 issues of LJ

                                                        LINK LIST
   [123] MARCEdit
   [124] OAI-PMH