:: 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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.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

Demise of the Local Catalog


   Over four years ago I wrote that the library catalog should be pushed
   into the back room where it belonged and that a unified finding tool be
   put in its place (LJ 2/15/03, p. 28, and LJ 6/15/03, p. 28). I still
   believe our users want to find everything they can on a topic in one
   place, with one search, rather than going from place to place puzzling
   out each new interface. Well, now finally that's happening in a couple
   of interesting ways.

   Next-generation finding

   Most of the major ILS vendors, including Innovative Interfaces, Inc.
   (III), Ex Libris, and SirsiDynix, are either working on a product in
   this space or already have one. This new kind of finding tool goes
   beyond federated searching. Metasearching has always been a technique
   of last resort, so these new tools are all about locally aggregating
   everything you can and then metasearching what you can't (i.e., sending
   out parallel searches to multiple remote sources).

   Our library catalog information is part of what can be centrally
   aggregated. That is, library catalog records may be imported into this
   new system and indexed along with other information. For example,
   metadata records from institutional repositories and museums can be
   gathered together by using the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for
   Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). Article indexes can be locally indexed
   along with catalog records. Web pages from selected web sites can also
   be prefetched and indexed.

   Ex Libris's Primo, for which several institutions have served as
   development partners, and SirsiDynix's Enterprise Portal Solution
   provide unified searches. In a similar fashion, about a dozen
   institutions agreed to work with III to develop its Encore product. All
   these portal solutions implement a variety of technologies, from
   focused web crawling and indexing to OpenURL resolution, metasearching,
   and indexing of local catalog holdings.

   Some systems even promise FRBR (Functional Requirements for
   Bibliographic Records) to unify the display or related records, faceted
   browsing, and robust relevance ranking. Time will tell just how many of
   these promises are delivered and how effectively they are implemented.
   All these products minimize the time and trouble our users must take to
   find what they need.

   The role of the ILS

   Clearly, the typical integrated library system (ILS) will no longer be
   the centerpiece of a library's online offerings. Rather, a centralized
   finding tool will be the focus. The ILS will not go away, since it is
   still required to perform such essential tasks as acquisitions,
   inventory control, and circulation. But it will be relegated to the
   back room where it has always belonged. That isn't all. The ILS must
   provide local holdings information to these unified finding tools for
   batch indexing, as well as circulation information on demand.

   This last bit is the tricky part. It's possible to export records from
   virtually any ILS, but not every ILS offers an application program
   interface (API, or a way for different software programs to share
   information) for providing on-demand circulation information. This may
   improve, but it isn't yet clear how quickly.

   All in one

   The University of Washington Libraries is using a tailored version of, dubbed WorldCat Local, a new option from OCLC.
   (Disclosure: I am now employed by OCLC.) Essentially, it is WorldCat
   with the institution's own brand and search results ranked by location
   as well as relevance. For any search, locally held items will appear
   first, then those from a regional cooperative, if appropriate, then all
   other WorldCat holdings. Persistent users would eventually see all the
   items available to them locally as well as through interlibrary loan.

   The move to central finding tools is a huge step forward for individual
   library users. People generally want to find everything they can on a
   topic, ranked by relevance and displayed in ways that make it easy to
   narrow in on their goal. Increasingly, there is no reason why we can't
   start giving it to them.