The Queens Borough Public Library plans major changes to its public Web presence, with a shift from an online catalog based on AquaBrowser Library to an entirely new environment based on a technology platform it developed called daVinci created through collaboration with VTLS.
This new environment will feature a single search spanning the library's Web site, its physical holdings managed within Virtua ILS, and its digital collections managed in a Fedora repository and will offer a range of social features to facilitate engagement of library users with its collections and services.
Queens ranks as the busiest public library in the United States, with over 23 million circulation transactions reported in 2009. The library's collections total over 7.1 million items and it serves a very diverse population with a central library in Jamaica and 62 branches throughout the borough. As one of the top libraries in the United States, the Queens Borough Public Library requires a very sophisticated and flexible technology environment to support its operations and to power its Web presence.
The Queens Library has gone through an interesting set of transitions related to its automation environment. The library operated a DRA library automation system since 1989, which was due for replacement by about 2006. Queens implemented AquaBrowser as its next-generation catalog in August 2005, one of the early adopters of this product in the United States. Queens had initially selected Horizon 8.0 from Dynix Corporation in March 2006 to replace its DRA system, but that agreement failed to come to fruition as a consequence of the merger of Dynix with Sirsi Corporation and the termination of development of the new Horizon 8.0 platform. In 2009, Queens Borough Public Library brought a lawsuit against SirsiDynix, which was ultimately settled out of court under undisclosed terms. In January 2008 the library signed a contract with VTLS to replace its DRA Classic system with Virtua, going live in July 2008 following an expedited six-month implementation process. Queens' selection of Virtua was not a standard procurement to implement an ILS, but one that required specific customizations and an ongoing development partnership between the two organizations. In the initial implementation, Virtua replaced DRA as the internal automation environment, relying on the existing AquaBrowser discovery product as the public interface. In this way, the transition from DRA to Virtua was transparent to the library's users, despite a major transition that took place internally as library personnel adapted to a new system for circulation, cataloging, acquisitions, and other operational areas.
In this current move, the library will completely revitalize its public Web presence, replacing its AquaBrowser catalog and Web site with daVinci, an environment composed of a suite of components from VTLS and open source developments extended and integrated by Queen's own development team. The daVinci platform relies on the Virtua ILS and the Chamo online catalog produced by VTLS, as well as the Oracle database engine embedded in that platform. Queens has implemented and extended the open source Drupal content management system to power its public and staff Web sites, using Apache SOLR to support relevancy-based search. The daVinci environment will also include a digital asset management component based on the open source Drupal Commons repository with the VITAL repository application supplied by VTLS. The integration of VITAL remains in development with deployment expected by early 2012. Queens has also programmed e-commerce capabilities that allow library patrons to pay fines and fees through an online credit card processing module based on a Drupal extension. According to Wes Trager, the Chief Technical Officer of the Queens Library, daVinci was conceived to deliver a consistent experience to the visitors of the Web site that blends the traditional ILS and online catalog functionality with a sophisticated Drupal-based front end that supports social features and incorporates content created by the library's community of uses. While making use of technology components produced by an outside vendor, it gives the library complete control of all aspects of its environment directly experienced by its users.
The daVinci platform offers a single search capability, but in a different manner than other discovery products. The usual arrangement between integrated library systems and discovery interfaces involves a continual transfer of data, a process that Queens has followed during the five years it has been using AquaBrowser. The harvesting, synchronization, and real-time status lookups comprise a complex connection layer between the ILS and the discovery interface. Queens' daVinci platform avoids this overhead by relying on shared data and index structures. VTLS and Queens agreed on a search engine strategy based on Apache SOLR. With Virtua, Fedora, and Drupal each configured to directly populate SOLR indexes, a single search environment can be offered without the need for harvesting and synchronization. In contrast to the three to four hours of processing needed to transfer data from Virtua to be indexed in AquaBrowser each night, daVinci populates its SOLR indexes as part of its standard operation.
Queens will use Drupal as the content management system to present the enduser interface and to manage the underlying data beyond that held in the Virtua ILS or in Fedora. Content stored in Drupal will include the content of the library's Web pages, news announcements, frequently asked questions, blogs, and subject material created by Queens librarians, pages specific to each branch facility, community- contributed content, and ratings and reviews of materials in the Virtua catalog. By using SOLR as the search engine associated with Drupal all of this content can be easily retrieved in search results alongside results retrieved from Virtua and Fedora.
The collaboration with VTLS allows the library to take full control of the user experience, while relying on components supplied by a commercial software development firm for core automation components. The strategy makes use of technology produced by a vendor, but in a way quite different from the traditional arrangement where a library implements software as delivered. The development team at Queens creates the integration among all the components, shapes the interfaces presented to library users, including the creation of custom Drupal modules. As part of the Queens enhancements, VTLS has created API's out of Chamo to expose all its functionality, providing the technical interfaces needed to tightly integrate it within the daVinci environment.
The Queens Borough Public Library anticipates making the transition to its new daVinci-powered Web site by September 2011.