Interest in providing patrons with a more visual method of displaying online catalog search results seems to be growing among libraries. In order to assume this more visual approach—as well as to provide users with a more sophisticated way to organize their results—many libraries have deployed alternative online catalog interfaces. AquaBrowser Library, developed by Medialab Solutions, is a product that facilitates this visual approach to online catalog search-results display.
The April issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter (25, no. 4, p. 5) provided an overview of the technologies behind AquaBrowser Library. At that time, the product found use primarily on its home turf in the Netherlands. In recent months, though, AquaBrowser has gained traction in the United States; a number of libraries have purchased the product, and several are now using it as the primary interface for online catalog searching.
In September 2004, The Library Corporation (TLC) inked an agreement with Medialab Solutions to sell and support AquaBrowser Library. At that time TLC also offered a product from Endeca called “Guided Navigation” as an extended interface for TLC's library automation systems. At the same time last year, other companies, such as VTLS, were promoting the AquaBrowser technology. But by April 2005, Medialab Solutions appointed TLC as exclusive distributor for the U.S. and Canada. (VTLS's pre-existing agreement allows it to sell AquaBrowser Library to its existing clients.)
This business arrangement has resulted in a significant number of sales of AquaBrowser Library. More than thirty libraries in the U.S. have contracted to implement AquaBrowser Library in recent months. Most are public libraries, but some K–12 school districts and college libraries are represented as well.
Making the Switch
Some of the early adopters in the U.S. have completed their installation and now offer AquaBrowser as the primary or alternative interface to their online catalogs. Libraries that switched to production use of AquaBrowser in August 2005 include the Grayslake Public Library in Illinois, Southfield Public Schools in Michigan, and the Carroll County Public Library in Maryland.
In the same month, one of the largest public libraries in the U.S. made the same move. The Queens Library launched a new Web site on August 17, 2005, which included a switch to AquaBrowser Library as the primary interface for its catalog.
The Queens Library currently runs DRA Classic as its library automation system and is in the process of selecting a replacement for that aging system. Queens offers AquaBrowser as its default catalog or “Word Cloud” search. The DRA Web2 interface is available as an “Advanced Search” option.
With a main facility and sixty-two branches throughout the borough, the Queens Library system ranks as one of the busiest libraries in the world. More than ninety-two languages are represented in its collection of 9.9 million volumes. (To try out the Queens Library implementation of AquaBrowser visit http://aqua.queenslibrary.org.)This set of recent implementers reveals the broad appeal of the product—with implementation in small libraries such as Grayslake Public; medium-sized ones as represented by Carroll County, Maryland; and topped out by Queens Library, one of the largest municipal public library systems here in the U.S.These three libraries also run different library automation systems (Library.Solution, Horizon, and DRA Classic, respectively), demonstrating not only AquaBrowser Library's technical compatibility but also TLC's interest in working with libraries outside its current customer base.
Amsterdam-based Medialab Solutions was founded in 1990 as a research facility and began marketing search technologies in about 2000. The company has enjoyed great success in its home country, with more than sixty percent of public libraries, and some large academic libraries, using AquaBrowser.
In addition to expanding its market to North America, the company plans a larger presence in Scandinavia. Medialab Solutions recently entered into a business agreement with an organization called Biblioteksentralen, a non-profit organization that supplies library products and services to libraries in Norway. With this agreement in place, we can expect to see increased sales of AquaBrowser in that country.
As the company expands geographically, its products will require support for diverse language scripts. The AquaBrowser Library interface was recently expanded to support Unicode, giving it the ability to support many different languages. The interface had already been available in languages that use the Roman alphabet, including English, Spanish, Dutch, German, French, Catalan, and Frisian.
Now with Unicode underpinnings in place, AquaBrowser Library has been expanded to include a Russian interface with its Cyrillic alphabet. As AquaBrowser Browser makes gains internationally, support for Unicode is a pertinent development.