A constant theme in the current phase of the evolution of library automation involves the widespread perception that catalog interfaces must improve. The online catalogs delivered with many of the ILS products fall short of what's needed in this era of Web savvy library users. This emphasis on new interfaces currently drives the development agenda of many of the commercial companies involved in library automation. But these commercial vendors are not alone. Libraries themselves have joined the fray, devoting their own efforts toward products developed in the open source model.
In this vein, a team at the Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova University is developing a next-generation library search interface called VuFind. Currently in the beta stage of development, VuFind embodies many of the features expected in next generation catalogs. The library plans a production release of the software by November 2007.
VuFind's Capabilities and Scope
Villanova offers a demonstration website for VuFind that shows off the application's current capabilities. Features implemented so far include the presentation of search results in relevancy-ranked order, presentation of facets for narrowing a result set, display of the current status and availability of items, offering suggestions for related items, display of book jacket images, and the ability for users to contribute tags and comments. Ongoing development continues. Some of the planned upcoming features include improvements to existing functionality as well as new features such as the ability to narrow results by call number subject areas, to place holds and recalls directly through VuFind, usage reports and statistics, grouping of similar items by edition, and a Web-based administration console. One of the key goals of VuFind involves providing an interface to search and browse through a wide variety of library resources. In addition to data from the ILS, a library might also want to load records from other sources, such as local digital collections and their institutional repository. VuFind fits well within the trend to expand the scope of the library search interface well beyond the traditional ILS.
An Open Source Product
VuFind was released as an open source product on June 20, 2007 to SourceForge. The terms of the GPL (GNU General Public License) allow others to freely download and make use the software and to participate in its development, fixing bugs and extending its features, provided those changes are also contributed as open source.
VuFind makes use of a number of open source components. The search features of VuFind rely on Solr, a search engine that has gained tremendous popularity since its open source release in January 2006. Solr delivers an integrated suite of search services based on Lucene, a lower-level open source search engine. Solr and Lucene both fall within the Apache Software Foundation family of open source technical infrastructure components. Other components that comprise the application include the Java Development Kit, Apache Web server, the PHP scripting language, the MySQL relational database management system, the YAZ Z39.50 toolkit, and the GNU Aspell library of spell check functions.
VuFind has been designed to work in conjunction with any ILS. The initial version works with Villanova University's Ex Libris Voyager system. A component of the system called the Catalog Driver functions to extract holdings and status information at the point of inquiry. Libraries interested in using VuFind with other integrated library systems would simply need to develop the Catalog Drivers.
Villanova a Tech Leader
Villanova University, located near Philadelphia, has earned a reputation for technology leadership. PC Magazine and The Princeton Review named Villanova University as the top in their “Top 20 Wired Colleges” for 2006. The Falvey Memorial Library, headed by University Librarian Joseph P. Lucia, has used Voyager since 1997 and implemented SFX in 2003. Andrew Nagy, the Technology Development Specialist for the Falvey Memorial Library, performed much of the development for VuFind.
Although in a nascent stage of development, VuFind enters the scene at a critical moment in the evolution of library technologies. As libraries become increasingly drawn to open source development and seek better alternatives than their current online catalogs, we can expect that many libraries will be interested in following, and even participating in, the evolution of this new library interface.