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Smarter Libraries through Technology: Content Powers Technology

Smart Libraries Newsletter [March 2014]

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The effectiveness of library technology products currently depends not only on the software, but also on content components that power its functionality. Software alone can seem like an empty shell, awaiting data to unleash its capabilities. For the traditional model of automation, such as seen in integrated library systems, that data is mostly created or assembled by the library itself. In these times, products are increasingly available which tap into global pools of data that deliver to libraries and their users more powerful capabilities without the need to redundantly recreate their own isolated silos of content. Global knowledge bases, bibliographic databases, centralized indexes, and open linked data stores bring the potential for efficiency and depth of functionality in ways that benefit libraries and their communities.

When electronic resources became prominent in academic libraries, it quickly became evident that the efforts of any individual library could not sustain their management and access. A library might subscribe to hundreds of databases, each of which might in turn provide access to thousands of individual e-journal titles, and each of those titles include a long series of individual issues, each with many individual articles and other content items. The volume of information involved overwhelms any one library's capacity to manage, even at the level of what e-journal titles are available to their users, much less the individual issues and articles. The problem is made more complex by the reality that any given package of electronic content to which a library might subscribe continually changes in its coverage, given constant churn in agreements with primary publishers and other factors.

Knowledgebases of e-journal content emerged to provide a sustainable model for resource management and access. Either collectively built by libraries or by a third party organization, a maintained knowledge base could represent the current set of content in any given subscription package for the benefit of many libraries. The initial effort in this arena, the Jointly Administered Knowledge Environment, or JAKE, launched in the late 1990s didn't yield great success, but several commercial and library community based projects that followed have had a major impact. The key to success in developing and maintaining a knowledge base lies in allocating adequate resources to sustain the project. I conducted a study of knowledge bases and link resolvers a couple of years ago and found that it takes dozens of people aided by various technology tools and automated processes to sustain a knowledge base of electronic resources.

We cover the final stage of integration of Serials Solutions into ProQuest in this issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter. The company started when librarian Peter McCracken began the creation of lists of journal titles associated with e-resource content packages, which eventually became a subscription product offered to other libraries. Serials Solutions was founded in March 2000 to commercialize these and other tools that help libraries manage electronic resources through an underlying knowledge base that describes the content of each of the subscription products with as much accuracy and currency as possible. A similar knowledge base approach was used in about the same time frame by the SFX link resolver, initially created at the University of Ghent in Belgium in the late 1990s and commercialized by Ex Libris beginning about 2000.

The concept of using a shared knowledge base to power products for the management and end-user access of electronic resources became an accepted practice in tools such as link resolvers, A-Z lists of e-journals, and full-featured electronic resource management systems. The basic model involves creating a comprehensive knowledge base describing the full universe of resources available, which can be localized for the use of any given library through a profile of their specific subscription. This approach makes it possible for patrons to be presented with items in results that they can access by virtue of their library's subscriptions.

Currently, many products take a comprehensive approach to resource management. The new library services platforms enable the management of print, electronic, and digital resources in a unified way instead of through separate systems. These new products, especially Alma from Ex Libris, OCLC's WorldShare Management Services, and the forthcoming Pro- Quest Intota, apply this model of resource management with knowledge bases to all formats of materials. Community-based projects such as the Global Open Knowledge Base (gokb.org) and Kuali OLE also show promise.

The concept of content-powered technology also applies to Web-scale or index-based discovery services. These products rely on a central index populated with terms and text derived from the universe of resources available to libraries. Major products in this category include ProQuest Summon, OCLC WorldCat Local (soon to be replaced by WorldCat Discovery Service), EBSCO Discovery Service, and Primo Central from Ex Libris. The relative strength of these products depends both on the capabilities of the software and the depth and quality of its central index. Software capabilities would include the quality of the user experience through the interface and features supporting research, such as navigating results. The composition of the central index can't be overstated relative to the capabilities of a discovery service. The index must represent to the extent possible the totality of the material offered through the library and with the richest level of detail. A citation describing the basic bibliographic details of an article is the minimal level, which becomes a stronger basis for search and retrieval when enhanced with abstracts, subject terminology terms, and full text. Metrics describing the importance or impact of an item of content further expand the data available to the discovery service. The technologies that lie between the central index and the end-user interface play the critical role of to identifying search candidates from these vast indexes and presenting search results ranked by relevance.

For both resource management and in end-user discovery products, the quality of their knowledge base or index plays a major role in their effectiveness. Some of the major players, such as Ex Libris, enter with the strength in technology development and have then built the content components of a knowledge base of resource holdings and a central discovery index. Others, such as ProQuest and EBSCO Information Services enter with major content assets and also have deep capacity for technology development. OCLC has strengths in multiple areas, starting with WorldCat, its massive knowledge base of bibliographic data, as well as a knowledge base of electronic resources, a central discovery index, and the capacity for technology development.

Leveraging shared content resources seems natural fit for libraries given the value they place on collaboration and resource sharing. Today's libraries manage vast collections of materials, and self-reliance simply isn't sustainable. But the relative dynamics between content and technology require close consideration. Evaluation of a traditional integrated library system or catalog once focused on features and functionality. Now, attention and analysis must also go to the content components.

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Publication Year:2014
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 34 Number 03
Issue:March 2014
Page(s):1-2
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smarter Libraries through Technology
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
ISSN:1541-8820
Record Number:19030
Last Update:2022-11-29 00:44:55
Date Created:2014-03-19 08:33:48
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