A portal to connect the higher education community with quality information resources is soon to become a reality thanks to the Scholars Portal, from several members of the North American-based Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and its technical partner, Fretwell-Downing Informatics (FDI). The Scholars Portal Project will create a stronger research library presence on the web and make it quicker and easier for individuals working in academic settings to access relevant, quality, disparate information resources and services.
ARL is a not-for-profit organisation representing 123 of the larger academic and research libraries in the US and Canada. The portal initiative fits the ARL's aim of promoting access to and effective use of recorded knowledge in support of teaching and research by enabling the academic community (from teaching faculty, students, and advanced academic specialists) to have a single point of access on the Web to find high quality information resources - and, in most cases, to deliver information directly to the user's desktop.
The project will launch in late Spring and go live in Autumn 2002 to over 200,000 students and faculty in self-selected ARL universities and undergraduate courses. Participating universities include the University of Southern California, the University of California-San Diego, Dartmouth College, University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Iowa State University, and the University of Utah with student numbers ranging from around 5,000 at Dartmouth to 35,000 at Arizona State University. The Scholars Portal Project will use FDI's ZPORTAL product as the base with the option to take on the VDX resource sharing solution. ZPORTAL offers the user ‘one search' access to local and external resources, whilst also providing a choice of content delivery methods so taking them from information discovery to content delivery within a single environment. By integrating access to quality external information sources alongside local resources, the Scholars Portal can increase the scope of resources readily available to a user. FDI's portal solution uses the latest open, standards-based, architecture to enable information centres to provide the solution that best suits the needs of the user. With a choice of data publishing tools, ZPORTAL offers the freedom to integrate access to the most important and appropriate resources – irrespective of format or location.
The new portal solution acts as a one-stop-shop for users, taking them from the initial need for information through to its delivery without having to use several different tools and applications. This means that the frustration, which often results from lengthy search processes, can be reduced, whilst efficiency is increased. Where users had many places to look for information they will now have one that can offer them quality local sources plus the best of the web.
The initial focus will be on deploying ZPORTAL to deliver cross-domain searching of licensed and openly available content in a range of subject fields and from multiple institutions. The portal will aggregate the results of the search, and support delivery of the content to the user. Currently many universities face the problem of investing large sums of money in ejournals or access to electronic resources, which are then bypassed by users in favour of less accurate or up-to-date data, which are easier to find. ZPORTAL helps to overcome this problem by allowing users to query the ‘universal stream' of unrestricted resources and the ‘local stream' of licensed or restricted access resources simultaneously.
The Scholars Portal Project will add other services to the portal to improve user access to and use of information resources. These enhancements include integration of the searching tool within the local online learning environment for the course and linkage to a digital reference service to consult with a reference librarian.
Robin Murray, managing director of FDI, comments: "We are very pleased to work with ARL libraries on this project. The ultimate aim is to develop a suite of discovery tools and services for academic users of the Scholars Portal that will contribute to the teaching and learning process and advance research."
FDI brings extensive expertise and experience to the project. The company develops open standards based solutions that are designed to integrate with each other, and with other components from third parties. This allows customers the freedom to "mix and match" from the FDI portfolio.
Jerry Campbell, chief information officer and dean of the university libraries – University of Southern California - states: "We believe FDI's existing ZPORTAL product suite will work together to take us significantly down the road to achieving our initial project goals. The leadership of the company shares our vision of a portal and has committed to bearing some of the costs of developmental work that will lead to enhancements that both we and FDI see as important."
Background on the Scholars Portal Project is available on the ARL website: www.arl.org/access/scholarsportal.