RSS feed: articles by this author RSS feed: articles related to specified author en Get Tooled Up: Xerxes at Royal Holloway, University of London <div class="field field-type-text field-field-teaser-article"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="/issue62/grigson-et-al#author1">Anna Grigson</a>, <a href="/issue62/grigson-et-al#author2">Peter Kiely</a>, <a href="/issue62/grigson-et-al#author3">Graham Seaman</a> and <a href="/issue62/grigson-et-al#author4">Tim Wales</a> describe the implementation of an open source front end to the MetaLib federated search tool.</p> </div> </div> </div> <!-- v4. completion of author details: institution - 2010-02-22-10-30- rew --><!-- v4. completion of author details: institution - 2010-02-22-10-30- rew --><p>Rarely is software a purely technical issue, though it may be marketed as 'technology'. Software is embedded in work, and work patterns become moulded around it. Thus the use of a particular package can give rise to an inertia from which it can be hard to break free.</p> <p>Moreover, when this natural inertia is combined with data formats that are opaque or unique to a particular system, the organisation can become locked in to that system, a potential victim of the pricing policies or sluggish adaptability of the software provider. The speed of change in the information world in recent years, combined with the actual or expected crunch in library funding, has made this a particular issue for library management system (LMS) users. While there is general agreement on the direction to take - more 'like Google' - LMS suppliers' moves in this direction can prove both slow and expensive for the user.</p> <p>Open source software has often been suggested as an alternative, but the nature of lock-in means that the jump from proprietary to open system can be all or nothing; in effect too big (and complex) a risk to take. No major UK university libraries have yet moved to Koha, Evergreen, or indeed any open source LMS [<a href="#1">1</a>].</p> <p>The alternative, which brings its own risks, is to take advantage of the pressures on LMS suppliers to make their own systems more open, and to use open source systems 'around the edges' [<a href="#2">2</a>]. This has the particular benefit of creating an overall system which follows the well-established design practice of creating a clean separation of 'view' (typically the Web interface) from 'model' (here the LMS-managed databases) and 'controller' (the LMS core code). The 'view' is key to the user experience of the system, and this separation gives the ability to make rapid changes or to integrate Web 2.0 features quickly and easily, independently of the system back-end. The disadvantage of this approach is that it is relatively fragile, being dependent on the willingness of the LMS supplier to provide a detailed and stable application programming interface (API).</p> <p>There are several current examples of this alternative approach. Some, like the Vufind OPAC, allow the use of plug-ins which adapt the software to a range of different LMSs. Others, like Xerxes, are specialised front-ends to a single system (MetaLib from ExLibris [<a href="#3">3</a>]). This has an impact on evaluating the software: in particular, the pool of active developers is likely to be smaller in the latter case.</p> <h2 id="Royal_Holloway_Library_Services">Royal Holloway Library Services</h2> <p>Within this general context, Royal Holloway Library Services were faced with a specific problem. The annual National Student Survey had given ratings to the Library well below those expected, with many criticisms centred on the difficulty in using the Library's MetaLib federated search system.</p> <p>MetaLib is a key access point to the Library's e-resources, incorporating both A-Z lists of major online databases available to library users, and a federated search tool. Feedback showed that many users found the interface less than satisfactory, with one user commenting that:</p> <blockquote><p><em>'MetaLib is possibly the worst and most confusing library interface I have ever come across'</em></p></blockquote> <p>The Library Management Team decided to remedy this as a matter of urgency and set a deadline of the start of the 2009 Autumn term. There was no funding available to acquire an alternative discovery system so the challenge was to identify a low-cost, quick-win solution for the existing one. With this work in mind, the incoming Associate Director (E-Strategy) had already recruited two new colleagues over the Summer vacation: a systems officer with Web development experience, the other an experienced e-resources manager.</p> <p>The first possible route to the improvement of MetaLib was modification of the existing MetaLib Web interface. This was technically possible but presented several major difficulties: the underlying ExLibris designs were based on the old HTML 4.0 and pre-dated current stylesheet-based design practice; the methods to adapt the designs were opaque and poorly documented, based on numbered variables with semantics that changed depending on context; and perhaps most importantly, the changes were to be made over the summer months, giving no time for user feedback on the details of the changes to be made.</p> <p>The second possibility was the use of Xerxes [<a href="#4">4</a>]. Xerxes offered the advantage of an interface design which had been user-tested on a range of (US) campuses, partially solving the user feedback issue. It was not, however, entirely cost-free, as ExLibris charges an annual maintenance fee for the MetaLib X-server API on which Xerxes depends.</p> <p></p><p><a href="" target="_blank">read more</a></p> issue62 feature article anna grigson graham seaman peter kiely tim wales google jisc jisc collections kingston university microsoft royal holloway sconul university of london gnu api authentication data database ebook ejournal free software gpl html interoperability library management systems licence linux mysql opac open source php portal refworks repositories research search technology sfx software solaris standards stylesheet vufind web 2.0 web development web services wiki xml xslt Sat, 30 Jan 2010 00:00:00 +0000 editor 1525 at