More On XC From David Lindahl

ACRLog recently posted about an intriguing new project at the University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries to develop a new system known as the eXtensible Catalog (XC). To learn more about the project I submitted several questions to David Lindahl, Director of Digital Library Initiatives at the River Campus Libraries and co-principal investigator of the XC project. Many thanks to David for responding to these questions:

What was the original impetus for this new project? Mainly a desire to improve on existing cataloging systems or something else?

Our main goals for the development project were:

  • To investigate the benefits of the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) model in the context of a user centered design software project. We wanted to learn whether FRBR would address real end-user needs
  • To design a catalog that would deal with other metadata formats beyond MARC, and that would have an architecture that could evolve with future standards
  • To address the long list of known usability issues that exist with current web OPAC components of most major integrated library systems
  • To not build an entire ILS, but to focus on the metadata platform and the user interface. XC would interoperate with any existing ILS
  • To leverage our experience in work-practice study methodology to uncover unmet user needs related to library catalog functionality, and to address those needs.
  • This year, we will be conducting a survey of related projects, reaching out to other institutions doing similar work, creating a set of software requirements, and analyzing existing user study data to inform our collaborative XC development project. There is no shortage of forward thinking project work in this area, and we hope to leverage what has been done and set up a broad but effective collaboration to build XC.

    Can you describe, for the non-techies among us, just what exactly an extensible catalog is (or would be)?

    XC will be a single entry point into all of the resources (print and electronic) that a library has to offer. It will be easy to learn and powerful for experienced users. No training will be necessary, and the software will deliver initial results in one click.

    XC incorporates a metadata infrastructure that would support the full range of metadata standards. This would allow libraries to connect XC with their library webpages, digital and institutional repositories, and subscription databases. As libraries move forward and offer new types of repositories, they continue to create new silos of information with separate interfaces. XC will consolidate these disparate systems with appropriately integrated user interface(s).

    The XC will be easy to download, and install in any library. We will be developing a set of software requirements over the next year.

    Is it possible this project could result in a different type of OPAC? If so, can you please describe that OPAC?

    A goal of XC is to develop a new type of OPAC. We hope that the end result will be a software system that works alongside an existing ILS/OPAC, and offers an alternative to the built-in web interface.

    We want the XC to be extensible, so that it can handle new types of metadata, we want other libraries to add functionality to the XC (open-source), we want to have APIs into all the functionality to enable libraries to experiment and create a range of user-interfaces, not just one, and then work with users and evolve with them.

    Libraries have invested a great deal of their resources in creating and maintaining metadata, but ILS software does not allow the average user to take advantage of that metadata. We hoped that a more powerful search interface would help our patrons to become more successful with finding and using library resources.

    Instead of building a search interface that burdens the user with complex language, multiple search boxes, cryptic choices, and overwhelming result sets, XC will offer an interface that anyone can use without training.

    The user interface will work with users to guide them to precise, comprehensive results. This might include a single search box that would search across resources that are today found in the catalog, digital repository, and subscription databases. The interface might check spelling, decrypt journal title abbreviations, connect expressions and manifestations with their respective works, and offer faceted browsing of result sets to interactively guide users to appropriate results.

    What do you think about the criticism of the OPAC (e.g., “OPACs suck”) in recent years? Is the project in any way a response to these critiques of the OPAC?

    Yes. OPACs have not evolved. They have changed, but I think the missing piece has been the lack of user-centered-design process to surround the OPAC development process. The reason for XC is the same at the reason ExLibris is working on Primo, and the same reason that NCSU implemented ENDECA for their catalog.

    How might the XC differ from what NCSU has developed with their Endeca OPAC? Is there any similarity at all or will your project take the catalog in some other direction?

    NCSU’s catalog is a huge step forward in catalog interface design and usability. NCSU is at the forefront in this area. The NCSU interface is built on top of the Endeca product.

    The XC project is similar to the Endeca product in that it will provide faceted browsing of catalog records and other types of records (on key facets like author, subject, and material type)

    The XC project is different in the following ways:

  • Available for download at no cost
  • Designed to be easily adopted, customized, and extended by any academic library
  • Guided by an open-source software model encouraging user-centered enhancements from participating libraries
  • Designed to act as a metadata repository (Endeca is more like an fast index of metadata stored elsewhere)
  • Offers support for a variety of metadata formats, and will be extensible for future formats
  • Easy to integrate into a metasearch environment
  • True FRBR data model support (for example: interface groups by work, expression, manifestation, and item level metadata)
  • Based on user-centered design methodology and work-practice study of library users
  • At least two recent national reports on how cataloging systems need to change suggested moving away from LC subject headings. Would the extensible catalog be different in the way it describes library materials?

    XC will facilitate access to the metadata that libraries already have, including LC Subject Headings, but will also be able to incorporate changing metadata practices and standards in the future – which could include a move away from LCSH, should that occur. We also see the potential that our work on XC may inform future decisions on metadata practices and standards.

    ACRLog thanks David Lindahl for sharing with us more details about XC. We are sure that the academic library community will be hearing more about this exciting project in the near future.

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