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After Losing ­sers in Catalogs, Libraries Find Better Search Software

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University of Virginia graduate student Jean A. Bauer

Jean A. Bauer, a graduate student in American history at the University of Virginia, has been frustrated with the confusing search results from the university library's old online catalog. A new one is in the works.

Credit: Lisa Billings / The Chronicle of Higher Education

People are worried that library catalogs are in danger of marginalization because they present information online in a clunky, non-intuitive way that often frustrates searchers. To combat this trend, a growing number of universities are investing in software designed to improve collection exploration through faceted searching, or Web-scale index searching. A number of other colleges are developing open source software designed to meet the same challenges without any licensing fees. Search results are ranked by relevance while prompts such as "did you mean . . ." are supported by these products.

Vanderbilt University's Marshall Breeding points to resistance in the library community to the concept of Web-scale index searching, noting that some consider such interfaces to constitute a diminishing of library catalogs' intelligence. He says that traditional search tools bolster the concept that library users must clearly understand the various research materials. The new interfaces share the ability to derive content from catalogs and blend it with other data in a modern unit.

Library community members such as the University of Virginia's Bess Sadler see the migration from commercial library search interfaces to open source interfaces as a "shift of power" in which libraries control the technology their patrons use to access their collections, which is particularly important in terms of customization.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education
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