Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
Linking, Not Thinking
Though open URL resolvers are a major step forward in guiding users to the right copy of the item they seek, they are not the complete solution. Instead of putting yet another window up in front of the hapless user that is often chock-full of confusing choices, we need to convey users automatically to the full text if it's available, or to the next best thing. In other words, we should view most link resolver windows as a failure to give users what they want. I bemoaned the primitive state of OpenURL linking services in a recent column (LJ 7/06, p. 28), but, thankfully, this is beginning to change. Enter the Umlaut One sign of better linking comes from Ross Singer of Georgia Tech. Singer has put together a linking system, the Umlaut, that just won the OCLC Software Contest by beating out 11 other entries. The Umlaut is a set of software routines that uses several web services to create more effective links to content as well as an OpenURL resolver. Singer explains that when an item is requested, "the Umlaut takes the user's IP address and asks the OCLC Resolver Registry if there are other link resolver services associated with this IP. If the response is yes, the Umlaut adds those services to the user's collection." This provides the widest range of OpenURL services to a given user (for example, when a user is served by both a local library and a consortium of which that library is a part). The Umlaut then tries to enrich the item metadata by querying additional sources of information depending on what the original request includes. For example, if there is a digital object identifier (DOI), CrossRef is queried for additional metadata. PubMed IDs are also used in this fashion, and the architecture of the application can additionally handle other identifiers (e.g., Handles). After trying to enrich the item metadata, the Umlaut queries the OpenURL resolver, then local and regional library catalogs. If the item has an ISBN, the Umlaut uses OCLC's xISBN service to retrieve all related ISBNs with which it queries the catalogs. Conference proceedings are tricky for linking, so Singer extracted data from the library catalog and indexed fields useful for finding them. The Umlaut also queries arXiv.org and Citebase for preprints and retrieves book cover images from Amazon.com. The display is much easier to use than any OpenURL resolvers I've seen. Getting users to full text The University of Rochester (UR) Libraries, NY, has been working to create effective user-centered finding services like the Getting Users to Full-Text (GUF) project since 2004. Aiming to increase the number of links to full text, as well as to provide the next best option, the service uses many of the same strategies as the Umlaut does, such as a database of journal holdings, OCLC's xISBN service, and the CrossRef database, among others. By integrating linking services directly into the search results from a metasearch application, UR has been able to reduce the click path to two clicks in many cases (one for search, one to get full text). NextGen linking The best linking service is invisible. We rarely need to send users to a separate screen, as most OpenURL resolvers do, and force them to puzzle over a plethora of choices. We simply need to get them to where they expect to be able to go--the item itself. Some have objected to this model of not letting the OpenURL resolver put up its own window because some libraries like the idea of referring to other services like online reference. If libraries survey their users they will probably find that no one wants to follow a link to a reference service when they really want the item itself. I would like to see some data on how many links go bad before making everyone go through an often unjustified step. Both next-generation linking services are all about intelligent integration. Both use a wide array of services provided by other organizations, including local holdings information in order to create the best possible link. Many librarians may have thought that by installing an OpenURL resolver they had "solved" the linking issue. We have further to go to do linking well, and, luckily, there are those who are showing us the way if we will but pay attention. __________________________________________________________________ LINK LIST OCLC Resolver Registry www.oclc.org/productworks/ urlresolver.htm OCLC Software Contest www.oclc.org/research/ announcements/2006-09-28.htm The Umlaut Documentation umlaut.library.gatech.edu/umlaut